Jewish Food: Cooking, Eating, Learning, Watching, Listening, Schmoozing

by Pat Launer November 27, 2018
 

 

cocnut-%22latkes%22-cookiesAre you a podcast person or a vlog-viewer?

Whether you prefer to get your info by ear or by eye, there’s something delicious on the internet waiting for you.

You don’t have to be a foodie to enjoy learning about ingredients, recipes, Jewish traditions or techniques. Everyone’s gotta eat, right?

Two delightful NJGs (Nice Jewish Gals) would love to enter your home, metaphorically speaking, to further spark your culinary interest.

Natasha Feldman is the producer and star of “Nosh with Tash” and Beth Shenker hosts and produces “The Big Schmear.” One is video, one audio, but you’re sure to enjoy them both.

A Broad View of the Nosh

San Diego-born Natasha Feldman moved to the Portland environs at age seven.

“It was my first direct experience with summer fruit,” Tash enthuses. “Marionberries, boysenberries. My hands were bleeding from picking them off the vines.”

The fruit was more plentiful than the Jewish community. In Lake Oswego, a suburb of Portland, there were so few Jews that Shabbat services were held in a local church, “with the star of David slung over the cross,” Tash recalls. And that’s where she had her bat mitzvah.

She describes her younger self as “very, very shy.” But then she found theater and it changed her life and personality.

When she moved back to San Diego during high school, she performed in many musicals with the J*Company at the JCC and served on the youth board of the La Jolla Playhouse. In 2005, she performed at Diversionary Theatre in “Looking for Normal.”

She wasn’t particularly interested in food as a kid, but she recalls, “the produce in California was great, but the level of interaction with the food was so much higher in Oregon.”

When she became inspired by gastronomy, she was thrilled to learn that her great great grandmother was a caterer in the Old Country (Poland). Before the pogroms came, she would bake for the whole community on holidays and special occasions.

Tash was a theater major at Loyola Marymount University in L.A., and she spent her junior year in London, studying Shakespeare at the British American Drama Academy. There she discovered the Borough Market, one of the largest and oldest food markets in London, dating back to the 12th century.

“It’s a phenomenal market,” she says. “The heartbeat of London. I totally fell in love with it.  I started cooking for everyone, and I realized that, maybe I can be a performer of a different kind.”

When she moved back to L.A. to finish school in 2009, she started a food blog and began “making the transition from traditional theater into food.”

She went to culinary school and soon found “an amazing job” teaching cooking classes. She rapidly progressed from assistant teacher to teacher and that turned into catering for private parties and various events and starting a production company with a friend. She took joy in cooking for an audience.

“The most important thing I share on ‘Nosh with Tash,’ I think, is to embrace the sloppiness and genuineness of cooking. Like theater, if you mess up, you have to fix it right there. Same with my cooking show. If I mess up, I fix it on camera. I want people to fall in love with the imperfection of the experience.

“What I’m presenting,” she says, “is honest food for weeknight cooking. I’m not Martha Stewart, with people behind the scenes arranging the food with a tweezer so it’s perfect. I want to help busy working people.”

For her first production company, Cinema and Spice Productions, she combined her culinary skills with her friend’s film school abilities. They inventively paired film and food, creating videos on YouTube and  Yahoo.

For “Annie Hall,” they served cocktails with Dr. Brown’s cream soda, black-and-white cookies and bagels. “It was a fantastic, New York-style West Coast brunch.”

For “Raising Arizona,” they suggested “baby-sized portions of Southwestern food.” They dressed up (in spandex for “Dark Knight Rises,” for example), showed clips of the movie, and “gave people a creative way to have fun.”

Now, for ‘Nosh with Tash,’ she hosts and produces, working in a large rented kitchen. She has appeared as a guest on radio programs, KTLA-TV, and the Hallmark channel’s Home and Family talk show.

“I’m spreading the word that food doesn’t have to be perfect or look like a restaurant meal. You can nourish yourself and your family with food that tastes good, doesn’t have too many ingredients and doesn’t take too much time.

