Thursday, December 14, 2006

My last demo: Riverdale

Just want to share a few comments about a demo I was invited to give, last week at the Riverdale Y. As you will see below, we are scheduling another class soon. Attention Riverdalians (is that what you are called?) stay tuned, you might want to come and join us! It was so much fun! This next time it will be a Moroccan feast, that will be fabulous!

We are reviewing the evaluations from our Festival and everyone is raving about your class! It was just wonderful. Even my husband, who hates nearly everything, loved those latkes! Thank you. We’d like to schedule another cooking class here with you. Would it be possible for you to teach your Moroccan feast here? Sometime in March or whenever is good for you? Let me know your thoughts.
Thank you again,
Marti Michael
Director of Operations and Communications
Riverdale YM-YWHA

And another:

Hi Levana - you had them all completely wrapped up in that Y kitchen/ following their recipe and making notes and learning and watching - the prep folks loved it !........what I had time to taste like the soup and tempeh dish and the apple latkes were wonderful! ... it was great! table settings looked so inviting - whole experience was good! will let u know what the evaluations said when we tab them ..........thanks, it was good working all the details with such an organized you.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

My next cookbook

Dear blogsite friends,

May I pick your brains for a possible title for my next cookbook, all about gourmet dairy-free cooking? I am so excited to be working on this project! I consider it a culmination of all the demos I have given on the subject. What could be better than dairy free, natural and delicious? It is going to be a beautiful book, with the all natural dairy free dishes and desserts you have always been asking for, and gorgeous pictures throughout the book, taken by none other than my talented son in law Meir Pliskin. The manuscript is due at the publishers' in just a few weeks. So: stay tuned!

OU article link with recipes

Let’s Meet and Eat Meat! (click here)
By Norene Gilletz

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Two wonderful reviews of my cookbook

I am used to hearing my cookbook was very well recived, but, at the risk of sounding smug, I admit it doesn't hurt to hear it again, especially in such glowing terms and back to back. Take a look! These arrived just today!

Review of Levana's Table at (click here), and a recipe featured at (click here).

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Tempeh therapy

Last week at a demo, I made this stew, a daring creation everyone had great trepidation coming anywhere near. Tempeh? oy, don't make me, please!!! Yes, it looks that bad. So, what was I thinking? I already know from previous mad experiments that tempeh, a fermented tofu product very high in protein and nutrients, when paired with wonderful, crowd-pleasing ingredients, obediently takes on and soaks up all those flavors it is paired with. Wild mushrooms, who better?
Well, the dish was such a triumph, and so many people were clamoring for the recipe, that I decided to share it with all my buddies. So, here comes!




Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Share your comments and questions!

I can't tell you how many e-mails I receive about our demos, comments, questions, etc.... Why not post them right here? I will respond as promptly as when you e-mail me,, and it would be much more fun and more useful for everyone. So, see you on my blog, OK? Ciao!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Some of my students' Yom Tov menu

Good food gets good mileage: here is just one of the e-mails I received from a regular student and fan:

ok, I just finished making for sukkot your:

butternut squash soup for 30
lamb mousakka (you didn't mention to make an extra 1/2 pound because it's so delicious right out of the frying pan)
eggplant/pepper tajine- which I make regularly
chicken pastia- oy, work
and your pareve cheescake from my birthday

have I done enough? We have a pretty active sukkot calendar with many people all week. I've been thinking about you the entire time. I need Irina as my sous chef!

Hope you've your yontif and bestwishes for a belated happy, healthy New Year. Peter

Dear Levana:

For this holiday in Pittsburgh, I made your brisket and tiramisu (tofu). Watched everybody lick their fingers and ask for more. Not only did I give you credit but also brought your cookbook to leave with my daughter. Now I need another.
Thanks so much.
A happy and healthy year, a sunny sukkot and a merry simchas torah!
Again, mazel tov on Bella. The pictures were wonderful.

Dear Levana,
Shana tovah. Jenny and I saw Maurice just after Yom Kippur. He was aglow. My very best wishes to you all for a wonderful, healthy, blessed New Year.
I wanted to let you know that your bean soup and pumpkin pudding both received rave reviews. (You were given full credit for all.)
I got your new schedule, and hope to join you for other classes. Alas, I doubt that Jenny will be able to be there. We took her to the airport this AM (5AM to be exact.) I'm excited for her, but it feels very strange already, and am I tired! Sniff.
On another note, I was wondering if you ever gave thought to do a "mushroom" class. There are so many interesting varieties available, and I've never gotten much guidance about their strengths
Just a thought.
Once again love and regards to all,

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Nice to be known for good food!

This blurb has appeared on a blog called Urban Baby.This just goes to show you: No one ever forgets a good meal.

Have a wonderful, happy healthy and delicious new year!

