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From Publisher's Weekly

Few can explain the essence of Jewish food as charmingly and lyrically as freelance writer Cohen does in this outstanding debut. In this collection of innovative yet tradition-based recipes--what she calls "the autobiography of one palate"--Cohen often takes a simple, familiar dish (matzoh brie, for instance), dissects all its possibilities (in this case she explains how to make it crispy or fluffy), then offers experimental versions (Savory Artichoke Matzoh Brie and Overnight Caramelized Apple Matzoh Brie). Cohen incorporates both international Jewish tradition (Chopped Chicken Liver from the Rue des Rosiers, Veronese Rolled Turkey Loaf, Bombay Pineapple-Coconut Milk Kugel) and her own fertile imagination (Pastrami-Style Salmon, Chicken Soup with Asparagus and Shiitakes, served with Roasted Fennel Matzoh Balls) to offer new takes on the classics. She also invigorates some forgotten customs: her grandmother's habit of sprinkling fresh latkes with sugar lives again in Crispy Shallot Latkes with Sugar Dusting. Cohen also happens to write beautifully; her stories about relatives and her portraits of Jewish communities around the world and their individual customs could stand alone in a book of essays. This well-rounded cookbook will appeal to the observant and the nonobservant--even to those who are not Jewish at all. (Mar.)
Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

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April 5, 2000
BY THE BOOK
Jewish Classics, With Alterations
By FLORENCE FABRICANT

THE GEFILTE VARIATIONS
By Jayne Cohen.
Scribner, $35.

The title of Jayne Cohen's new cookbook, "The Gefilte Variations," sounds as if it might be a composition for the Klezmatics, but it reveals the author's frequently playful approach to Jewish food. Though there are riffs on gefilte fish, including versions made with salmon and even one using chicken, they are just one element in a book that reworks typical Jewish cooking with improvisational flair. Cohen, a food writer with a degree in literature, observes that Judaism itself is open to constant interpretation. So why not its food? She is an irrepressible improviser, and in that respect my kindred spirit. I was not surprised to discover
that like me, she tinkered with the horseradish sauce to serve with gefilte fish, for example, using carrots instead of the usual beets. She has also come up with delicious inspirations, like seasoning and toasting egg matzoh to make Passover "cinnamon toast," flavoring a carrot kugel Moroccan-style with cumin and mint or using a potato pancake batter to coat fish fillets before frying. She also infuses olive oil with fried onions to give it the flavor of chicken fat, makes latkes inspired by Chinese scallion pancakes and puts flanken on a bed of broccoli rabe, a vegetable many Jewish grandmothers never even knew about. Yet despite all
this invention, none of her clearly written recipes violate the spirit of Jewish cooking traditions. And they are strictly kosher. There is a succulent Iranian stuffed chicken poached in soup and eaten with fresh herbs. A duck and white bean cholent could stand in for cassoulet. And among many excellent tips is to float lettuce leaves on top of a simmering pot of chicken soup to prevent excess evaporation after the soup has been well skimmed.
The first half of the book is organized according to courses: starters, soups, fish, meats and so forth. The next section gives recipes for holidays throughout the year, starting with Rosh Hashana. Then there are suggested menus and a glossary. Threaded throughout are the author's lively and loving recollections, little stories about her mother's fried cauliflower or her grandfather's appetite for pastrami even
as he lay dying. Some of her experiences, like eating especially silky chopped liver in Paris and trying to reproduce it, add to the highly personal dimension. These tidbits alternate with well-researched historic and religious details to illustrate the recipes: the symbolism of the pomegranate or how "wily Jacob knew the value of adding chestnut to foods." In discussing ingredients, she notes that Jews have maintained a taste for some of the world's most ancient Old World foods, like onions, dates and barley. Other sections explain the rules of kosher cooking and Jewish food customs. They serve as guides to the rituals of certain meals, especially for the Sabbath and Passover. Cohen finds much to write about matzoh, including how to flavor it, and ways to be creative with matzoh balls. I loved reading how Cohen's grandmother would tease her and call her a ganef, meaning a thief, for trying to grab matzoh balls from the kitchen and then how, many years later, Cohen found an old cookbook that referred to a kind of matzoh ball actually called a ganef. Cooked on top of a stew, the big, puffy dumpling sopped up the other flavors, literally stealing them. She gives that recipe, too.


WILD MUSHROOM-POTATO KUGEL Adapted from "The Gefilte Variations"
Time: 3 1/4 hours, including soaking and cooling
1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or vegetable oil, plus oil for pan
3 cups thinly sliced onions
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
4 pounds baking potatoes, peeled
4 large eggs, beaten.
1.
Soak mushrooms in 2 cups hot water for 1 hour, until soft. Strain through a sieve lined with a paper towel or coffee filter paper; reserve soaking liquid. Rinse mushrooms, pat dry and chop coarsely.
2.
Heat oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add onions and saute, stirring, until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Transfer to bowl and season with salt
and pepper. In same skillet, place mushrooms, garlic and mushroom liquid.
Cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until liquid evaporates. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and remove from heat.
3.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Generously oil bottom and sides of a heavy baking dish (like a 13-by-9-inch lasagna pan), preferably enameled cast iron.
4.
Grate potatoes in a food processor using coarse grating disc, or with a hand grater. Transfer to colander, rinse well, drain, then squeeze out as much liquid as possible with your hands. Combine potatoes in a large bowl with eggs, fried onions and a generous seasoning of salt and pepper.
5.
Place baking pan in oven a minute or two, just until oil is sizzling. Remove pan from oven and spread half the potato mixture into it. Spread mushrooms over, then add remaining potatoes, smoothing the top. Drizzle a little olive oil on top.
6.
Bake about 50 minutes, until top is golden and crisp. Remove from oven and let stand until it reaches room temperature, at least 30 minutes. Reheat 15 minutes at 350 degrees before serving.
Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Copyright New York Times 2000

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From Library Journal

In this lovely book, Cohen brings a breath of fresh air to favoriteJewish dishes, from matzoh brei to noodle kugel. Her "improvisations," some 200 recipes in both the Ashkenazi and Sephardic traditions, while imaginative and
often sophisticated, are uncontrived and faithful in spirit to the original: Garlic-Rosemary Potato Latkes, Chicken Soup with Roasted Fennel Matzoh Balls, and Duck and White Bean Cholent, "reminiscent of a fine cassoulet." The first half of the book contains recipes organized by course, the second presents special dishes for the holidays; all are kosher. Cohen's well-written and informed text provides a great deal of history and background, and thereare myriad quotations throughout from such writers as I.B. Singer, Sholem Aleichem, and many others.
Highly recommended.
Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

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