Pick Your Filling

031414_foodPrepare to get your celebration mode in gear, it’s time for Purim! Head to your nearest synagogue, crank up your groggers, and get ready to drown out the name of Haman while cheering on Esther and Mordechai.

As a prerequisite to any and all Purim celebrations (and seudahs), it’s time to dig out your favorite hamantaschen recipe and get baking. This year I received an email with the query of where exactly did the idea of a hamantaschen come from? After a bit of research I came up with three slightly different but not dissimilar explanations for the seminal holiday treat. Simply put, hamantaschen are three-cornered pastries whose traditional filling is poppy seed. In Yiddish, “hamantaschen” roughly translates to Haman’s pocket. Other cultures call it Haman’s hat, because the biblical villain supposedly wore a three-cornered chapeau. Still another explanation I found calls the pastry Haman’s ear.

No matter which definition you choose, the oldest “traditional” hamantaschen recipe I found used yeast dough. The yeast dough variety is typically larger and more Danish-like than the cookie-dough variety I grew up with. No matter which dough you choose, the most talked-about filling I found was poppy seed. It’s not my favorite filling, but a poppy seed interior is ubiquitous among hamantaschen purists.

The sky’s the limit when it comes to fillings, however, from fruits and nuts to chocolate and a mixture of any and all of your favorite things. Just make sure not to overstuff and to vent the cookies as they tend to “explode” into weird-looking pastries if the steam from the filling builds up and there is nowhere for it to go.

I’m offering yeast and cookie-dough recipes and a bunch of really different filling recipes. Since you can always buy pie filling, there are no excuses not to doctor up your own. Strain out the excess goo, and add some bread crumbs and chopped golden raisins to make your own “homemade” fillings. If you’re pressed for time, these recipes are going to help you make hamantaschen that are truly deliciously unique.

Hamantaschen Cookie Dough
Another Hamantaschen Cookie Dough
Joan Nathan’s Recipe for Yeast Hamanstachen
Raspberry Filling
Dried Fruit and Nut Filling
Brownie Filling

Semisweet Secrets

My late mother told me to wait for post-holiday sales for great buys on anything. This adage still rings true. Even a non-Jewish holiday such as Valentine’s Day can provide residual benefits and bargains for Jewish cooks.

On Feb. 15 — and the week after — you can find many kosher chocolates marked to 75 percent off. No matter if they are in traditional “Valentine’s” shapes; you can melt them and use them in recipes.

With that in mind, chili is so heart warming — pun intended — at this frigid time of year, and I have a semisweet secret guaranteed to rev up the flavor. Add a dollop of semisweet chocolate to chili to make it the richest stew around.

Melt chocolate candies and drizzle over almost any cake or dessert, including heart-healthy treats such as baked pears or apples. And don’t forget the Israeli favorite: a combination of orange and chocolate. The best oranges are in season now, so you can use their zest and juice to enhance recipes. Coarsely chop chocolate candies to use in mandelbread or cookies. You can save heart-shaped chocolates for the Tu B’Av holiday this summer.

Outside of the chocolate world, another seasonal best is butternut squash. You can buy it in packages already peeled and diced, making soups, salads and stews so easy to prepare. My butternut squash recipe includes all of February’s top in-season picks for a delicious entrée. The crispy bread topping makes this dish a real treat.

No-Bake Chocolate Mousse Pie

Beef Butternut Squash Stew

Chocolate Chicken Mole

Tips & Tricks
• Add one ounce of semisweet or dark chocolate to any chili recipe for great results.
• Grated orange rind, pure orange juice or extract with chocolate bits make great mandelbread.
• To break up a whole chocolate bar, whack it several times with a rolling pin.
• Store any unpeeled winter squash in a dry basement, as the gourd deteriorates quickly below 50 degrees.

Ilene Spector is a local freelance writer.

Soup Night!

