We’re masked, gloved and social distancing. I’ve exhausted all programs I want to see on Netflix. I’ve filled garbage bags with clothes that are too small, packed up old books and gone through drawers (twice). I’ve cleaned and Zoomed, and am (almost) running out of the things to do.

So my haven has become the kitchen. I can indulge in guilt-free hours browsing forgotten recipe files crammed with stained, dog-eared cards.

Why did I stop cooking some of these treasures? The ingredients are basic, preparation is easy, and there’s no call for secret spices.

As I gather ingredients from my pantry, I relive memories of times when these dishes appeared regularly on my table. As soon as fresh herbs grew abundantly in our garden, a bowl of bulger salad was always in the fridge, ready to serve at any meal. And Baked Pineapple Pudding, hot from the oven, was topped with a dollop of ice-cream or frozen yogurt.

Tomatoes. Credit: Karl Thomas Moore via Wikimedia Commons.

Since Shavuot takes place during the spring, when animals are born and there’s an abundance of milk, traditional culinary customs are dishes made with dairy, especially cheese. Popular at synagogue brunches (which we miss so much right now) are blintzes and crepes, and, of course, cheesecake. It’s also the time of the winter wheat harvest, so grains—healthy and plentiful—are common for holiday dishes.

The holiday, which comes on the heels of Memorial Day on May 25 (barbecue on hold), starts this year on the evening of May 28 and lasts through Shabbat on May 30.

While we can’t be together just yet with family and friends, we can still celebrate in tradition and style, and bring out the comfort fare with an eye towards better times ahead.

Tomato-Zucchini Gratin. Photo by Ethel G. Hofman.

Tomato-Zucchini Gratin (Dairy)

Serves 2 

Gratin is a culinary term meaning food topped with a cheese and crumb mixture. Make this the night before, refrigerate and bake off as needed. Double the recipe to serve 4. 

Cook’s Tips:

*Use any bread instead of challah.

*Instead of cherry tomatoes, use sliced medium tomatoes.

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon fine breadcrumbs

1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese

garlic powder, ground black pepper, oregano

2 slices challah, ½-inch thick, or other bread, cut in rough chunks

2 tablespoons milk

1 small onion, thinly sliced

2-3 ounces mozzarella cheese

½ small zucchini, thinly sliced

10-12 cherry tomatoes, halved

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Spray a 1-quart casserole with nonstick baking spray.

Lightly sprinkle bottom of casserole with garlic powder, black pepper and oregano.

In a cup, combine the breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, a pinch of garlic, pepper and oregano. Set aside.

Arrange challah over the bottom of the casserole. Sprinkle with milk and cover with a layer of onion and cheese. Top with a layer of zucchini, then finish with the tomatoes.

Sprinkle with breadcrumb mixture.

Bake 10 to 15 minutes in a preheated oven until tomatoes are lightly browned.

Serve hot or at room temperature.

Mandolin for shaving an onion, though slicing it thinly works fine. Photo by Ethel G. Hofman.

Flounder Daufuskie (Pareve)

Serves 4

This was filed away from my days teaching at the Captain’s Galley, a wildly popular restaurant in Margate, N.J. The chef hailed from Daufuskie, an island located between Hilton Head and Savannah. Sadly, the restaurant is no longer. 

Cook’s Tips:

*If using an instant-read thermometer, temperature for cooked fish should read 145 degrees.

Ingredients:

vegetable oil

2 pounds flounder fillets or other white fish, cut in 4 pieces

1 small onion, sliced thinly

2 cups white mushrooms, sliced

⅔ cup mayonnaise

⅓ cup Dijon mustard

¼ teaspoon garlic powder

¼ teaspoon hot sauce

3 tablespoons dry vermouth

paprika, salt and pepper

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Coat the bottom of a heavy skillet with about ¼-cup vegetable oil.

Heat over medium heat. Oil should be shimmering when ready.