Toddler I'm 37 weeks preg. My mom takes me shopping today for baby stuff (love her for it) then drops the bomb on me that everyone will come to my house for the Jewish Holidays because I can't travel anywhere so far along - but she wants to invite the entire family over (basically 10 additional people) and she's the worst cook in the world and gets crappy catering.. (I've become a food snob in my later years - sue me). How bad would it be if I don't want the entire family over, if I cancel? How can I pull this off?
Toddler - Sep 13th, 2006 10:50pm

how about you choose the caterer and tell your mom you cant handle so many people over
- Sep 13th, 2006 10:51pm
It's not bad at all--you don't have to have anyone at your house if you don't want to. It's not even "cancelling," because nobody's been invited yet. But, is it just about the food? If so, could you find better catering for her to get, or ask (more)
the relatives who are better cooks to bring some food?
- Sep 13th, 2006 10:52pm
You pick the caterer and delegate, delegate, delegate.
- Sep 13th, 2006 10:52pm
OP: yep, this is what I'll do.. I'll be militant about her not bringing any food on her own.
- Sep 13th, 2006 10:56pm
get a caterer now
- Sep 13th, 2006 10:52pm
"mom - I have enough on my plate right now -- please enjoy the holidays"
- Sep 13th, 2006 10:53pm
Call Levana
- Sep 13th, 2006 10:53pm

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A Rosh Hashanah Feast (including six complete recipes)

This article appears in Kallah Magazine.

The Shidduch of Flavors & Texture:

Like many of us, I entertain quite often, and it should come as no surprise to you that I find planning the menu almost half the battle. When I plan a festive menu, I ask myself what flavors will knock their socks off. Yes, I mean flavors, not what fancy cuts of meat or what expensive fish or what magnificent cake. I like this approach for several reasons, of which I will mention just a couple: First and foremost, I am a food “chemist,” and zeroing in on the perfect shidduch of flavors and textures is a triumph I have been sharing with thousands guests and demo students for many years running; secondly, putting the emphasis on workmanship rather than on costliness showcases the artist in you; and third, when using the very best and most seasonable, in a simple, natural and unfussy way, you have the guarantee of a sumptuous meal, at no extra cost. Are you still missing that bison rib, that duck breast, that venison, that rack of lamb, that sea bass? Simply order it when you next go with someone you love to… well, you know what I recommend! I just had the most outrageous venison sausages and a wild mushroom appetizer at Levana Restaurant, and my guest had a bison rib, and was swooning. It was a fabulous treat, but a restaurant treat, and home must look and taste like home.

I trust you will find that the following menu will bear out my initial premise: a glorious meal made from glorious yet simple ingredients. Beautiful tomatoes and fresh herbs are your whole commitment to this wonderful soup. A couple days notice is all you need to secure a capon, in my eyes the king of the poultry world, and one of my favorite meats to make for company. Buy an ounce of saffron that will last you the whole year from specialty food stores or Indian, Italian or Indian markets, rather than get ripped off with those tiny exorbitantly prices vials sold at supermarkets and Korean produce stores. Juniper berries are the ingredient responsible for the fabrication of gin, and are easily found in health food or specialty stores. It makes a world of difference what chocolate you use. Chocolate bars or blocks that list sugar first and cocoa second have very little chocolate, so stay away from them with a vengeance. Callebaut is my favorite brand, but in the absence of this brand or any other fancy one, even the institutional (price clubs, supermarket) real chocolate products will yield very good results.


5 pounds tomatoes (7-8 large, or 20 plum tomatoes), split across

3 heads garlic, points sliced off, leaving the cloves exposed

4 medium purple onions, peeled and split across

3 red peppers, halved and seeded

1/4 cup olive oil

coarse sea salt to taste

10 cups water (2 1/2 quarts)

1/4 cup olive oil

1 cup dry white wine (not cooking wine)

2 cups tomato juice

1/4 cup tomato paste

1 tablespoon paprika

4 sprigs rosemary, leaves only, chopped

6 sprigs thyme, leaves only

2 good pinches saffron threads

freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Mix the first set of ingredients in a bowl, spread on a cookie sheet, and roast for about 45 minutes, until vegetables looked charred. Squeeze the garlic heads until all meat is forced out of its skin. Place all roasted vegetables, plus the second set of ingredients, in a wide heavy pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce the flame to medium, covered and cook 30 minutes. Add the pepper. Cream in a blender or food processor, or with an immersion blender until perfectly smooth. Add ground pepper to taste. Adjust seasonings and consistency (add a little water if it looks too thick). Serve hot. Delicious cold too. Makes 12 ample servings


1 capon, 8 to 10 pounds

triple thickness cheesecloth .

4 cups unfiltered apple cider.

4 tablespoons juniper berries (health food stores), slightly crushed with a rolling pin.

1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper.

4 sprigs rosemary.

6 to 8 bay leaves.