011014_soup-nightDo you remember the folk tale about Stone Soup? Two hungry soldiers tricked a village into adding ingredients until they had a delicious pot of soup made from a stone. It’s one of my favorite stories, and soup is one of my favorite foods, especially at this time of year. Gathering friends, family and neighbors for a casual night of soup and sides is a great bonding idea. I encourage you to try your own soup night.

You can borrow from the folk tale and have guests bring ingredients, cut up and ready to throw in, for one big pot of soup, or you can expand the evening to feature an entire soup buffet to highlight your guests’ own creations. If including children, you might have a pot of simmering water with meat and poultry parts and help the kids add the other ingredients for a custom version of the folk-tale dish. Or include some doctored-up store-bought tomato soup and dip-worthy mini-grilled cheese sandwiches.

Sides can include a wide variety of breads, salads and vegetables. Soup night can be anything: vegetarian, gluten free, dairy friendly; there’s a pot to please every palate. Soups can also be grouped by theme, such as Asian, Middle Eastern or Italian. If this communal soup concept warms your heart, get more ideas at soupnight.net.

“Soup Night” by Maggie Stuckey, brimming with tips and recipes, served as the inspiration for this idea.

WINTER MOUNTAIN SOUP >>
TACO SOUP >>
ASPARAGUS-LEEK CHOWDER >>

Tips & Tricks
• As host, provide one or two soups in a slow cooker, along with disposable bowls, spoons and perhaps some plastic containers for leftovers.
• Have some unique condiments to add to the soups, such as croutons, tortilla strips or maybe even some cooked small pasta or rice.
• The supermarket salad bar is a good place to find fresh cut-up vegetables for soup or garnishes.

Ilene Spector is a local freelance writer.

Vertigo: The Real Thing

The psychological thriller “Vertigo” is considered an Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece, filled with suspense and intrigue. In that classic film, life starts to unravel for a police officer who develops vertigo, a feeling of debilitating dizziness, after a terrifying incident.

The movie is fiction, but the condition of vertigo is very real for about 70 million Americans. Although people at any age are at risk, vertigo is most often diagnosed in those who are 60 years old and older. By age 65, it is the most common reason that adults make appointments to see their doctors.

Vertigo is a specific type of dizziness caused by an inner-ear problem, which is triggered by when the head moves. People who experience it often say it feels as though they are spinning or as though the room around them is spinning when neither is moving.

Vertigo and imbalance can be caused by ear infections, drug toxicity, migraines or a general decrease in the functioning of the inner ear. When the symptoms are at their worst, a person may not be able to stand or walk without falling. Nausea and/or vomiting can also be other side effects.

The most common type of vertigo is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). This happens when crystals in the inner ear, which normally work with the brain to keep people properly balanced, move from their intended spot and migrate into one of the canals of the inner ear so that when the head moves, these crystals send incorrect communication to the brain. These wrong messages result in vertigo and rapid involuntary eye movements. That’s why the spinning feeling happens when individuals bend over, look up, get in and out of bed and roll over in bed, among other situations.

Vertigo is not life threatening, but it can be very disruptive because of the intense dizziness and imbalance that it causes. Sufferers are also at an increased risk for falls.

BPPV is very common in older adults. However with younger individuals, head injuries are the main cause. There is a 30 percent recurrence rate in the first year after treatment, and by five years, about half of all patients have experienced it again.

BPPV is commonly diagnosed with a maneuver called the Dix Hallpike. The person being evaluated should have both vertigo and rapid alternating eye movements for an official diagnosis.

Treatment for BPPV is pretty clean-cut. Physical therapists will use certain maneuvers to put the head and body into positions that direct the inner ear’s crystals back into their proper place.

However, in cases of dizziness and imbalance from other conditions, or from a poorly functioning inner ear, the treatment program is much more individualized.

Physical therapists will do eye/head exercises and will improve gaze stabilization. These can involve having a person focus on a stationary (or moving) target while moving his/her head. Other exercises use repetitive movements so that the brain can get used to certain positions until they no longer cause dizziness.