Season fish lightly with salt and pepper. Add to skillet. Cook 3 to 4 minutes on each side, or until opaque and firm to the touch. Place in ovenproof dish. Set aside and keep warm. 

Sauce: No need to wash skillet. Add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and heat over medium heat.

Add onions and mushrooms. Cook until vegetables are soft. Do not brown. Remove from heat.

Stir in the remaining ingredients. Spoon sauce over fish. Sprinkle with paprika.

Place in preheated oven for 10 minutes. Serve hot.

Cheddar cheese. Credit: J.P.Lon via Wikimedia Commons.

Toasted Tomato Cheese (Dairy)

Makes 6 pieces

This recipe reflects my Scottish-Jewish heritage. It’s quick, easy and tasty, using simple ingredients that are on hand.

Cook’s Tips:

*Make sure cheese and beer is melted over very low heat to ensure a smooth mixture.

*May use store-bought crumpets instead of English muffins. Crumpets are a similar shape, but are denser and slightly sweeter (available in Trader Joe’s).

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons butter

⅔ cups light beer

3 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

pinch of nutmeg

3 English muffins, split and toasted

1 large tomato, cut into 8 thin slices

Directions:

In a medium saucepan, stir the butter and beer together over low heat until the butter is melted.

Add the cheese, about ½ cup at a time, stirring until thoroughly melted and mixture is smooth. Stir in the mustard and nutmeg. Heat through, stirring constantly.

Spoon onto the English-muffin halves. Top with tomato slices. Serve with knife and fork.

Note: May finish off under a preheated broiler to brown the tomatoes.

Uncooked bulgur wheat. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Blessings Bulgur Salad (Pareve)

Bulgur is a cereal grain made from dried cracked wheat. Partially cooked, it needs little preparation. With a nutty flavor, it’s a good source of dietary fiber, protein and iron.

Cook’s Tips:

*Any mixture of fresh herbs will do. At a pinch, add finely shredded salad greens.

*Substitute 1½ teaspoons dried mint for fresh. Increase remaining herbs by 1 cup total.

*Place fresh herbs in food processor to chop coarsely.

Ingredients:

1 cup bulgur wheat

1 scallion (green onion), trimmed and thinly sliced

1 cup packed, coarsely snipped fresh parsley

1 cup packed, coarsely snipped fresh basil

1 cup packed, coarsely snipped fresh mint

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons wine or white vinegar

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Directions:

Place bulgur in a heatproof bowl.

Pour enough boiling water over top to cover by about ½ inch.

Soak for 10 minutes to soften. Drain well.

Place in a towel and squeeze with your hands to remove as much moisture as possible.

Place bulger in a medium serving bowl. Stir in the herbs, oil and vinegar.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve at room temperature.

Baked Pineapple Pudding. Photo by Ethel G. Hofman.

Baked Pineapple Pudding (Dairy)

Serves 6-8

Cook’s Tips:

*For a pareve dessert, substitute margarine for butter.

*Instead of 1 teaspoon vanilla, try ½ teaspoon of intensely flavored orange oil.

*Online: Check out Boyajian pure orange oil.

Ingredients:

1 stick (4 ounces), plus 2 teaspoons, butter, softened

1 cup sugar

4 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 can (20 ounces) crushed pineapple, undrained

2-3 slices (4 cups, loosely packed) challah, cut into 1-inch chunks

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spray an 8×8-inch baking dish with nonstick baking spray.

In a medium bowl, cream 1 stick of butter and sugar until pale, 1 minute. Whisk in eggs, one at a time. Don’t worry if mixture curdles.

Fold in the vanilla, pineapple and bread chunks. Transfer to prepared baking dish.

Dot with the remaining 2 teaspoons butter.

Bake in preheated oven for 50 minutes, or until golden-brown and firm in center.

Serve hot or at room temperature.

Ethel G. Hofman is a widely syndicated American Jewish food and travel columnist, author and culinary consultant.

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