As a child growing up in a mixed household (my father was Jewish, my mother was Lutheran) I was always a little confused by Passover and Easter.
Both are religious holidays, and it was also the only time in my family that we ate fish. We’d have fish every Friday during Lent, leading up to Easter and then at the Passover seder we would have gefilte fish. I grew up in a mixed neighborhood (Jews and Catholics) and until I was about 10 years old, I thought Passover meant a sale on fish.
To add to my confusion, these were both holidays that moved around the standard calendar. As a child I didn’t understand that the holidays are based on the Gregorian and Jewish calendars, I just knew I could never predict when the holiday would occur. Sometimes it was near my birthday in March, at other times near my sister’s birthday in April. What I did know is that I loved going to my grandmother’s houses for the feasts. This year Passover begins after sundown on Friday, April 15 and ends in the evening of Saturday, April 23 and Easter is smack dab in the middle of that on April 17.
My parents and both my grandmothers are long gone and, while I’m not religious, I still go to my in-laws for the Passover seder and occasionally celebrate Easter with friends. I dug way back in my family cookbooks to share some favorite recipes for both holidays. The recipes, of course, can’t be swapped back and forth, as the Passover recipes all have religious significance. Leavened bread or bread products are prohibited during Passover to honor the fact that the Jews had to leave quickly to escape slavery in Egypt and didn’t have time to allow their bread to rise. Special matzo crackers and matzo meals are used as primary starch, as are potatoes. Of course, ham, and Easter mainstay, is also out. So, I’ll share recipes from Grandma Emily for Easter and Grandma Sara for Passover.
Sara’s Gefilte Fish
Basically, a fish meatball. It’s a labor-intensive recipe, but it can be made the day before and stored in the refrigerator (in fact it’s better the next day).
12 cups water or fish stock
2 stalks of celery and
1 lb. whitefish, pike or carp
1 tbsp. ground black pepper
1 tbsp. kosher salt
1 tsp dried parsley
1 cup matzo meal (approximately)
Place fish stock or water in a large pot, add ½ onion, 1 carrot and celery to the pot.
Bring to boil and reduce to simmer.
While the broth heats, add a carrot and remaining ½ onion into a food processor and chop finely.
Add fish and pulse until the fish is almost a paste.
Transfer fish mixture to a bowl.
Add in the salt, sugar, pepper, parsley, eggs, and matzo meal.
Mix and form into oval balls (football shaped), place on platter.
Chill fish balls 5-10 minutes.
Drop the fish balls into simmering liquid.
Cover and cook 30 minutes.
Remove from liquid, place on platter, and refrigerate until serving.
Place on leaves of endive. Garnish with fresh parsley if desired. Serve with horseradish.
Aunt Ruth’s Matzo Ball Soup
Can be made a few days ahead. Store the matzo balls in a separate container so they don’t get soggy. Then add to the soup to warm through.
1 roasting hen (4 to 6 pounds)
2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1 lb. carrots, coarsely chopped
6 celery ribs, coarsely chopped
1 coarsely chopped sweet onion (reserve half a cup)
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon pepper
1 bunch minced fresh parsley (reserve 2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons schmaltz (chicken fat-may substitute vegetable oil)
2 teaspoons everything bagel seasoning
½ cup finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons minced parsley
½ cup club soda
1 cup matzo meal
Place chicken in a large soup kettle, add chicken, 1 teaspoon kosher salt and enough water to cover the chicken.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat; simmer for 55-65 minutes or until meat is tender, skimming the surface as foam rises.
Remove chicken and set aside until cool enough to handle.
Strain broth and skim fat, add the carrots, celery, onion, garlic, pepper, parsley, and remaining salt.
Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer for 15 minutes or until carrots are tender.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk eggs and schmaltz or oil.
Add matzo ball mix, parsley, and onion,
Add club soda and toss with a fork until combined.
Cover and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
Remove and discard skin and bones from chicken; chop chicken and add to soup.
Bring to a boil.
Drop 12 rounded tablespoonfuls of matzo ball dough into boiling soup.
Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into a matzo ball comes out clean (do not lift cover while simmering).
With a slotted spoon, carefully remove matzo balls.
To reheat and serve, bring soup to a simmer, and immerse matzo balls for 15 minutes.