8 to ten whole cloves.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Wash and dry capon thoroughly, removing neck, giblets, and liver and reserving them for another use. Place capon in deep heavy pan just large enough to hold it, breast side down. Cover top of turkey with cheesecloth. Mix all remaining ingredients in a bowl, and pour mixture over the capon, making sure you get the cheesecloth thoroughly moistened with the liquid. Bake 2 hours, pouring cooking liquid over cheesecloth every 1/2 hour. Remove cheesecloth, turn the capon over, breast side up. Bake another hour, or until all juices run clear. Remove capon and let stand 15 minutes before slicing. Transfer the liquids to a small pot and reduce to 2 1/2 cups. Strain into a small bowl, reserving 1/2 cup for the vegetables. Slice the turkey and pour the strained gravy on top. Serve with the roasted root vegetables (recipe follows)


a dozen small onions or shallots, peeled and left whole

2 dozen large cloves garlic

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in 1” chunks

2 large carrots, peeled and cut in 1” chunks

2 large heads celery roots, peeled and cut in1” chunks

2 dozen tiny potatoes, scrubbed

2 large parsnips, peeled and cut into 1” chunks

sea salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup olive oil

reserved 1/2 cup capon cooking liquid

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Mix all but last 2 ingredients in a mixing bowl. Place on 2 cookie sheets and bake until soft and roasted, about 45 minutes. Transfer vegetables to serving platter. Add the reserved cooking liquid and balsamic and toss. Serve hot


style="margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt; font-weight: normal;">2 cups wild rice

1/3 cup olive oil

1 large onion, quartered

4 shallots

4 cloves garlic

5 cups packed sliced mushrooms: shitaki (caps only, morels, oyster, cremini, portobello: whatever you can afford)

1/4 cup white miso paste (health food stores)

1 cup dry white wine

2 good pinches saffron

4 bay leaves

ground pepper to taste.

a dozen chives, sliced very thin

Soak the rice in water to cover until ready to use.

Heat the oil in a wide heavy pot. In a food processor, coarsely grind the onion, shallots and garlic, and add mixture to the pot. Sauté until the mixture is translucent. Add the mushrooms and sauté until most liquids evaporate. Drain the rice, and add to the pot. Sauté 2-3 more minutes. Add the miso paste, wine, saffron, bay leaves, salt and pepper, and 6 cups water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium, and cook covered for about one hour, until the grains just begin to open, exposing the white parts. Add the chives and toss. Serve hot.


1 cup basil leaves

1 medium shallot, peeled.

1/4 cup unfiltered apple cider

1 cup olive oil.

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar.

3 tablespoons honey.

salt and pepper to taste.

mixed greens of your choice, no iceberg

Grind the basil leaves and shallot in the food processor. With motor running, gradually add all other ingredients. Adjust tartness according to taste. Makes about 2 1/2 cups. Pour over the greens just before serving, making sure you use only enough dressing to coat the greens.

Tiramisu 1 1/4 pounds sponge cake, store bought o.k.

1 pound silken tofu, thoroughly drained

2 tablespoons oil.

1/2 cup sugar

1 8 ounce container tofu cream cheese (must be tofutti brand)

1/4 cup brandy

2/3 cup very strong coffee

8 oz very good quality semisweet chocolate, grated.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice the pound cake 1/2 inch thick, and toast in the oven about 15 minutes, until light brown on all sides. Let the slices cool.

In a food processor, process tofu with oil and sugar till perfectly smooth. Add the tofu cream cheese and process a few more seconds. Pour mixture into a bowl.

Mix coffee and brandy in a container equipped with a pout (i.e. measuring cup).

Grease a long loaf pan and line with plastic wrap, letting sides overhang. Line bottom completely with slices of toasted pound cake, arranged to fit tightly (you will use about half the cake). Pour half the coffee mixture evenly and carefully over the cake. Pour half the cream cheese mixture over cake. Sprinkle half the grated chocolate over cream cheese. Repeat: cake, coffee, cream cheese, chocolate. cover the whole loaf with plastic wrap. Refrigerate a few hours until set. Unmold and slice.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

What do we call home?

This past Shabbos, my best friend and neighbor Georganne was here for lunch with her husband James and her wonderful daughters, Elior and Noa. Elior took several helpings of mushrooms and declared they were the best she ever tasted. I told her, "I am glad you like them. I will pack some for you to take home". Her answer brought tears to my eyes. "But this IS my home!"
The same Elior cracked me up some years ago, when I was babysitting her at my house. She grew up in cramped quarters (but this is getting better soon, G-d willing, when they move to a larger house; we will loose our wonderful neighbors, such is the unfortunate story of most New Yorkers' lives)and looked in awe at my comparatively minimally furnished house. She exclaimed "Levana, how come you have no furniture in your house? Is this your country house or something?"
In Elior's small house, I couldn't even begin to enumerate how many guests have poured in, how many fabulous Shabbos and Yom Tov meals, Sheva Brachot, arts and crafts dates, have been hosted. I give them our classical Sephardi bracha: May your house always be full, may your new house become too small for you, may H' constantly expand your space. And on parting, another old Sephardi saying I would like to share with you, which seems to have been composed expressly for them: "Your close neighbor is more precious than your remote brother".

