FARMINGTON – Vicky Cohen loves to cook with her family, especially for celebrations like Passover, a Jewish holiday commemorating the escape of ancient Hebrews from slavery in Egypt.
“It celebrates freedom,” explained Cohen. “It’s a time to reflect and think about what we are a slave to in our daily lives.”
During the week of Passover, “we don’t eat anything that has been allowed to rise – no yeast,” said Cohen. She finds this restriction actually makes cooking fun, creating the need for a substitute for flour, for example, in matzo, thin, crisp unleavened bread for sandwiches, as well as in cake and other recipes.
A central part of the Passover celebration, food is used as a teaching tool during the service. For example, charoset, a paste made with ground-up walnuts, apples, sweet wine, cinnamon and honey, represents the mortar for brick buildings used by Jewish slaves in Egypt.
Passover is celebrated in the home, with a script telling the Passover story read at the table. “The food sparks an interest in the kids,” Cohen said, prompting them to ask why certain foods are eaten.
Cohen’s four children range in age from 7 to 15. “We often cook as a family. I’ve had a lot of fun teaching my kids and my husband. They’ve become quite comfortable in the kitchen,” said Cohen.
She enjoys making matzo pizza or matzo brei, a recipe from her dad that calls for soaking broken matzo in milk and scrambling it with eggs in a skillet. “My kids are good eaters and game for anything, so I love cooking for them,” she said.
Cohen and her family follow a kosher diet in which certain foods are forbidden by God. One restriction is that they cannot eat shellfish or anything from a pig. The meat they eat has to be slaughtered in a specific kosher way in accordance with Jewish law, which, Cohen said, is the most humane way.
Cohen is a math consultant. She works in the education department at the University of Maine at Farmington, instructing teachers on how to teach math. “I love the subject – so much of our daily life is based on math,” she said.
When Cohen and her family are not cooking or working, they enjoy skiing and kayaking.
Walnut Roulade (Chocolate and Apricot Jelly Roll)
(This cake can be made for Passover or any special occasion.)
5 eggs, separate yolks and whites
½ cup sugar
½ cup ground walnuts
5 tablespoons flour (or matzo meal)
1 12-ounce jar of apricot preserves
1 12-ounce bag of semisweet chocolate chips
¼ cup margarine
(extra margarine and sugar for pan preparation)
Prepare pan: Cover an 11-by-16-inch jelly roll pan with aluminum foil. Grease with margarine and sprinkle with a little sugar. Beat egg whites until stiff. Using same (unwashed) beaters, beat egg yolks and sugar until light and fluffy. Add ground walnuts and flour (or matzo meal) and mix to combine. Fold in beaten egg whites with a spoon. Spread in prepared pan and cook at 300 degrees for about 25-30 minutes, until golden and cake springs back at a light touch. Remove from oven. Starting at the short end, roll up both cake and foil to the end of the pan. Let cool, then carefully unroll and spread apricot preserves over the cake. Roll up again, this time without the foil, gently rolling the cake up and off the foil to the end of the pan. Frost with your favorite chocolate icing. (Cohen melts chocolate chips with margarine and a couple tablespoons of water over a gentle heat on the stove; she also sometimes does this in the microwave).
Note: Feel free to experiment with what you put both inside and outside the cake. Use any flavor jam you like. We also like cherry and raspberry preserves. Chocolate buttercream is also delicious both inside and out, as is whipped cream flavored with sugar and vanilla.
(This recipe, which is great with chicken, is adapted from a favorite side dish from a restaurant the Cohens love.)
1 pound carrots
1 pound parsnips
1 banana (optional)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon honey
6 tablespoons orange juice
(This recipe is easily doubled for company. It should have the consistency of mashed pototoes. For a thicker consistency, use less orange juice.)
Wash and peel carrots and parsnips, and cut into 1-inch-long chunks. Boil in water until soft, then drain. Puree both carrots and parsnips in food processor, adding cinnamon, honey, and orange juice. Add the banana if you want (it will add sweetness and creaminess). Adjust seasonings according to taste. Put the mixture into a Pyrex dish and put in the microwave or oven until thoroughly warm.
Chremslach (Dried Fruit Pancakes)
(This dish can be served for Passover, or for brunch or as a sweet, side dish.)
3 eggs, beaten
½ cup cut-up dried fruit (either apricots, prunes, raisins, etc.. – or, a mix is nice)
3 tablespoons walnuts, coarsely chopped (optional)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons sweet wine or fruit juice
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup flour (or matzo meal)
Light olive oil or canola oil for frying
(This recipe is easily doubled or tripled).
Combine all ingredients except oil. Let stand for 10 minutes. Drop from a tablespoon into hot oil (just enough oil to coat the skillet) and fry on both sides until golden brown. Remove from the skillet and serve hot with toppings like cinnamon-sugar, or apricot or peach jam that has been thinned with water and heated to make a syrup (use just enough water so it has the consistency of syrup and just warm the mixture – do not bring it to a boil).