When I first began working in the Jewish professional world, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that every year, our offices would close for one or two days in June. I’m not sure how the holiday of Shavuot slipped by my Reform Jewish upbringing, but when it resurfaced, it quickly became one of my favorites.
First, you get to stay up all night and talk about weighty learned things. Second, you get to eat cheesecake.
Eating dairy is a Shavuot culinary mandate. Before the Torah was given to the Jewish people on Sinai, we didn’t yet know the laws of kashrut. After receiving the Torah, and learning the proper way to slaughter an animal, and how to use “separate utensils in the preparation and consumption of meat and dairy, the only food lawfully available was dairy in its various forms,” says Rabbi Batshir Torchio, senior educator at the JCC of San Francisco.
Other associations have to do with the poetry of the Song of Songs, traditionally read around this time of year. “In the poem are descriptions of honey and milk under the tongue of the beloved,” Torchio adds. “The beloved represents the Jewish people, and the honey stands for the Torah … which sustains the Jewish people.”
Nurture and sustenance, food and Torah. Talk about traditions a Jewish cook can really get behind.
Roquefort and Pecan Cheese Ball
(Adapted from “The Lazy Gourmet”)
2 cloves garlic, peeled
3 green onions, greens and white bulbs chopped (discard roots)
1/4 red bell pepper (seeds and veins discarded)
8 oz. cream cheese
4 oz. Roquefort, broken in pieces
1 Tbs. lemon juice
plenty of freshly ground black pepper
8 oz. cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
In a food processor, pulse garlic, green onion and red pepper until fine. Process cream cheese, Roquefort, lemon juice and black pepper until smooth. Add in the shredded cheddar and veggies and process until combined.
Line a small round bowl with plastic wrap, allowing excess to drape over the edge of the bowl. Put cheese mixture into bowl and wrap. After cheese has firmed up, form into a round ball. Refrigerate another 2 hours. You can keep ball at this stage for 2-3 days in the refrigerator. Before serving, remove wrap and roll ball gently in chopped pecans.
Brown Sugar Banana Bread Muffins with Cream Cheese Filling
Makes 16 muffins
8 oz. cream cheese
1 Tbs. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. flour
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
3/4 cup brown sugar
3 Tbs. agave syrup
3 overripe bananas, mashed
3/4 cup milk
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2-3/4 cup chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350. Line two muffin pans with cupcake liners.
For the filling: In an electric mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, egg, sugar, flour and vanilla until smooth. Transfer to another bowl, and scrape out electric mixing bowl.
For the muffins: In the same electric mixing bowl, cream butter with brown sugar and agave. Stir in mashed bananas and eggs. Combine milk and lemon juice in a measuring cup. In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. Alternately, starting and ending with dry ingredients, stir flour mixture and milk mixture into banana batter.
Divide batter among cups, filling halfway. Place 1 heaping Tbs. cream cheese filling in each center. You should have enough cream cheese for 16 muffins, plus leftover batter for plain banana muffins. Scatter chocolate chips (4-6 or to taste) atop each muffin.
Bake 18-20 minutes. Cool 10 minutes in pan. Remove from pan; cool completely.
Josie A.G. Shapiro, who won the 2013 Man-O-Manischewitz Cookoff, is the co-author of “The Lazy Gourmet” and works at the JCC of San Francisco. Her columns alternate with those of Faith Kramer. Her website is www.thechicken