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Paella revisited

Last night I served Paella at a Sheva Brachot we hosted at our home. I love to serve it at buffets, it is a surefirer crowd pleaser. The raves I always get for this dish, including from diners who don't (or used not to) keep kosher, bear out my firm belief: the success of the dish does not depend on the simultaneous presence of fish and meat or poultry (a no-no in kosher cooking), but on a mixture called Sofrito, which gets sautéed in a little olive oil and disperses in the dish in lovely green and red specks. If you find nice lean sausages and want to include them in the dish, add them at the same time you add the rice.
Makes 8 servings.

1 medium onion, quartered
2 ribs celery, peeled and cut in thirds
4 large cloves garlic
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley
1 small bunch cilantro, stems discarded
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut in chunks

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups canned crushed tomatoes

3 cup tiny capers
2 cup sliced green pitted olives
2 teaspoon cayenne, or more to taste
good pinch ground cloves
3 bay leaves
1 tablespoon paprika
generous pinch saffron
salt and pepper to taste
8 portions chicken, dark and white meat, or all dark
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups basmati rice
1cup frozen corn kernels, optional

Make Sofrito: Coarsely grind in a food processor the onion, celery, garlic, parsley, cilantro and red pepper (pulse: do not let mixture get watery). This mixture is your Sofrito.

Heat the oil in a heavy pot, and add the Sofrito. Sauté until translucent. Add the tomatoes, and cook until only 1/2 cup of liquid remains in the pot. Add the capers, olives, cayenne, cloves, bay leaves, paprika, saffron, salt, pepper, chicken and wine, and 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, covered, for 45 minutes. Add the rice, and cook for 15 more minutes. Add the corn, and cook for 5 more minutes, until the rice and chicken are tender. Serve hot.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Mazal Tov!

This proud mother is delighted to announce her daughter Bella's recent engagement, to Meir Pliskin. It seems like only yesterday that I took her to visit a couple of our friends, whose husband is blind and a wizard at all things electronic. As we entered, Michael was standing on his scale, which was telling him the news everyone has so much trepidation about "Your weight is 179 pounds". Bella, a wisp of a child, exclaimed, "This is so cool. The scale is talking to him!" Excited, she in turned stepped on the scale, which announced with great glee, "Congratulations, Michael! You have lost 129 pounds!" Amused, Michael said "Unfortunately, just as soon as Bella leaves, I will gain it all back!" Now Bella is 102 pounds of charm, good humor and kindness, and still beats Michael at the scale game by leaps and bounds. Still, I am sure Michael won't hold it against her and is happy for her!

Friday, July 07, 2006

New York gems

Have you all noticed nobody ever asks "how is your autumn going?", or "how is your winter going?" or "how is your spring going?" Instead we are always asked, and we always ask "how is your summer going so far?" Of course it couldn't possibly mean that the rest of the year we have nothing of interest to report or to enjoy, only that we are trying to stick it out in the sweltering heat as valiantly, interestingly and excitingly as we possibly can. Do we all detect a gleam of sympathy in the eyes of friends who are told we are staying in the city and holding the fort? Well, consider the honest and wholehearted opinion of this mother who in all her children's young years was parked in the mountains for the whole duration of the summer, having a reasonably good time but praying it would end soon.
There is no event, show, exhibit, concert, dinner, movie, long walk, day trip, you name it, my husband and I, or my friends and I don't avail ourselves of in the summer in New York. In fact every year we end up with the same wonderful problem: we didn't have time to do a fraction of what we were hoping to do. I have chosen to share a few very recent only-in-New-York stories, with some classical landmarks as venues: Lincoln Center, the 104 bus, Starbucks, Cirque du Soleil. You will soon see why i never get bored in NYC, in the summer or any other season.

Lincoln Center snob: a good friend who owns a private box at the Metropolitan Opera invited me to a dress rehearsal of Rigoletto. As always, I took my oversize thermos tea mug with me. Helen assured me it would be no trouble, she does it all the time. During the intermission, I took my mug to the bar for a refill. The waiter took a tiny paper cup and proceeded to pour boiling water on a fresh tea bag he placed in my mug, carefully counting after each shot: 1, 2, 3, .... 6. Then he says: "hmm, $3.00 a cup, 6 cups, total 18 dollars. You owe me 18 dollars".
Now, please tell me if I did the right thing: At first I was stunned, as was everyone around me, and I asked him if he feels perfectly comfortable with this reasoning, and his answer was, yes, quite. Then I said I never in my life paid this price for a cup of tea, even a large cup of tea, even at four stars hotels, but he held his ground. I poured off the whole content of the mug right in front of him, and he seemed to find that solution equitable. The rest of the show was great, thank you very much.

