Cooking for Rosh Hashana; who knew it could be so easy?

Chef Dennis Wasko provides an easy-to-prepare meal for the New Year which can be done in stages.

gefilte fish 311 (photo credit: Bob Fila/Chicago Tribune/MCT)
gefilte fish 311
(photo credit: Bob Fila/Chicago Tribune/MCT)
Though Rosh Hashana is creeping up and the guest list is growing every day, you won’t have to worry about spending all of your time in the kitchen. The secret to enjoying the Holidays, if you happen to be the designated cook, is to get as much of your menu preparation done ahead of time as possible without compromising the quality of your meal. 
Gefilte Fish is one of those great recipes that can be done in stages. The keys to a great Fish Fumet are a short cooking period, and not using too much water. The short cooking time will give you a light, fresh tasting stock. Using the right amount of water will give you the gelatin-rich body that will stand up to any Gefilte Fish.
Once the stock is ready, you’re half way finished.  Use this stock in the preparation of your family’s favorite Gefilte Fish recipe, or try mine.

Fish stock (fumet de poisson)
1 ounce olive oil
½ medium onion, thinly sliced
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 leek, white part only, sliced
2 celery stalks, sliced
1 cup mushrooms, thinly sliced
4 pounds fish frames and heads (gills removed) from lean fish such as sole, snapper, or whiting
15 parsley stems
1 bay leaf
6 sprigs fresh thyme
2 cups dry white wine
2 quarts cold water or enough to just cover the fish bones
10 whole peppercorns
1. Place the oil in a medium stock pot over low heat. Sweat the onions and shallots until they are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the leek, celery, and mushrooms and sweat for 5 minutes more. Be very careful not to caramelize the vegetables as this will discolor the final stock.
2. Add the fish frames and heads, parsley stems, bay leaf, and thyme.  Cook gently over low heat until the fish frames turn opaque.
3. Add the wine, turn the heat up to medium-high, and bring to a gentle boil.  Reduce the wine by half.
4. Add the water and stir well.  Add the peppercorns and mushrooms and bring to a boil.  Skim the surface of any impurities and fat and reduce heat to a gentle simmer.  Allow the fumet to simmer for 30 minutes.  Turn off the heat and allow to steep for an additional 10 minutes.
5. Strain the finished fumet through a fine mesh sieve or a strainer lined with cheese cloth. Allow the fumet to cool completely before covering and refrigerating or freezing. Fumet can be made up to a month ahead of time and stored in the freezer.
Gefilte fish
Makes 16 fish quenelles
½ gallon fish stock
2 carrots, sliced into 16 slices for garnish
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
2 eggs
2 teaspoons kosher salt or to taste
2 teaspoons sugar or to taste
2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
½ cup fresh bread crumbs (leftover challah is great0 or matzo meal
2 pounds ground cod, pike, carp, or favorite white fish