“All these cooking shows that spend so much time making the food beautiful make home cooks feel inadequate. My mission is, I want people to re-evaluate what they think makes their food successful.”

Though she takes food seriously, on camera Tash is lively company; she may sing and dance around the kitchen or say ‘Thank you, chickens, for your service,’ as she cracks an egg.

On her show about matzo balls (“I like them golfball size”), she said she was making “love in a bowl, Matzo Balls to Make Your Bubby Proud.” She even asserted that “your matzo balls taste better if you talk like an old Jewish lady.”

Her website (noshwithtash.com) offers enticing recipes, regular YouTube videos and lots of info, tips and recipes shared on her hip Instagram feed.

Not all her food is Jewish, but when it is, she strongly feels, “If there’s no joy in Jewish food, the whole mood is killed for me.”

She embraces a broad definition of the word ‘nosh.’

“The dictionary would say ‘to eat enthusiastically.’ Your grandma would call it a nibble between meals. I’m trying to give little pieces of information – about noshing on food, but also about becoming a better cook. Come to the site, learn a little something, nosh on that, then come back and learn something else.

“My goal is to have a good time and try to make people feel like they can do exactly what I’m doing. It’s not about me or what a good cook I am. I want people to watch me make the food, then get the recipe and try it themselves.”

She has exciting new projects coming down the pike in 2019; follow her on Instagram to keep up (@noshwithtash).

Her hope is to someday become “a household name you go to when you want cooking at home that’s easy, quick and totally attainable. Right now, I’m always available as a resource for fun food content that feels really honest and helps people live better.”

Jewish Food by Ear

Tash likes the video route, but Beth Shenker prefers an audio podcast. She started “The Big Schmear” in 2016.

She grew up in New Jersey and then Tucson. Her family was “very observant” and kept a kosher home. Her mother, she admits, was “not a great cook,” but her aunt was “an amazing baker and cook.”

“At age 10, the first thing I made was a fried egg. Nobody died,” she deadpans.

It wasn’t until she had her own family that she really got interested in food, and in Jewish food in particular.

“Growing up, we didn’t have a very sophisticated palate. I was the oldest of five, and both my parents worked. So I had to cook for the family. Cooking for me wasn’t fun, but I always gravitated to baking.”

When she left home for the University of Arizona in Tucson (majoring in interior design), she took an apartment with her sister, and together, they baked.

One of Beth’s early jobs was dressing manikins in a department store. Later, she became executive director of a nonprofit organization focused on community arts. That gave her “a taste of arts administration.”

When she moved to New York City, she worked for a friend who managed performing artists. She became a radio producer and sent arts-related documentaries to National Public Radio.

By this time she was married and she moved to Lincoln, Nebraska for her husband’s work at a public radio station.

“There weren’t a ton of Jews in Lincoln,” she reports. “So I paid particular attention to holidays and holiday food, which to me meant Ashkenazi food. It was my way of introducing my daughter to Jewish cooking and eating. The reform Temple in Lincoln was a big part of our life. I liked the cultural connection.”

In 2000, the family relocated to Chicago, where they remain. When actor/writer/composer Hershey Felder came through to perform his “George Gershwin Alone,” Beth produced his first CD.

For the past dozen years, her full-time job has been associate dean for public and non-credit programs at Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership. In that capacity, she programs films, lectures and concerts. She loves her work, but she craved an artistic/creative outlet.

Tapping into her radio expertise, she came up with a food show in an audio format.

“At that time, podcasting was still kind of a new thing,” she recalls. “It bore similarities to radio, but it required a new way of thinking – and a big learning curve: working with audio files, developing a website, distribution.”

“The Big Schmear” segments average 20 minutes in length. Beth serves as host and producer and she invites a wide range of guests to share their conception of Jewish food.

She produces two episodes a month. Her guests are often in Chicago on book tours. Her listeners come from around the U.S., as well as Japan, Australia, Canada, the UK and Israel.

“I love talking to a wide range of people about their passion,” says Beth. “That’s really fun and it feeds my passion.”