Bead bug on the 104: that's my bus, which runs down Broadway all the way to 42nd street and ends up at the UN. As always the bus was crowded and my long bead necklace caught on to one of the passengers' backpack zipper. Without thinking twice, a passenger, comfortably seated and busy with his laptop, dressed in his business suit, abandons his laptop on his seat and lunges to the floor, on all fours, with me, doggedly picking up the precious glass beads, haranguing fellow passengers to pick up what just rolled at their feet, swaying with each jerk of the bus. Pretty soon, half the bus was engaged in the bead hunt, under the direction of my business companion. He seemed to have found, at least for a few minutes, a project infinitely more rewarding than his big deals. Finally, as he was nearing his stop, he triumphantly opened his large palm and poured its contents into a secure pocket of my bag, and it seemed to me, amazingly, that if we didn't recover all the beads, we came pretty darn close.
Well, if he conducts his deals with the same zeal, efficiency and thoroughness as he conducted this hunt, I would hire him anytime. Thank you, and bless you, stranger! I hope G-d soon sends me a partner like you!

Starbucks: While seated at a Starbucks table the other day, sipping my ice coffee, I saw 3 ladies come in, carefully dressed in faded but elegant clothes, no doubt impeccably preserved relics of a more prosperous and more youthful time. They seated themselves at a nearby table. I had expected them to call out their orders, but instead they asked one of the store helpers if it was at all possible to lower the shades near their tables, as the heat was a bit too much for them. Surprised but obliging, the young man did as he was asked, and we were soon all plunged in a cozy semi darkness. Then one of them again asked the young man if he would be so kind as to give them three empty cups. Perplexed, he obliged again. Amused and touched, I watched them as they filled their glasses with whatever accessories were displayed on the counter: ice water and milk. Then each one whipped out a ziplock bag and filled it with sugar packets, napkins and straws. Then they chatted animatedly for about half an hour, after which they all got up to leave, courteously and profusely thanking their host and waving their good-byes.
Take heart, dear friends: we will be old, one day. More power to them, for wanting at all costs (excuse the pun) to be part of the scene. A little cheating was excusable when one considered their ardent desire not to crumple up after their time of glory had passed. who knows, maybe it was only beginning!

Cirque du Soleil: I try my utmost not to miss any of the shows that come to town, and this one, "Corteo", is fascinating. Fellinesque, the New Yorker Magazine qualified this wonderful fantasy. Not even seeing is believing. These triple-jointed people do NOT look like the other circus freaks: they are lean and beautiful, and they perform the most extraordinary stunts without even breaking a sweat. None of those grotesque pectorals or calves on any of them. They couldn't possibly have a mother, none of them, I tell myself each time I watch them, with a lurch of my heart, leaping into the vacuum, landing in a great tumult of good cheer and laughter. And that's the other incredible characteristic: their infinite charm and humor. And the haunting music, and those rasping voices all their own. This year the addition of a dwarf couple in their cast adds a poignant dimension, grace and dignity to their already beautiful show. Oh, and make absolutely sure to come on time, so you don't miss the opening pillow fight, which is nothing short of spectacular, and hilarious.
Au revoir, et merci, Cirque du Soleil. Until next year, I will be wondering what beautiful treats you are hatching for us. G-d be with you and keep you safe!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Smart food shopping

Take a look at the article below. Exactly what I have been exhorting everyone to do. You will never buy retail again, and you will have so much fun shopping!

BUSINESS / YOUR MONEY | June 18, 2006
The Thrifty Millionaire: A Pinch of This and That, and Tasty Savings, Too
Prices for spices in ethnic food enclaves can be far lower than in supermarkets.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Good service

Recently I gave a cooking demo in Philadelphia, and one of the guests present told the following story: she and a few friends were on their way to a New York jaunt, for dinner at Levana, followed by a concert at nearby Lincoln Center. The traffic turned into a complete gridlock, and their SUV, carrying eight passengers, looked like it was never going to make it on time. One of them called Levana Restaurant and explained their predicament. What would happen to their reservations, and how would they make it on time to Lincoln Center? The restaurant's manager suggested they place their order on the phone, and assured them it would be ready by the time they arrived. And it was!
Except there was no time for dessert. No problem, he said again. He suggested they place their order now and find their desserts ready on their way out of the concert. And they were!
Levana Restaurant is the scene of many of these "crimes", and it was wonderful for this owner to hear the story told in such a flattering way!

