Can Thanksgiving be celebrated during COVID? What can we do when large family gatherings and festive meals are on hold due to a second wave of coronavirus infections?
The Highland Park Conservative Temple-Congregation Anshe Emeth (HPCT-CAE) presented a solution to these dilemmas with an evening with noted cookbook author Susie Fishbein. On Monday, November 16, via Zoom, Fishbein, author of the “Kosher By Design” cookbook series, showed attendees how to prepare and cook an elegant, festive meal with familiar Thanksgiving menu favorites designed for serving to immediate family. Over 100 people tuned in to learn to make Sweet Potato Wontons, Freekeh Pilaf and Chestnut Stuffed Turkey London Broil for an intimate Thanksgiving dinner.
Fishbein began the presentation by noting that this year there will only be her immediate family at her home and it would not be practical to cook the same foods for four people that she normally would for a gathering of 25. She added that “while COVID has taken a lot from us, it hasn’t taken the Thanksgiving spirit. We should be thankful for what we do have and not dwell on what we don’t.”
Fishbein began with a demonstration of creating Sweet Potato Wontons. In addition to the actual recipes, Fishbein introduced various kitchen gadgets, safety tips and proper methods for frying foods and chopping onions. When baking sweet potatoes, it was suggested that the foil wrapped potatoes be placed in a metal baking pan as even double foil-wrapped sweet potatoes leak and will cause a mess in the oven. Using pre-made wonton wrappers helped minimize preparation time and streamline the recipe.
Freekeh Pilaf is made with a grain that has been around for thousands of years, and is even referred to in the Torah. When Yosef recommended that Pharaoh prepare for seven years of famine by storing grain, the only way for the grain to remain unspoiled and insect-free was to prepare it as freekeh. It is also referred to when the Torah describes one of the Temple offerings as unripened barley roasted by fire. The distinctive taste of the grain is derived from roasting immature wheat, which was done centuries ago by burning the fields before harvesting.
The featured pilaf included the addition of golden raisins and orange and would be considered a sweeter type of pilaf with ingredients that combine to complement each other. Fishbein compared the grain to a blank canvas and suggested experimenting with more savory ingredients if the sweet ones were not to your liking.
The third recipe, Chestnut Stuffed Turkey London Broil, was introduced as a way to serve traditional Thanksgiving turkey for a small gathering without tons of leftovers. The turkey begins as a deboned filet that is flattened, spread with stuffing, and rolled before being baked. Chestnuts are diced and combined with unflavored croutons, onions and herbs and rolled jelly-roll style on the turkey to make a picture perfect presentation when sliced. Adding chicken broth to the pan ensures that the turkey remains moist. Fishbein cautioned about placing the convenience of using disposable baking pans above safety. Noting that the majority of disposable baking pans are not sturdy enough to support the weight of turkey and liquids, users can be severely burned by hot liquids when removing the pans from the oven. The recommended practice would be to use a sturdy ceramic or metal baking pan. If the convenience of disposables is preferred, Fishbein suggests putting a disposable pan inside a sturdy metal baking pan to minimize clean-up, or at a minimum tripling up on the baking pans to make them stronger.
In addition to the many individual donors who supported this event, the HPCT-CAE program was sponsored by Ruthy Solomon in memory of her mother, Helen Solomon z”l, and Bonnie Freidenreich in memory of her mother, Sylvia Zagorin, z”l, and mother-in-law, Vickie Freidenreich, z”l. Freidenreich noted that she had seen Fishbein do a demonstration years ago and the technology of a Zoom presentation made scheduling easier; the downside was that the audience had to forego the food samplings that were such a memorable part of the presentation.
There are other events planned via Zoom by the HPCTC-CAE. Visit their website at http://hpct-cae.org/ for more information.
By Deborah Melman