Little cookbook makes it simple to prepare Jewish holiday feasts

When Louise Fiszer sat down to write "Jewish Holiday Feasts," she and co-author Jeannette Ferrary aimed their book at modern cooks who are exploring Jewish tradition.

"I didn't write it for my mother," said the Palo Alto writer and former cooking school owner. "I wrote it for my contemporaries. There are a lot of interfaith marriages today where one of the spouses would like to be able to prepare an entire Jewish holiday feast. Not only do they not know what kashrut dictates, but what foods go with what holidays.

"That's why we devised these menus — so that somebody who has never cooked a Jewish holiday meal in their life could pick up the book, read about it very quickly and, indeed, prepare that meal," Fiszer said.

Fiszer and Ferrary's 72-page book, which takes readers through the seasons, highlighting such feasts as Rosh Hashanah, Chanukah, Pesach and Shavuot, makes it easy to cook Jewish.

For the High Holy Days, for example, the authors offer a terrific recipe for honey-and-cumin-glazed Cornish hens. They also suggest couscous with saffron and vegetables, and a great spiced pear and almond cake.

Modern traditionalists will savor zucchini latkes, tomato-and-onion-braised brisket and Hannah's honey cake, which co-author Fiszer swears isn't dry.

"I got the recipe from a friend's mother," she said. "Every time I've made it, people have just gone nuts over it. The secret ingredient is grated apples."

But don't look for chopped liver or cholent. Fiszer and Ferrary, who lives in Belmont, deliberately left them out, eschewing those dishes' large doses of animal fat.

"People who are cooking for today's lifestyle would absolutely drop dead" if they saw the ingredients, said Fiszer. "I didn't think it would be fair to streamline [those] recipes. Chopped liver has to be made with chicken fat."

So instead of trying to streamline fat-laden, long-cooking recipes, the authors chose recipes that, while Jewish, are easy to prepare. Some have Medi-terranean and Middle Eastern origins, like baked figs with honey yogurt, and pita stuffed with eggplant salad and feta cheese.

"My philosophy is that if you have good ingredients, you don't have to work very hard," said Fiszer. "Contemporary people think of Jewish foods as being time-consuming, when our grandmothers did nothing but sit in the kitchen and cook all day. These recipes are suited to today's lifestyle."

Fiszer, who is married and the mother of two grown sons, began her professional career as a teacher of emotionally disturbed children in New York. After moving to California, she decided she didn't want to go through the reaccreditation process.

"I turned to my next-best love, cooking." She first set up classes in her home, later bought a cookware shop and operated a school, Louise's Pantry, in Menlo Park.

Ferrary, also from Brooklyn, read about Fiszer in a New York Times article. The two became partners whose book credits also include "The California American Cookbook," "Season to Taste," "A Good Day for Soup" and "Sweet Onions and Sour Cherries."

Honey and Cumin-Glazed Cornish Hens

Serves 8

Glaze:

1/2 cup honey

2 Tbs. fresh orange juice

2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar

3 Tbs. cumin seed, toasted and crushed

3 Tbs. olive oil

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper

4 Cornish hens, split in half

salt and pepper

Combine glaze ingredients. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Rinse hens and blot dry. Using about a third of the glaze, brush both sides of hen halves. Place skin side down on a baking dish with low sides. Place in oven and roast 10 minutes. Turn heat down to 375, brush hens again with half the remaining glaze and roast 5 minutes. Turn hens over and roast 10 minutes. Brush with remaining glaze and roast until deep golden brown, about 5 minutes more. Let stand about 10 minutes before serving.

Couscous with Saffron and Vegetables

Serves 8

2 cups chicken broth

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 tsp. saffron threads

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

2 cups couscous

3/4 cup dried cranberries or currants

2 medium zucchini, trimmed and diced

2 carrots, peeled and diced

salt and pepper

3 scallions, sliced

In a large saucepan, bring broth, water, oil, saffron and cinnamon to a boil. Gradually stir in the couscous. Cook, stirring until liquid is absorbed, about 2 minutes. Stir in cranberries, zucchini and carrots. Cover and let stand 15 minutes. Taste, adding salt and pepper, and turn out into a serving bowl, breaking up lumps with your fingers. Sprinkle with scallions. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Spiced Pear and Almond Cake

Serves 12

4 cups cored and coarsely chopped ripe pears (5 or 6 pears)

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil

2 eggs, beaten

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. grated nutmeg

grated zest of 1 lemon

2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 cup chopped blanched almonds

confectioners' sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 10-inch round cake pan (or an 8- or 9-inch pan and 6 muffin cups). Combine pears and sugar in a medium bowl and let stand 15 minutes. Combine oil with eggs and add to pears. In another bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon zest, baking soda and salt. Stir into pear mixture. Add vanilla and almonds. Pour into prepared pan and bake until cake tester inserted in center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool on a rack about 20 minutes before turning out. Invert onto a serving platter. Dust with confectioners' sugar.