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Literally heard at Fairway

You will love this line I just heard while shopping up a storm at the Fairway market. Any of you familiar with the shopping scene at the absurdly crowded Fairway on 75th street knows evesdropping is just as unavoidable as a few black and blue marks. One young lady was telling her friend in an animated excited tone: "My whole family came last week and I hosted dinner. I was actually totally literally cooking!!!!"
I have only one regret: I let the stranger vanish out of my life before taking the liberty of asking her the one question the answer to which would have blissfully changed my life: what other ways of cooking does she know? I have been literally food shopping, literally cooking, literally up a storm, for literally thousands of people, literally my whole life. I have been literally racking my brains to find an alternative way to entertain and cook: atificially? virtually? symbolically? Other? (I beg you, please specify!)
Well, y'all know me, I am creative, and if I turn up anything, ANYTHING at all, I will be sure to share it with the whole world! I'll bet that will make me immensely popular, maybe even immensely rich!

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

My funny Memorial Day weekend

I can't remember how many thousands of demos I have given in my classroom as well as around the country. Not only do I always meet wonderful people, but hardly a week goes by when I don't meet someone who tells me how fondly he/she remembers the demo he/she attended, and how much fun and how delicious it was.
The great exception was this past Sunday, where I was invited at a major appliance store. As always, my hostess and I worked on the menu, I supplied the recipes, the shopping lists, I described the format. Early that morning, After 2 and a half hours in a crowded stiflingly hot train, I finally arrive at my destination. I ask the harried woman at her desk to see my hostess, and she answers me that she didn't want to give up her Sunday with her family. OK, I said, I can deal with that. Who then did she designate to replace her? Nobody, was the irritated answer. And she points to 2 bare plastic tables. Do we have a sink? No. Where is the stove? about half a mile away. Who is working with me? Everyone is busy, she kept saying, and pointed to a lame clerk who kept disappearing every chance she got. Needless to say, it went downhill from there. Wherever I stood, whatever I tried to do, telling myself all the while that the guests are arriving in less than an hour, and trying not to look frantic, I was jostled and, for the most part, ignored. It took me a whole half hour to finally understand that this was going to be a real disaster, and gathering all the pride I could muster, I left in tears. My whole day was ruined, and a dozen times I started writing the store a letter that never left, but the gist of which I would like to share with you: All the high tech appliances in the world will not buy you a sense of hospitality, or a sense of class.
The next day was a perfect Tikkun for that fiasco: my children, nephews, nieces and their babies all came for dinner. The house filled with togetherness, good cheer and good food, and we ignored the thunder and lightning beyond. What nachas! I did end up being a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Kosher gelatin

A good friend recently brought me some gelatin from Israel, and I decided to play with it. I catered a Lechaim last week and served a salmon mousse I made with that gelatin. Judjing by the way it disappeared right under our eyes, it came out really fabulous. It is simply called, generically and uncommercially, "Kosher Gelatin" and has a perfect Manchester Badatz Kosher supervision. Can anyone out there use his/her pull to see what it would take to have sold in NYC stores? It leaves the Osem and Kojel brands in the dust. With this gelatin, we could whip up some fantastic creations, sweet and savory. Keep me posted!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Cooking for brides

Hachnasat Kallah is my favorite Mitzvah. All the young brides for whom I made Sheva Brachot, and all the brides that took my classes know that: I am in their corner!
Recently I was asked to write a column about cooking for newlyweds in the Five Towns magazine. Judjing by the number of grateful e-mails I received, It was quite useful. Since this magazine's site is not set up yet, I would like to share this article with all of you. Enjoy the ridiculously simple dishes, and the quiet and delicious times with your husband!


A few years ago, my husband passed on to me David Halberstam’s wonderful book “the fifties”, which I read with great fascination. In one of its chapters, the young bride would doll herself up in the late afternoon and, at the first sound of the bell, race to open the door for her husband, all smiles and endearments, handing him his favorite drink, ushering him into the spotless dining room, the table set up with all its finery, fresh flowers adorning the table, the air fragrant with the promise of a delicious dinner. As we all know, this paradigm of conjugal bliss is gone, and who can honestly say they are sorry to see it go?

Fast forward fifty some odd years: Cooking for two in this harried world in these hard times. On the face of it, investing all that time for just two people sounds like such a waste. Especially when you consider that most brides come with little or no knowledge of how to whip up a meal, which ultimately means they would spend even more time at it than an experienced cook for uncertain results at best, a further deterrent. As a result, most young brides just run to the corner deli and buy a few pints of whatever drab institutional stuff they can get their hands on, and round it all up with pizza or sandwiches, and serve their purchases more often than not on disposable dishes, probably because they sense, correctly in my view, that the second rate meal they are about to serve is not worthy of soiling the spanking new china and cutlery they have just gone to such great pains to acquire. (Remember the bridal registry?)