Remove from soup with a slotted spoon, place one in each soup bowl.
Ladle soup over top.
Cousin Rebecca’s Slow-Cooker Brisket
My family laughed at this too-easy recipe, until they tasted it. Now it’s a must at every holiday meal.
1 4–5-lb. beef brisket
1 lb. small Yukon Gold potatoes
1 envelope dry onion soup mix
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 12-ounce bottles of Heinz chili sauce
½ cup root beer (not sugar-free)
Place the brisket in the crockpot.
Sprinkle the onion soup mix, garlic powder, and brown sugar over the top of the brisket, and massage gently into the meat. Pour the chili sauce over the top, covering the meat completely.
Top with potatoes.
Cook on low heat for 8 – 10 hours.
Remove the potatoes and brisket from the slow cooker and place on platter.
Slice the brisket against the grain, pour the sauce over the slices to serve.
June’s Stuffed Leg of Lamb
I’ve updated and spruced up my Aunt June’s recipe. She also always cooked her lamb well. I prefer mine slightly pink.
5 lb. boneless leg of lamb
Salt & pepper to taste
8 ounces fresh spinach leaves
6-8 ounces goat cheese
2 teaspoons pine nuts
1 tablespoon oil
Place roast on a cutting board, boned side up.
With a sharp knife, cut away any excess fat, then cut 1/2-inch-deep slits in the meat about 2 inches apart, to help the meat lie flat.
Cover the meat with a sturdy piece of plastic wrap and pound with a mallet until the roast is about 3/4 inch thick everywhere, and 10 to 14 inches square.
Preheat an oven to 400°.
Sprinkle the upper side of the meat with salt and pepper.
Arrange spinach leaves over the top of the roast to within ½ inch of the edges.
Break up the goat cheese and sprinkle it evenly over the spinach.
Sprinkle with pine nuts.
Roll the roast up into a tight cylinder and tie the roast together with kitchen twine.
Heat the oil in a heavy oven-proof or cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat and sear all sides of the roast, including the ends.
Lay the roast in the skillet and place into the preheated oven.
Roast for about 40 minutes or to your desired degree of doneness (130° for pink, 145° for medium).
Remove from the oven, cover aluminum foil, and allow to rest 10 to 15 minutes before slicing.
Aunt Betty’s Old Bay Deviled Eggs with Shrimp
You’ve got to do something with those hard-boiled eggs. Turn them into an appetizer with this easy recipe.
24 rock or bay shrimp, cooked
12 hard-boiled eggs, halved
½ cup mayonnaise
1 dill pickle, minced
1 tsp. Old Bay seasoning
½ tsp. salt
pinch Old Bay seasoning
Drain shrimp, in refrigerator, on paper towels until all water is absorbed
In a food processor, blend the yolks from 12 hard-boiled eggs (halved whites reserved), with the mayonnaise, minced dill pickles, Old Bay seasoning, salt until smooth.
Place the filing mixture in a zip-lock plastic bag.
Snip the tip off the bag and use it to pipe the mixture into the egg-white halves.
Sprinkle each with a pinch of Old Bay seasoning.
Top each deviled egg with a shrimp and fresh dill.
Granny’s Yummy No-Bake Apple Pie
This is trailer-trash cooking, but I love it.
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
¼ cup sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
8 tablespoons salted butter, melted
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
½ cup of sugar
1 can (16 ounces) apple pie filling
1 large container of Cool Whip
1 package instant vanilla or butterscotch pudding
In a medium bowl, combine melted butter with graham cracker crumbs, cinnamon and ¼ cup of sugar.
Set aside 2 tablespoons of the crumbs (for the topping).
Spread the rest of the crumbs into a 9 x 9 baking dish, push down to make a flat layer.
Combine softened cream cheese with ½ cup sugar with an electric mixer.
Pour this mixture into the crust.
Open the can of apple pie filling, take a knife and slice apples inside the can. Go back and forth in a slicing motion to create smaller chunks of apples.
Top cream cheese layer with chopped apple pie filling.
In a separate bowl combine the Cool Whip and pudding mix.
Evenly spread the Cool Whip mixture over the apple layer.
Sprinkle top with reserved graham cracker crumbs.
Refrigerate for a couple hours (or overnight) before slicing and serving.