A vegetarian, Passover-keeping Jew or someone on a gluten-free diet would have been right at home on Monday during local chef Paula Shoyer’s baking demonstration at the Atrium Village assisted living facility in Owings Mills.
Shoyer, a Chevy Chase resident, has written three kosher cookbooks and her newest, “The New Passover Menu,” came out last year.
While she says she is normally the type to take whatever ingredients are in her refrigerator and fuse them into that night’s dinner, her culinary intuition had to be translated into actual recipes and measurements for writing her latest cookbook.
“When I wrote this book, all I had to do was take all these recipes from my head and put them on paper,” she said. “So many people have mothers or grandmothers who cook like that.”
While preparing a quinoa salad, Shoyer emphasized to the Atrium residents and others in attendance that Passover food is really just “good food that we eat on Passover.”
“I try to take what’s traditional and make it a little more fun,” she said.
As Shoyer mixed the quinoa with green onions, roasted sweet potatoes, pine nuts and cranberries, she pointed out that the grain crop has only been considered kosher for Passover by the Orthodox Union since 2014. The ruling came just in time for her to include the recipe in the book and to serve the salad to 17 guests at her first night Seder and 20 more the second night.
To dress the quinoa prior to mixing in the vegetables, Shoyer used a light vinaigrette of vinegar, oil, honey and various spices. The dressing’s purpose is not so much to flavor the entire salad as it is to make the quinoa moist enough so that it isn’t too bland. Despite its kosher-for-Passover status, the salad is simple but tasty and could work in a variety of non-Passover settings as well.
For dessert, Shoyer showed off her diverse baking skills to the residents by demonstrating how to make gluten-free biscotti.
“I always cook things that take the most amount of time first,” she said.
Shoyer started by melting bars of chocolate and then mixed in oil and sugar. She concluded by mixing in ground almonds, which she emphasized are the key in giving the narrow cookies their true character. Almonds and almond milk too, are recent additions to the OU’s approved list for Passover foods.
“Now I can make pastry creams,” she said, delighted at the result of being able to use almond milk.
The biscotti get baked for roughly 35 minutes, removed from the oven, then cut into small pieces and baked again.
The cookies, which Shoyer says are “super, super easy to make,” are sure to satisfy any chocoholic’s craving while maintaining a soft texture, rather than the traditional crisp delicacy normally sold in grocery stores.
During the demonstration, Shoyer told the residents of a trip to Israel she took last year in which she visited her son, Jake, who was doing research overseas. She was writing an article for Hadassah Magazine on the best bakeries in Israel, and was astonished to find an abundance of Jewish French chefs. She discovered that many of them had fled their native country for religious reasons.
“Because of all the anti-Semitism in France, so many of the top pastry chefs in France who happened to be Jewish were all moving to Israel,” she said. “So Israel has this amazing community of chefs.”
Shoyer does a fair amount of traveling during the year and just finished a tour that took her through Memphis, Atlanta and Greenwich, Conn. This week she’s taking her culinary talents to some of the local Washington, D.C., TV news channels.
Resident Marvin Sakin said he enjoyed Shoyer’s dishes and said that her cooking brought back memories from childhood.
“I’ve been around a long time and my mother was a good cook, and my mother-in-law was a very good cook,” he said.
Sakin, who is a Korean War veteran, said when he was in the service many of the cooks “dabbled,” in trying to make Passover foods but it never quite worked out.
“Some of it was terrible,” he said. “They just didn’t have the touch. We ate it because it was there to eat.”