Gosh, what a difference half a century can make in the politics of domestic life! The first model was quickly discarded, because it seems that the highlight of the housewife’s otherwise uneventful day was the dinner hour when she brought all her charms and hard work to bear. The second model, well, what can I say? It dies hard. I hope and pray it is on its way out as well, because the uninspired “treats” it provides put a serious damper on the romantic atmosphere so essential to the togetherness of a new couple who, just yesterday, were strangers to each other, and who need all the props (I hope the word is not too crass) they can get.

So, does this modest cook presume to have a solution? I can only share with you what I did in the first year of my marriage, which became the objects of countless bridal classes. Judging by all the grateful e-mails I receive about these classes (one of them read: “Dear Levana, my husband loves you”), it is certainly worth a shot here. I have too unfussy an approach to food and cooking to ever let it take too much of my time at home (outside, of course, it is my lifework). I started by establishing the guidelines, and have never veered away from them, even when cooking for hundreds. No store bought prepared foods, no junk, no just-add-water foods, no bottled salad dressings. I was now ready to work with all the rest, and yes, there is a lot left, and only the best and most wholesome to boot. Is half an hour labor a day acceptable to you if the reward is a whole wonderful meal from start to finish, even if you know hardly anything about cooking? One hour baking time for dishes that will last you two meals? I am including a soup, which takes 15 minutes to prepare and 2 hours to cook but makes over a gallon, which means very ample servings for 4 meals. Of course I don’t mean you should serve it everyday of the week. Serve one quart at dinner, freeze the others containers and take them out at a later time, they will be on tap! Same goes for salad dressing: multiply the recipe, and store it in a big glass jar. When you see how delicious salads can be when dressed properly, you will enjoy them more often.

These recipes are hardly recipes, they work beautifully, mostly by default, because of what I don’t do to them: I put absolutely nothing that will ruin them. So, let’s start with the bare bones, and in further columns we will move up to more elaborate preparations when you have mastered the basics. Here then some of my family’s favorites, to this day: roasted salmon, vegetable soup, roast chicken and potatoes, tossed salad and chocolate chip cookies


1 pound salmon fillet, skinned and boned, cut into 1inch slivers, a little wider if this is your main course

first way:

preheat oven to 425 degrees. place salmon in one layer in a baking pan. Nothing on whatsoever. bake 20 minutes. not a minute more.

second way:

same temperature and cooking time. Season salmon with salt, pepper, olive oil, fresh lemon juice, dry thyme and basil


3 quarts (12 cups water)

1/3 cup olive oil

1 large onion, peeled and quartered

6 cloves garlic

1 large bunch flat parsley

1 large bunch dill

6 ribs celery, peeled and cut in large chunks

3 large potatoes, cut in small cubes

2 large carrots, cut in small cubes

2 large sweet potatoes, cut in small cubes

1 tablespoon salt

Bring water and olive oil to boil in a wide bottom pot. In a food processor, using the metal chopping blade, coarsely grind the onion, garlic, parsley, dill and celery. Add to the pot. Add remaining ingredients. Reduce the temperature to medium and cook, covered, 1 1/2 hours. Taste the soup: add a little water if it is too thick, and a little salt if necessary. Let everyone use ground pepper in their own bowl.

second way:

Saute the ground mixture (onion, garlic, celery, parsley, dill) in the olive oil until wilted, before adding the water and remaining ingredients.


Add one or 2 of the following: canned crushed tomatoes, split peas, lentils, bay leaves; skip the potatoes if you are using split peas or lentils


one whole chicken, about 3 1/2 pounds

1 large onion, sliced in a food processor

4 large potatoes or sweet potatoes, cut in 2 inch cubes

2 tablespoons olive oil

first way:

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. place the onion slices in the bottom of a baking pan just large enough to fit your ingredients in one layer. Place the chicken breast side down on top of onion, potatoes all around. Drizzle the oil over the potatoes. Bake 45 minutes. Turn the chicken breast side up, and toss the potatoes. Bake 15 to 20 minutes longer

second way:

Same temperature same cooking time same procedure. Season chicken with dry herbs, lemon juice, paprika, garlic etc... eliminate the potatoes if you would rather not have them, just seasoned roast chicken


romaine lettuce torn into bite size pieces, and perfectly dried (no iceberg)

sliced kirbies

tomato wedges

small wedge onion, minced

Put all greens in a salad bowl. If you would like, add some grated carrots, sprouts, radishes, cranberries or raisins, chopped nuts


first way:

1/3 cup olive oil. 1/4 cup cider vinegar or fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.

second way: same ingredients plus 2 tablespoons dijon mustard, a little water, 1 teaspoon oregano, 2 cloves minced garlic

chocolate chip cookies

2 eggs

3/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 tablespoon vanilla

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

good pinch salt

1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips, best quality

Preheat the oven to 375*f. Cream the eggs and sugars with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the oil and vanilla, and mix in thoroughly. Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt, and mix at low speed. Fold in the chips by hand. Drop the cookies in heaping teaspoonfuls onto a cookie sheet lined with foil, 1 inch apart.