Treating vertigo is a partnership. A large part of a person’s success can be linked to doing the exercises that their physical therapists give them to complete at home.

While Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” may be scary, with the proper help, the medical condition should not cause any fear.

Susan Bloom is a physical therapist in the Outpatient Rehabilitation Services Department at Northwest Hospital.

Gene-ious

New Study: Small changes in DNA can affect the likelihood of diseases including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. (Feinstein Institute)

New Study: Small changes in DNA can affect the likelihood of diseases including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
(Feinstein Institute)

A new study on the genetics behind schizophrenia and bipolar disorder has found that a tiny genetic difference can increase the risk of being afflicted with the diseases, a difference only found thanks to the unique genetics of Ashkenazi Jews.

“I’ve always known we have a unique demographic history,” said study team leader Dr. Todd Lencz, an associate investigator at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, part of the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System.

Modern Ashkenazi Jews often have a keen interest in genetic research due in part to the comparative prevalence of some genetic diseases within the community, a result of the relatively uniform background of the community.

“Ashkenazi Jews are used to the idea of genetically testing for a disease,” Lencz said.

For this study, the idea was to exploit the similarities of Ashkenazi genetics to tease out what the still-existing differences meant for their health.

“The goal was to identify genetic risk factors for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder,” Lencz said.

At first, the study had focused just on schizophrenia, but it was later expanded to include bipolar disorder due to the overlap in the genetics of the two disorders making a combined study of both worthwhile. The team looked at the gene called NDST3 and found that with just one chemical changed in the complex ladder of DNA composing it, the chances of having schizophrenia or bipolar disorder were slightly increased.

“There are millions of variations in genes, and typically the differences are very subtle,” Lencz said. “It takes thousands of tests to detect differences, but it’s easier when they are closely related.”

“It’s really interesting that the research is looking at Ashkenazi Jews like me,” said Matt [last name withheld for confidentiality], a young lawyer living in northern Virginia who said he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when he was a teenager.

Matt uses medication and therapy to control his bipolar disorder and said it rarely causes him much trouble. But he remembers how the mood swings would affect him and how even knowing what was causing it didn’t help.

“It would just be the utter inability to imagine anything good happening, and then I’d start to get really angry and yell a lot,” he said of his pre-treatment days. “That doesn’t really happen anymore, but, yeah, I still worry about it.”

Of the approximately 2,500 Ashkenazi Jews who had their DNA used in the study, a little more than 900 presented the NDST3 risk factor, but when compared with more than 25,000 people from all kinds of backgrounds, only about a quarter displayed the irregular gene.

“Ashkenazi homogeneity enhances our ability to detect these risk factors,” Lencz said.

While the differences between the furthest-related humans is tiny evolutionarily speaking, when checking for individual differences between people’s genetics, closer relations help highlight hidden changes from mutation.

“All Ashkenazim today are all derived from a few hundred ancestors,” Lencz said, explaining that the number is probably between 200 and 300 individuals from between 700 and 800 years ago.

“We’re all close cousins,” he said.

Despite the prevalence of the gene, Lencz said it is only one of many risk factors and a minor one at that, raising the chances of expressing the diseases by perhaps a tenth of 1 percent.

“The increase is very subtle,” Lencz said. “It wouldn’t be something to test for.”

What’s important about their findings is how they help researchers
understand the development of the disease, and they may lead to new ideas about treatment.

“It’s incredibly advantageous in trying to identify the genes behind the diseases,” Lencz said.

“Mine is under control luckily, but it would be great if there were even better treatments,” Matt said.

The utility of using Ashkenazi genes applies beyond his own work, Lencz said. The Ashkenazi Genomics Consortium pools its resources to be able to get the most out of studying the genome.

“It will give us new approaches to treating the diseases,” he said.

Eric Hal Schwartz writes for JT’s sister publication, Washington Jewish Week.

Start Your Ovens!

