Three recipes to enhance your holiday meals
FoodBraised roast, rice pilaf and apple cake

Three recipes to enhance your holiday meals

Simple and do-ahead recipes for Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot

Grandma Millie's Apple Cake (Photo by Jessica Grann)
Grandma Millie's Apple Cake (Photo by Jessica Grann)

Braised sweet and sour cherry roast is a consistent Shabbat and holiday entree at my table. It elevates a normal cut of beef like chuck roast, making it much more affordable to serve meat for the meal. You can absolutely make the same recipe using a more expensive cut of beef like brisket, but it isn’t necessary. If I’m having a large crowd, I often just make two chuck roasts.

There are two secret ingredients in this recipe that are not typical outside of most Sephardic communities: Aleppo pepper and tamarind sauce, which are both available online and in most Middle Eastern markets. Tamarind sauce, also known as “ou” and “tehrmendi,” is added to many Syrian and Persian recipes and gets a tart, lip-smacking reaction when tasted in its pure form. There are even mock ou recipes using lemon juice and prune jam; a batch keeps in the fridge for up to a year. This is a staple in my kitchen because small amounts are used in many of my recipes.

This recipe has sugar and fruit, and it caramelizes and creates the sought-after “bark effect” that is popular in barbecue. Aleppo pepper adds a mild smokiness to all kinds of dishes. It is about half as spicy as cayenne pepper and it adds more depth of flavor.

I appreciate this recipe because I can cook it ahead of time. The meat seems to taste better once sliced and reheated in its sauce, and it freezes beautifully. Most of us are working full time and hustling to prepare holiday meals, so anything that can be prepared ahead is a lifesaver.

Braised Sweet and Sour Cherry Roast (Photo by Jessica Grann)

Braised Sweet and Sour Cherry Roast

1 2½-3 pound chuck roast
1 large sweet onion, sliced
2-3 tablespoons of avocado or neutral oil
2 cans sweet cherries in water, strained with juice reserved, or 2 cups frozen cherries
Juice of 1 lemon
⅓-cup tamarind sauce
½-cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper

Set oven to 325 degrees F and place rack in the middle of the oven. Sauté sliced onion in 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat for 10-15 minutes, until onions are brown but not caramelized.
Use a heavy-bottomed pan if possible, like an enameled Dutch oven.

Scoop cooked onions into a bowl, add 1 more tablespoon of oil if needed, and brown the chuck roast for about 2 minutes on each side.

Remove pan from heat and remove the roast from the pan. Scoop about 2/3 of the onion back into the pan, add the roast, and scoop the rest of the onions on top of the roast. Pour the tamarind sauce, lemon juice and cherries over the roast, then sprinkle with salt, sugar and Aleppo pepper. If using canned cherries, add a ½-cup from the drained liquid. If using frozen cherries, don’t add any liquid.

Roast uncovered for 1½ hours. Remove from heat and taste sauce. If you prefer a more sour sauce, add a tablespoon of tamarind sauce. If you prefer a sweeter sauce, add 2 tablespoons of sugar, or more, to your taste. Increase oven temperature to 350 degrees F, and roast for at least a half-hour more, or until fork-tender.

Remove from oven and let cool completely before slicing the roast. After slicing, place it back in its sauce and stir.

Heat covered at 300 degree F for a half-hour before serving.
If you choose to freeze this roast, take from the freezer the day before your meal and let it thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Serve with plain or festive rice.

Festive Easy Rice Pilaf (Photo by Jessica Grann)

Festive Easy Rice Pilaf

This recipe is steamed in the oven and always comes out just right. There are a few steps before baking, but at that point you just set a timer and walk away. The addition of fruits and nuts really brightens up the Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot menus.

2 cups Basmati rice
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼-cup orzo pasta
¼-cup sliced or slivered almonds
¼-cup unsalted pistachios
¼-cup pine nuts
¼-cup dried apricots, diced
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3-¼ cups boiling water

Put 2 cups of Basmati rice in a small bowl, and cover with cold water. Let soak for 30 minutes, pouring off the water on top and changing the water several times. The water will still look cloudy even after 30 minutes of soaking and changing.

Ingredients for Festive Easy Rice Pilaf (Photo by Jessica Grann)

Set oven to 400 degrees F, and place rack in the upper middle third of the oven.

Measure out orzo, nuts and diced apricots into a small bowl. Boil 3¼ cups of water.

Warm 2 tablespoons of olive oil over low-medium heat, and add all of the ingredients in the bowl at once. Stir constantly for 1½ to 2 minutes, watching carefully that the ingredients are toasted, yet not burned.

Remove from heat and scrape ingredients into a 9-by-13 casserole or disposable half pan. Sprinkle with 2 teaspoons of salt and add in the drained rice. If there is a little water in the rice bowl after draining, that is perfectly OK.

Slow-pour the boiled water into the casserole, then cover with heavy duty aluminum foil. I like to tear a large piece of foil and fold it in half because it creates a stiff seal when folded over the edge of the pan. I also like to bake the pan on a cookie sheet, just in case a little water spills out.

Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let stand covered for 5 minutes more. Uncover, fluff with fork, and scoop onto serving bowl or platter. Salt to taste. The colors and textures add a beautiful side dish to your table.

Grandma Millie’s Apple Cake

This apple cake is a recipe handed down to me by my beloved Grandma Millie. I recall eating it as far back as I can remember and it’s a staple in our home today. It is a dense cake full of apple and nuts. The apples are chunky, the edges get crisp and it has a slightly rustic appeal. It works both for brunch and for dessert.

This apple cake also freezes really well, so you can make it ahead or freeze half for a later time so it will be ready to thaw if unexpected guests are coming over.

1½ cups neutral vegetable oil of your choice, or liquid coconut oil
1½ cups sugar
½-cup light brown sugar
3 large eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
3½ cups peeled, diced Granny Smith apples; I typically use 3 medium-large apples
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
½-teaspoon nutmeg
½-teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons good quality vanilla extract
2 cups chopped pecans, or walnuts if you prefer

Set the oven to 325 degrees F and place the rack in the middle of the oven.

Combine oil and sugar in a stand mixer bowl, and mix on low speed until well blended.

Add eggs, one at a time, until well blended.

Sift together all dry ingredients, including spices. Add 1 large spoonful at a time into the mixing bowl until well blended. Add the 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract and mix for a moment more.

Remove bowl from mixer. This is a very dense batter, and it takes a strong rubber spatula to manually fold in the diced apples and chopped nuts.

Oil and flour a 4-inch-deep Bundt pan. Scoop batter into the pan, and pat until it is evenly distributed.

Bake for 90 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

This is the hard part: This cake must be completely cool before turning out onto a plate. This sometimes takes 2, even 3 hours. Be patient — it is worth it for a perfect result. You may need to insert a knife around the edges of the cake before turning it out. Simply place a large plate over the pan and flip, then remove the Bundt pan from the cake.

This cake stays fresh for days, and I have a feeling it will be a welcome addition to your fall holiday menu. PJC

Jessica Grann is a home chef living in Pittsburgh.

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