If the baking tray is professional heavy gauge, bake for 10-11 minutes. If it is lighter, bake for 8-9 minutes. The cookies will firm up as they cool, so do not be tempted to bake them longer or they will harden. Bake only one tray at a time (you will get 2 trays total)

Store in tin boxes. Do not refrigerate. Separate each layer of cookies with foil or wax paper so they don=t stick together.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Campari tomatoes

I am sure you have noticed how dramatically the tomato situation has improved around the New York area. It almost got to the point where the pink, mealy and tasteless tomatoes which were almost our only option are now a thing of the past. But there is a tomato that's making a killing, and since its season is so short, I urge you to pounce on it: Campari tomatoes. They are everything a tomato should be, and then some: sweet beyond belief and bursting with color and flavor. This is the greatest tomato I have ever tasted. They come in quart clear plastic tubs, about a dozen to a tub. They are so fabulous that all you need to do to them is either eat them out of hand, or quarter them and sprinkle them with some sea salt. You are in for a fabulous treat!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Going bananas

My family consumes an amount of bananas that would make a small chimp feel threatened with serious competition. A couple years ago, bananas saved my son Yakov from complete boredom and starvation on a plane trip from Sidney Australia to LA where some clerical mix up left him upward of twenty hours without his Kosher meals. His neighbor in the next seat asked him how he could bear it, each time the flight attendant would produce yet another banana, and he assured him he was quite satisfied, happy, even.

I use bananas in smoothies, in pies, in cakes, in drinks, you name it. Listen to what Seth, one of my new guests at a demo last week, wrote me:

"By the way,
All the dishes were excellent but I forgot to tell you how much I liked the cake. You see, I have always hated bananas. Anything with the slightest banana taste made me sick. The cake you made last week was the first time I ever liked something with bananas.
I'm a changed man!"

OK, Seth, I cured you of one phobia so far. No charge for the consultation. And, just so you know what made him a convert, here is the recipe; Enjoy it, and never throw away ripe bananas again!




Counting the days

At Lincoln Square Synagogue, where I have my classroom, we were privileged to have, this whole year, four wonderful Kolel boys from Israel. Whenever their schedule allows them, they drop in on my demos. One of them has nicknamed me "Chaval Al Hazman", Hebrew slang for "there are no words". I look forward to our date at my house on Shavouot. Last night one of them told me something that touched me no end: "Do you know why I am counting the Omer? Because each day gets us closer to our Shavouot date at your place". How cute is that? Now, you see why I adore them?

What pots should I buy?

That is the question I am always asked at every demo. Thirty years ago, my mother in law bought me a set of Farberware pots and pans for my shower, commenting they had served her right in all her lean years, and she hoped they would do the same for me. And serve me right they did. A few years ago, I surveyed my "collection", a little wisfully. Yes, my pots and pans looked worn, and had a few bumps and a few loose screws and handles here and there, and I asked myself, "Don't you think it is about time to get rid of them battered pots and pans and buy a spanking new line?" After all, what could be a better showcase for me? After debating the question, very briefly, I asked myself again, why? Yes,why should I get rid of them? Everyone, feel free to buy $250.00 pots, but my cheap line and I have always been a team, and I owe it much of my reputation, and it has my complete alliegiance. In fact I was pleased to see, at a few prestigious houseware stores, a vamped up Farberware line, somewhat sexier looking than mine, but still very economical, and highly serviceable and efficient, sturdy 18/10 stainless steel.
Last year I was visiting my friend Shuli in Florida, and as usual, I found her slew of cats, which she likes to call by their idiosyncratic Hebrew names: Feivish, Chaimel, Esti, etc... This time I noticed a new one, and she told me his story. She found him at the ASPCA, who was about to put him out of his misery because he was quite old and ailing. She begged them to do no such thing and to let her take him home. She said he did so well in his new setting she actually had to have him neutered. What do you know, he had a lot of life left in him!
So: no such thing as an old pot! It works, why discard it? I just won about a thousand dollars worth of magnificent All-Clad pots for a demo I gave in Bloomingdales. As soon as I took them out of their wrappings, they looked so insolently beautiful that I put them away safely and completely, where my old pots, my babies, who were getting so upstaged, couldn't take a look at them, and more importantly, couldn't be looked at: how could I do them such an affront? Besides, as my husband, the quintessential self employed worker, always says, "The service is you". Yes, you, not the pot. Thirty years and much delicious food later, my opinion hasn't changed, au contraire! I hope you are not disappointed to hear such plebeian comments from a professional. In fact, I even hope you will be enboldened to use your ordinary tools to make wonderful food without waiting until you can afford the designer line.

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