121313_start-your-ovens

Glori Spriggs takes home $1 million for her award-winning potatoes at the iconic Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest.
(Provided)

The iconic Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest keeps going strong. I attended this year’s event at the stunning new Aria Hotel in Las Vegas. This truly American competition started in 1949: No-knead water-rising twists (a nut sweet roll raised under water) won the grand prize, and Eleanor Roosevelt attended as a guest. The contest keeps evolving to reflect changes in consumer lifestyles and cooking trends. To ensure quick and easy recipes, this year’s entries were capped at seven ingredients and 30 minutes or less of active prep time. In the Aria Grand Ballroom, 100 finalists waited anxiously. The grand prize ($1 million) went to Glori Spriggs of Henderson, Nev., for her loaded potato pinwheels.

Each recipe makes use of at least one Pillsbury product. Kosher cooks who want to duplicate the luscious recipes at home have to be even more creative. For instance, to create your own kosher pinwheels, Trader Joe’s has its own refrigerated crescent roll dough, and it is kosher! Trader Joe’s also has kosher biscuits.

I have shared a few recipes here with tips to make them kosher. I believe any good kosher cook could duplicate many of the winning recipes and tailor them to a kosher version. The recipes are simply delicious (I tasted a lot of them). I urge you to go to the Pillsbury Bake-Off website, where you can view every one of the 100 final recipes or purchase the soft-cover “Pillsbury Bake-Off 100 Winning Recipes” booklet, which is available at supermarkets.

Next year’s contest will be in Nashville, Tenn. On the Bake-Off’s website you can find details on how to enter. So start your ovens! Pillsbury may have retired its old slogan, “Nothing says lovin’ like something from the oven,” but I still say that nothing says “lovin’” better than a million bucks.

Grand Prize Winner: Loaded Potato Pinwheels >>
Berry-filled Shortbread Brunch Tart >>
Honey Sesame Bagels >>

Tips & Tricks
• Recipes that call for real bacon can be substituted with kosher Facon (from the Giant).
• Crescent or biscuit roll ingredients are available kosher at Trader Joe’s.
• Use a few coffee filters on a plate to drain any fried foods, to strain your soups or to tie fresh herbs.
• Use a good store-bought pesto as an addition to burgers, sandwiches, chicken or fish.

Ilene Spector is an area freelance writer.

Raising a Thanksgiving Toast this Chanukah

This Chanukah will offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a Thanksgiving toast to the lights of the festive candles. With the table decked with rich and decadent fare, these wines will make the perfect accompaniment to the Thanksgiving turkey (and Chanukah latke).

Gilgal Pinot Noir 2011
The elegant and complex flavors in a Pinot Noir make it a great pairing for the Thanksgiving turkey. Pinot Noir is an example of a niche varietal, which suits those looking for a subtle yet sophisticated wine and for those who do not seek an overwhelming fruity flavor.

Newcomers to this varietal should try the Gilgal Pinot Noir, which is eminently drinkable and an ideal introduction to the distinctive pinot flavors. The 2011 Gilgal Pinot Noir displays aromatic strawberry, sour cherry and mulberry fruit characters, which are perfectly balanced by its floral and spicy notes.

111513_Raising-a-Thanksgiving-Toast-this-Chanukah1Galil Mountain Meron 2009
The Galil Mountain Meron is a lusciously rich blend of Syrah, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. The Syrah is the predominate grape in the Meron blend and has in recent years become Israel’s star varietal. Otherwise known as Shiraz, the Syrah’s distinctively rich flavors shine through, and the Meron showcases a beautiful blend of wild berries, blueberries and red cherries, complemented by a hint of oak. This strong and well-balanced wine exhibits a silky texture and a long velvety finish that fills the palate with its rich flavors.

The Galil Mountain Winery is situated in the ever-changing Northern Galilee region. Each
season brings new views, which are reflected in the winery’s unique labels. The Meron, likewise, evolves during the meal with new flavors expressed with every sip.

