Earlier this week, Efrat Libfroind wrote about her tribe; cooking and self-improvement; being a mother and a full-time pastry chef; and being the only kosher cooking student in class. Her new cookbook, “Kosher Elegance: The Art of Cooking With Style,” is now available. Her blog posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite, courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
I didn’t sleep much the night before we started taking pictures for my cookbook. It had already been a stressful few days. Taking pictures meant I finally had to decide which recipes were going into the book and which were out. We were not taking any pictures which weren’t needed, so recipes had to be chosen in advance. It was like giving up favorite friends. I love all my recipes. But I had to come to terms with the fact that I needed to love some more than others. Not easy.
Then, I had to shop. I had to get the best of everything. The freshest and most attractive ingredients, because soon cameras would be zooming in on every millimeter of my cooking. It had to look good. I shopped in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda shuk. It is an amazing place and it has the most gorgeous food. All I can say is, “I must go to the shuk more often.” The best supermarkets don’t come close.
After all this, I was tossing and turning, not sleeping, worrying about the big day. I had experience with food photography for magazines which published my recipes. And I learned that the best dishes don’t always appear well in photographs and that it can take an hour (or two) just to get the portion to look just like I think it ought to (yes, I am a perfectionist). I was worried about what my book would look like.
We started taking pictures at 6 a.m. A whole slew of people were involved: photographers, assistant photographers, food stylists, lighting staff — and me. I am sure they’d have been happy not to have me there — at times I made them a bit crazy. Things didn’t always look exactly like I wanted them to, and I was pretty protective of my food. I wanted the pictures to be perfect.
We ended close to midnight that first day. We could barely stand on our feet. All in all, it really was a great day. We did eat a lot of the food I prepared, so that was a plus.
Most of the photography took place in my house, except for two grueling sessions in a studio. Since my kids would get home from school while we were still working I needed something special to keep them busy. I broke all my rules and gave them money to go out and buy junk food. This is not something we do in our family. My kids were thrilled. They are lobbying me to start work on another book, asap.
Makes approximately 15 focaccias, depending on pan size
In this recipe I managed to take focaccia, which is normally roundish and asymmetrical, and turn it into a perfect square. The new shape, together with a rich Mediterranean topping, makes this dish unbeatable.
3½ – 4 cups flour
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1½ – 2 cups water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon salt
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 bunch rosemary leaves
1 red onion, diced
2 zucchini or 1 small eggplant, diced
1 handful cherry tomatoes, quartered
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 handful olives
Dough: Put yeast in a mixer bowl. Add sugar and 1/2 cup of the water. Let yeast stand for 10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and combine until a soft dough forms. Let rise in a warm place for about an hour.
Topping: Heat olive oil and rosemary in a frying pan. Add onion and saute on a high flame for about 3 minutes. Add zucchini or eggplant, tomatoes, and garlic, and saute for 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Discard rosemary and add olives.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Press the dough into any symmetrical silicone mold you choose. If you don’t have silicone molds, you can make traditionally shaped focaccias. (Divide dough into about 15 balls (for mini-focaccias, divide into 20–25 balls). Shape each ball into a flat oval and pierce with a fork.)
Top dough with a generous amount of topping and bake for about 20 minutes.
Tip: You can substitute whole wheat flour for white flour, but you may need to add 1/4 cup water.
Tip: For an even richer taste, sprinkle focaccias with cubes of feta cheese 5 minutes before they are finished baking.
Efrat Libfroind is the author of “Kosher Elegance.” She has been blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Authors Blog.
The Jewish Book Council is a not-for-profit organization devoted to the reading, writing and publishing of Jewish literature. For more Jewish literary blog posts, reviews of Jewish books, book club resources, and to learn about awards and conferences, please visit www.jewishbookcouncil.org.
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