1. Bring fish stock to a simmer in a large stock pot and add the sliced carrot.
2. Place the onion, eggs, salt, sugar, parsley, thyme, and pepper into the bowl of a food processor. Process to a puree.
3. Pour egg mixture into a large mixing bowl and add the bread crumbs.  Stir to combine.
4.Add the ground fish and mix very well to combine.  Cover and refrigerate for ½ hour.
5. To form fish quenelles, wet hands and shape about ½ cup of fish mixture into oval patties.  You should have 16 ovals.
6. Gently place the fish into the simmering stock.  Cover, and allow to gently simmer for 30 minutes. 
7. After 30 minutes, turn off heat and allow the pot to cool.  Gently lift the quenelles from the stock and arrange them in a deep serving dish.  Place a carrot slice on each quenelle. 
8. Reduce remaining stock by half and carefully pour into the serving dish.  Be sure quenelles are completely covered by stock.
9. Refrigerate overnight.  A firm aspic will form around the fish.
10. Serve with horseradish sauce and jellied aspic.
After saving time by getting your Gefilte Fish ready, it’s time to focus on the main course – braised short ribs.
This is one of my favorite dishes to prepare for a crowd. There is something so festive and comforting about a pot of braised short ribs. Proper braising transforms tough, fatty meat into tender, succulent elegance. Make this recipe for your friends and family and start the New Year off as everyone’s kitchen hero. This is a great do-ahead dish as it can be finished days before serving and then reheated at the last minute.
Braised short ribs
Serves 6
6 English-cut beef short ribs, tied with kitchen twine
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 Spanish onions, roughly chopped
2 large carrots cut into 1 inch pieced
2 celery stalks cut into 1 inch pieces
2 garlic cloves, smashed
3 tablespoons tomato paste
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
12 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 whole cloves
1 cup Port wine or pomegranate wine
1 bottle Israeli cabernet sauvignon
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
4 cups meat stock or water
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
2. Season the ribs with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high flame until hot. Working in batches, brown the short ribs well on all sides. This will take some time, probably 5 to 10 minutes per side. The time invested in the browning will pay off in the end. The better the browning, the better the final product. Once brown, remove the ribs and set aside.
3 .Pour off the fat, lower the heat to medium, and add the vegetables and garlic. Sauté for 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook for 3 minutes more. Add the flour, and stir to combine. Add the herbs, cloves, and the wines. Increase heat to high, and reduce the liquid by half, stirring from time to time. This will take about 15 to 20 minutes.
4. Add the ribs to the pot and enough stock to come half way up the ribs. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring pot to a gentle simmer, cover, and place in preheated oven. Gently cook the ribs for about 3 hours. After 3 hours, test for doneness by piercing the meat with a small knife. It should be very soft, and practically falling off the bone. If the ribs are not quite tender, cook for an additional 30 minutes.
5. Once done, transfer the ribs to a large platter and remove the strings. Skim fat from the surface of the sauce, and strain into a medium saucepan. Discard the vegetables; they have given everything that they had to the sauce. Reduce the sauce over medium-low heat by about half. This should take 30 to 45 minutes.
6. Return ribs to the pot, simmer for about 10 minutes, and serve.
Nothing finishes a festive dinner like a great dessert, and this Italian Apple and Olive Oil Cake it the perfect choice for the do-ahead cook. This cake actually improves with age. Make at least a day before serving to allow the creamy texture and rich apple flavor to develop.  Trust me, once you try this Apple Cake, no other Apple Cake will do.  
Torta di Mele all’Olio (Apple Cake with Olive Oil)
¾ cup golden raisins
¼ cup rum (optional)
3 large eggs
1 cup light brown sugar
¼ cup honey
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 pound apples, diced small.  I use a blend of Granny Smith and Golden Delicious or just Honeycrisp
¼ cup powdered sugar
1. Place oven rack in center of the oven.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Oil an 8 or 9 inch spring-form pan.
2. Place raisins and rum in a small bowl and let sit for 20 minutes.
3. Place eggs, sugar, and honey together in the bowl of a standing mixer.  Using the whip attachment beat on medium-high until mixture becomes light and fluffy. Slowly drizzle in the extra virgin olive oil. Continue beating until mixture is well emulsified. Add the vinegar and vanilla. Mix thoroughly.
4. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt.  Mix together with a whisk until evenly blended.
5.Change to the paddle attachment.  With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture.  When almost combined, add the apples and raisins, with the rum.  Blend thoroughly; it is OK if some of the apple gets smashed by the beater.
6. Spread the batter into the prepared pan.  Smooth the surface.  Bake for 1 hour. Test doneness with a wooden skewer, it should come out clean.  If not, continue baking in 5 minute intervals until done.
7. Remove from oven and cool on a rack for 10 minutes.  Remove the collar from the pan and cool the cake completely.  Once cool, wrap loosely in plastic and allow to sit at room temperature for 1 day.  This will help the cake to develop deeper flavor. 
8. Before serving, liberally dust the top of the cake with powdered sugar.
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