Yarden Merlot Odem 2007
This limited-edition Merlot comes from the Odem organic vineyard located in the Upper Golan Heights. Single vineyard wines are produced from the very best grapes grown in a single, and special, vineyard. The Odem vineyard uses unique methods to maintain its organic character, and winemakers have commented that since going organic, they have seen a significant improvement in the quality and color of the fruit.

111513_Raising-a-Thanksgiving-Toast-this-Chanukah2The Yarden Merlot Odem is aged in French oak barrels for 18 months, giving it a long finish and wonderful aging potential. Floral, spice and earthy notes enhance the distinctive Merlot characters of cherry and blackberry, which are especially identifiable in this single vineyard wine. While this is definitely a wine to wow your guests, it will also make a truly special Chanukah gift for someone who appreciates a fine wine.

And Don’t Forget the Shmaltz … Beer! >>

Anna Harwood writes for IMP Media.

Read also, Thanksgivukkah: Thanksgiving And Chanukah … Together! >>

Thanksgivukkah

It hasn’t happened since 1888, and it won’t happen again until 2070 and 2165. After that, it will be 70,000 years until it happens again. So grab your dreidels, latkes and gravy boats, because this year Thanksgiving and Chanukah collide.

Yes, the first day of Chanukah falls on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28. Time magazine calls this event “the best excuse for overeating since sliced potatoes.”

Most are calling the holiday “Thanksgivukkah” — a word coined and trademarked by Dana Gitell, a 37-year-old marketing specialist from Boston.

Gitell said she hit on the idea in 2011 after seeing a calendar that showed Jewish holidays over the next five years.

“I was driving and thinking about what you would call that day and rolling the words around in my mind, and I came up with … Thanksgivukkah,” she said.

Gitell started a Facebook page for Thanksgivukkah that has taken off.

Thanksgivukkah has inspired enterprising commercial interests and ordinary folks alike. Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will feature a dreidel balloon. You still have time to order Thanksgivukkah shirts and gifts from ModernTribe.com. I found lots of fun ideas and things to see online. You can find several terrific Thanksgivukkah videos on YouTube. Click here to see Stephen Colbert’s hilarious tribute to Thanksgivukkah. I laughed out loud when he tried making a hand menorah instead of a hand turkey.

Gil and Margie Brodsky’s Thanksgivukkah version of the Chanukah song featuring lyrics such as “Come light the menurky” and “Let’s have a party with latkes and turkey” is also a riot.

Another entertaining YouTube video is “The Ballad of Thanksgivukkah,” a lively song performed by the entire staff and student body of the Kehillah Schechter Academy of Norwood, Mass. Creative lyrics include a transition from Plymouth Rock to “Rock of Ages.”

And check out PJlibrary.org: PJ Library is a fantastic “Jewish family engagement program” dedicated to providing free, high-quality Jewish children’s literature and music to families across the U.S. On its site are links for child-friendly Thanksgivukkah crafts such as a pumpkin menorah made with real miniature pumpkins, a Star of David napkin ring and ideas for toddlers.

For foodies, this day is a true fantasy feast. There are unlimited ways to combine Chanukah and Thanksgiving recipes. On past Thanksgiving days, many Shabbat-observant Jews didn’t pay too much attention to serving turkey on that Thursday. This is because the very next day was Shabbat, so they often saved the turkey for Friday night. But this special Thursday event deserves the full-on turkey treatment. You even have time to order the Star of David or dreidel mold for potato pancakes at theKosherCook.com.

You might consider Thanksgivukkah a fad because, let’s face it, it’s not going to happen again for a long, long, long time. But think of the many Jewish babies that will be born on this day. They surely will be celebrating the event for generations to come.