“Interested in food? Listen to what my fascinating guests have to say. Sometimes they share recipes. Sometimes we talk about the holidays. I was interested in creating something to lighten people’s day – and my own. Jewish food just felt comfortable to me.

“I’ve learned a lot from the people I’ve interviewed. But the purpose isn’t for me to cook; I’m just the instrument to give information.”

Some of the recipes on her website (thebigschmear.com) sound exotic and foreign (at least to me):  like zchug (a spicy Yemenite condiment) or Shtritzlach (blueberry buns).

“There are so many talented, passionate people who are focusing their energies on this thing we call Jewish food,” Beth asserts. “It gives me confidence that this niche food is safe for many generations to come. Some are keeping original, traditional recipes intact; others are trying to bring the food into the 21st century. It’s a great adventure.”

See Recipes from “Nosh with Tash” (noshwithtash.com) and “The Big Schmear” (thebigschmear.com) below.

RECIPES
HORSERADISH AND ARUGULA SALAD

From “Nosh with Tash”

Horseradish is often an ingredient that makes it into at least one dish for a Hanukkah spread… but rarely, if ever, is it fresh horseradish, which is about 1,000 times more delicious than the kind in the jar. I highly recommend you give it a go this year. It’s an unassuming little root that packs huge flavor and can last in your fridge for quite some time. In this recipe, the combination of mustard, vinegar, citrus juices, arugula and horseradish makes this the perfect simple salad to stand up to whatever else you’re serving (i.e., short ribs or your main protein, and latkes). A great, crisp, simple green salad with a zingy dressing balances out the delicious unctuousness (my boyfriend’s favorite word) of a dish like short ribs or beef bourguignon.

Ingredients:

Dressing:

• 1/4 cup fresh horseradish, zested

• 1/4 cup olive oil

• 1 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

• 1 tablespoon fresh tangerine juice

• 1/8 teaspoon sea salt

• 1/8 teaspoon black pepper

• 1/2 teaspoon stone ground mustard

• 1 1/2 teaspoons honey

• 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

Salad:

• 3/4 pound baby arugula

• 1 tablespoon parsley, chopped

• serves 6

Directions:

1. Combine all salad dressing ingredients in lidded jar.

Shake well.

2. Taste to make sure you don’t want to add any more salt, sugar
or acid.

3. Grab your favorite salad bowl.

4. Toss all salad ingredients together before serving or
slightly salt the arugula, dress the greens, sprinkle with a big  pinch of salt and the parsley.

Coconut “Latkes” Cookies

From “Nosh with Tash”

The only thing better than having latkes during a meal is having them twice. All the crispy, crackly, crunchy goodness of a latke smashed into a chocolate dipped coconut dessert! See ya never macaroons.

Ingredients:

• 1 – 14 ounce bag of sweetened coconut

• 2 egg whites

• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

• Pinch of salt

• 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate

• Sprinkles

• Sea salt to taste

• Makes about 16 cookies

Directions:

1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

2. Cover your largest baking sheet in parchment paper and   generously coat in canola oil.

3. In a large mixing bowl whisk together the eggs, vanilla and   salt.

4. Pour in the coconut and combine well with your hands.

5. Roll a packed tablespoon full of coconut into a ball and flatten   it  with force between your hands. Make sure the coconut is   uniformly flat and is holding together.

6. Lay the coconut cookie onto your sheet pan and continue   until you’re finished with all of the “dough.”

7. Bake for 15-17 minutes until the edges are truly golden brown   – you want them to be crispy once they cool.

8. Let the cookies cool for at least 15 minutes before moving   on to the next step.

9. Microwave 6 ounces of bittersweet chocolate for about a min   ute until the chocolate is melted and shiny.

10. Dip half of each cookie into the chocolate, or spoon chocolate   over half of each cookie.

11. Generously sprinkle chocolate dipped side of cookie with sea   salt and sprinkles.

12. Lay the cookies on a new sheet of parchment paper to set.   If you’d like to speed up the process, you can refrigerate the   cookies for 20 minutes.

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