A post of two parts, here. We had our friends Nick and Roisin over for Friday night dinner last week. We’d been talking about doing this for ages, but having Roisin massively help me with some career-type stuff (she is an incredible recruiter and I highly recommend her brains) and with the current series of Friday Night Dinner hitting the half way point, it was time.
My family are Jewish. I don’t associate with that myself belief-wise, but I do associate massively with the traditions of food, family and Friday nights (let’s call this ‘Jew-ish’).
Taking my (non Jewish) boyfriend along for a Friday night meal at my mum and dad’s is a joy – his face on discovering the delicious, restorative elixir that is my mother’s chicken soup (more on that later this week), and introducing him to such Geisler-isms as ‘Meat Cream’ are the highlight of any family dinner. I’m pretty sure it has given him a whole new perspective when watching Robert Popper’s perfectly-observed sitcom, too.
Part of the Jewish laws of keeping kosher include a prohibition against mixing meat and milk. The biblical explanation is to not “cook a kid/goat in its mother’s milk”. There are different interpretations and ideas about where this comes from, but the one I find most logical is a basic ‘circle of life’ respectfulness. There’s a proverb about not taking eggs while the nest is watched by the mother. That sort of thing.
But this runs deep and seems to stick around, regardless of belief, because it affects taste, flavours and meal options. As Nick is Jewish too, I thought I better check that there isn’t anything he or Roisin don’t eat. Considering Nick eats his way around London as The Mystery Diner, (he tells me he carried out 66 mystery dines last year, so keep on your toes, London restaurants!) I was surprised when he said he wouldn’t have milk and meat together, but obviously understood.
As a kid, we never had a creamy or cheesy sauce on a meaty pasta dish. Didn’t try Parmesan until I was a teenager, and never had a ham and cheese toasty until university. We didn’t keep kosher when we ate out, but at home, my mum worked hard to make sure that what we saw her do didn’t contradict what we were taught at a Jewish primary school. And meat cream? Well, as you can’t have milk after a meaty meal, that rules out dairy for pudding. So dairy-free cream for our crumble became “meat cream”. It’s stuck and continues to sound hilarious to us and any guests.
However, even since being old enough to make my own choices and cook my own meals, I have never found the idea of, say, carbonara, appetising. I rarely opt for cheese on a burger because I think it seems too indulgent, but I think it’s actually a throw-back to being told that these two things simply do not go together. Food habits are hard to break.
I bought a massive plaited challah for us to share as a starter – this is the fluffy, sweet soft bread eaten over the Sabbath. It is perfect for dipping in your chicken soup but as my mother has shamefully yet to teach me how to make it, we just had some dips, pickles and chicken liver pate before diving in to a lemony garlicky roasted chicken for our main course. Perfect.
But that challah was a beast. It was huge. I have serious addiction issues with bread – even more so when it’s infused with sugar like this – but even I was feeling defeated after a second slice. I was, however, looking forward to toasting some up for breakfast the next morning to have with some Proper Deli Cream Cheese (none of your smooth runny Philadelphia for this bread, please).
We also had some leftover blueberries from our fruit salad (ie dairy-free) dessert, so I whipped up some super-quick blueberry jam. So after that whole long Jew-food infused spiel, I actually give you a recipe for…
Quick easy balsamic blueberry jam
Jam doesn’t have to take hours slaving over huge sticky pots or involve trestle tables at a WI event. You only need two ingredients and about five spare minutes. This is a great way to preserve blueberries while you get fuller packets for your pennies at this time of year, but might struggle to get through them before they go soft.
1 – Wash your berries and remove any stalky bits.
3 -When the fruit starts to sweat and soften, you’ll notice they’ll turn a darker redder colour and swell up and glisten. Add a full teaspoon of balsamic vinegar.
4 – Keep the heat up – the berries will turn sticky as they sizzle in the vinegar as everything starts to combine and sweeten.
5 – Test a few berries with the back of a teaspoon – if they feel soft and squishy and burst easily, releasing red jammy goodness, you can kill the heat. This entire process only really takes a few minutes.
6 – Prepare your breakfast – I toasted our leftover cholla and plastered on some of that thick amazing cream cheese but this jam is amazing with pancakes, too.
7 – Transfer the jam to a small clean pot or dish to cool and solidify a little, and you’re done!