I asked Larry Levy, owner/chef of Biddle Street Catering, what he’s doing for Thanksgivukkah, as he is always on the cutting edge of food fads. Levy said his more adventurous clients are asking for more creativity for Thanksgivukkah, and he can deliver just that. I tasted his new menu additions and can attest: Levy has a great option for Thanksgivukkah gravy. His fabulous lighter Bordelaise sauce is made with wine, and he has another one that he braises the turkey in, with Manischewitz wine as an option. His yummy pumpkin cheesecake (pareve or dairy) has a delicious cranberry topping. And his homemade doughnuts are infused with jelly or pumpkin mousse. The uniquely roasted brussels sprouts have pieces of sautéed crisp pastrami. His apple/potato pancakes and homemade cranberry relish are other wonderful items that combine the holidays in delicious ways. And Biddle Street makes gorgeous garnishes of large turnip flowers, leek daisies and spaghetti shreds of carrots.

For an easy and unique turkey presentation, I use fresh kale, fresh sage, canned spiced apples and fresh cranberries or grapes to decorate my turkey platter. You can slice and prepare these herbs and fruits in advance. If you decide to plate each person’s dish, think about placing the sliced turkey on top of a large potato pancake and then drizzle with gravy.

Pumpkin pie and other pumpkin dishes can easily be made pareve by using non-dairy coffee creamer in place of the evaporated milk. Non-dairy cheese such as Tofutti can be used to make pumpkin cheesecake or dips.

I always love food mash-ups, so Thanksgivukkah suits me fine. I combine two different stuffing box mixes, such as cranberry and cornbread, and add some sautéed onions and dry sage for a homemade taste. For quick, good gravy, I mix turkey gravy with beef gravy (can, jar or powdered mix) and add some essence from the turkey. My mother always combined the gravy she bought from the deli: one pint of beef and one pint of turkey.


Created with flickr slideshow.

Carrot Dill Soup >>
Biddle Street’s Brussels Sprouts With Shallots And Pastrami Crisps >>
Biddle Street’s Apple-Potato Latkes >>
Cranberry Crumb Bars >>

Tips & Tricks
Here are a few recipes and tips to make Thanksgivukkah delicious and memorable. Gobble Tov to all!
• Try substituting Tofutti cream cheese and sour cream.
• Make a thin potato kugel and use your Jewish star cookie-cutter to shape potato kugel pancakes.
• Spice up some store-bought apple sauce with red cinnamon candies. Heat to dissolve the candies and create pink potato latke topping.
• Fill mini-cannoli shells with pumpkin mousse or the filling from pumpkin pies. Dip the cannoli ends in cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice.

Ilene Spector is a local freelance writer

Read also, Raising a Thanksgiving Toast this Chanukah >>

Easier For Women

No woman really relishes the idea of having an annual gynecologic examination, but it’s one of the most important things that she can do. Many female organ diseases are undetectable without this vital yearly process. If a problem is discovered, early diagnosis and treatment are associated with a better outcome. If the gynecologic condition requires surgery, how that surgery is performed can also determine a patient’s outcome.

What gynecologic surgeons have learned over the past 20 years is that the size of the incision made to the abdomen — not the actual magnitude of the surgery — most often determines how easy a patient’s recovery is. Traditional surgery with a large abdominal or pelvic incision usually requires days of inpatient hospitalization and a prolonged recovery that’s more painful than what would have been experienced with minimally invasive surgery.

Minimally invasive, or laparoscopic, surgery requires a few tiny keyhole incisions and sometimes can even be done with a single surgical cut made inside a patient’s navel. Small instruments and a camera are inserted through these incisions, and the surgeon sees the surgical site on a television screen, as he or she maneuvers the instruments. Because the patient’s pelvis and abdomen remain closed, there is much less risk for infection or blood loss.

When gynecologic procedures are performed as minimally invasive laparoscopic surgeries, they can be done on an outpatient basis. Recovery with a return to normal life is significantly faster than with traditional open surgery. Rather than being out of commission for four to six weeks — as one often is with an open procedure — many patients who have had minimally invasive surgery report being able to return to work in about a week.

Not insignificantly, the cosmetic results with minimally invasive surgery are better as well. Instead of a prominent pelvic scar, patients who have had a minimally invasive procedure usually have smaller, almost unnoticeable scars that are often hidden in the navel or bikini line.

Almost all major gynecologic surgeries can now be performed using laparoscopy or robotically assisted laparoscopic methods. The list of conditions that require a traditional open surgery approach is growing shorter every day. In all cases, when performed by skilled and specifically trained GYN surgeons, women can enjoy the benefits of minimally invasive surgery.

If your doctor determines that you need gynecologic surgery, be sure to ask if he or she is trained to do it with a minimally invasive method. If not, you owe it to yourself to seek another opinion from a gynecologist with expertise in minimally invasive surgery.

The American Association of Gynecologic Laparoscopists published a position statement in 2010: “It is the position of the AAGL that most hysterectomies for benign disease should be performed either vaginally or laparoscopically and that continued efforts should be taken to facilitate these approaches. Surgeons without the requisite training and skills required for the safe performance of VHs [vaginal hysterectomies] or LHs [laparoscopic hysterectomies] should enlist the aid of colleagues who do, or [they] should refer patients requiring hysterectomies to such individuals for their surgical care.”

In this modern era, women should demand minimally invasive surgical care or be given a reason if their doctor won’t do so. Women deserve no less.

David L. Zisow, M.D., F.A.C.O.G., is a gynecologist and the associate chief of the Division of Minimally Invasive Surgery at Northwest Hospital, as well as its director of the Fellowship in Minimally Invasive Gynecologic Surgery.

Kosherfest And More

110813_kosherfest-and-moreThis year, the annual Kosherfest celebrated its 25th anniversary. A lackluster economy may be the reason that the 2013 event seemed scaled down. However, there was no lack of enthusiasm by the many attendees, who scoured the aisles for delicious products to sample.

Each year, there are competitions for the best in show in many categories. Best New Gift or Novelty Item went to AGIV Ltd. Publishing for its Passover haggadah in the shape of a wine bottle. Best New Kosher for Passover Item went to Finchi’s decadent chocolate mousse by Aunt Rashi’s Goodies. Premier Tasty Meats won Best Meat/Poultry/Seafood for its hickory smoked beef brisket — sliced and packaged for retail sales.

A neighbor of mine smoked a brisket this year, and it was fantastic, especially sliced thin. I will let you know if and when Premier’s Brisket is available in Baltimore. (Hint: A smoker would be a great Chanukah gift this year.)

I was not part of the judging, but I had my own Kosherfest favorites. I loved the new Star of David shaper for potato pancakes by The Kosher Cook. I was also delighted by artist Nina Sabaq’s magnificent hand-painted wine bottles. They are available online at drinknstylecorp.com, but you truly have to see these glasses up close to appreciate the labor of love and talent put into them.

A few booths did acknowledge the upcoming Thanksgivukkah. Leave it to Manischewitz to have a Thanksgivukkah recipe contest. Go to its website manischewitz.com for details. Hurry, though. The deadline is Sunday, Nov. 10. If you enter an original Thanksgivukkah dish using at least one Manischewitz product, you could win some real gelt. Both holidays are so steeped in traditional recipes, it shouldn’t be hard to do.

Here are some of my favorite recipes that may inspire your creativity. Thanksgivukkah tov to all!

ILENE’S HOLIDAY PUMPKIN DIP
PUMPKIN HUMMUS
A GREAT CRANBERRY SWIRL COFFEE CAKE

Tips & Tricks
• I make homemade potato pancakes using Manischewitz’s homestyle box mix and add fresh or refrigerated shredded potatoes and chives. Freeze ahead.
• Look through your photos for pictures of your guests to place on a toothpick in mini-pumpkins, apples and pears for great place cards.
• Big Lots has an extra-large bag of chocolate gold coins for $5 to spread all over your table.

Ilene Spector is a local freelance writer.