When her Kosher catering business didn't take off, Chef Lauren Stacy Berdy started writing recipes instead of preparing them.
You would think a French-trained (LaVarenne Ecole de Cuisine in Paris) chef who had cooked for society dames, celebrities and rock stars in New York and then an affluent Kosher clientele in Columbus, Ohio would be turning down business in Florida, right? But when Lauren Stacy Berdy moved to the Sunshine State three-and-a-half years ago to launch a high-end Kosher catering business -- and to be close to the beach after a decade in the Midwest -- her dream fell apart like, well, a latke without matzo meal. But Berdy, 61, is as resourceful in life as she is in the kitchen. She decided to write about food instead, and Kosher cuisine at that, in a totally 21st century way. The result is a collection of reinterpreted Kosher recipes inRemaining Kosher: A Cookbook for All with a Hechsher in Their Heart (a hechsher is the official rabbinical stamp signifying food is Kosher), her new iPad cookbook, available for $8.99 on iBooks for the iPad and Mac. Berdy is all about transformations.
Columbus to Hollywood (Florida, that is)
I was a private chef in Columbus, working Kosher and non-Kosher. Then about three-and-a-half years ago we went to a friend's 60th birthday down in Florida. I had a bourbon in my hand and was walking on the beach, and I thought, 'I could be doing this.' I had no compunction about changing my life within the blink of an eye, and I did it within a few months. And my husband said the cosmic 'yes' to contemplating a different life and starting over.
From preparing recipes to writing them
I had a dark night of the soul. When I came to Florida, I went through a year of not figuring things out. I would get up every day and try to go forward, write letters, meet party planners. But calls never came. Then I realized that nothing was going to happen, so I started writing. I felt I had so much to say about Kosher cooking. My writing didn't come from fear as much as the feeling that I had found my own freedom. I was up for an adventure.
Not your grandma's matzo balls . . .
I really enjoy the boundaries of Kosher. I'm not religiously Kosher, but I like the discipline of knowing you have to use specific rules, the challenge of finding creativity within boundaries. I am interested in Kosher in all its glory, in creating an honest plate of food. The substitution of faux ingredients, typically used to mirror the foods in non-Kosher society, to me is like a vegetarian eating tofu scrambled eggs. Maintaining the [Kosher] standard has less to do with wishful thinking and fast substitutions than just being in the nature of all things Kosher. I enjoy shopping for ingredients and letting them come to life in the kitchen. There's a lot of mystery in it to me.
Crab wannabe? No way…
Using devious means in Kosher cooking produces lackluster results. For example, crab is forbidden food [in Kosher]. Why bother eating rubbery pollack tinged with orange food coloring that has no kinship to real crab? Fake crab is just that: fake. To me, margarine [instead of butter] is a ghost ingredient. It's really just oil. So I take great comfort using olive oil when baking Parve [foods without meat or dairy] for a better dessert. My sponge cake, apple pizza, jam croustade, all use olive oil instead of margarine. You can even make Kosher hot and sour soup and substitute corned beef for pork.
Ancient Tradition in a Modern Interface: Parve on an iPad
My husband was a well-known studio photographer who was also reimagining himself. I thought we should do a project together. We could use his talents in lighting and picture taking. He also had computer skills. So when it came time, the iBook was the easiest way to go. To me a Kosher cookbook on an iPad made perfect sense.
Lauren Berdy's Olive Oil Cake with Citrus, Dried Mango, Dried Pineapple and Roasted Pine Nuts
A unique technique of boiling lemons and oranges until soft is one of the secrets to this moist sponge cake loaded with vibrant, sunny flavors. Olive oil enriches the batter and lends to its fruity goodness. The roasted pine nuts announce their presence with each bite. In the middle of winter, a slice of this cake will add a bit of sunshine to your dessert plate.
You will need a saucepan, toaster oven, food processor, standing mixer with a whisk attachment, 8-inch cake pan and parchment paper
Garnish: powdered sugar
2 oranges, slice off any stem
2 lemons, slice off any stem
½ cup toasted pine nuts
¼ cup dried mango, diced into smaller pieces for the food processor
¼ cup dried pineapple, diced into smaller pieces for the food processor
1 vanilla bean pod
¾ cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Bring eggs to room temperature.
Place oranges and lemons in a saucepan. Cover with cold water and bring to a boil on the stove. Cover and simmer for at least 45 minutes.
Drain and discard the water. Place the boiled fruit on a paper towel and cool.
While the fruit is cooling, cut a circle of parchment the same size as the bottom of your cake pan. Place the parchment circle on the bottom of the pan. Brush the pan and parchment with olive oil and then dust with flour. Shake out excess. Set aside.
Toast the pine nuts in an oven or toaster oven at 350 °F until the nuts are golden brown. (Pay close attention!)
Dice the mango and pineapple.
Sift flour, measure and sift again with baking powder and salt into a bowl.
Split the vanilla pod in half and scrape all its inner seeds, or "caviar," on top of the cup of sugar.
Hint: place the used pods in your sugar canister
Cut the cooked fruit in half. Using a teaspoon, scoop out all the insides of each half and discard. Reserve the rind.
Puree the cooked rind, dried fruit, sugar and vanilla bean in a food processor bowl, stopping at least once to scrape down the sides, processing for about a minute. With a rubber spatula, scrape the puréed ingredients into a bowl.
Mixing the cake:
Preheat oven to 350 ºF, use convection if available.
Assemble all the ingredients near the standing mixer with the whisk attached.
Break and add eggs to mixer bowl one at a time, checking each. Beat eggs on high speed until they are very fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.
Add the fruit purée. Beat on higher speed until the mixture is pale and holds a shape, about another 2 minutes.
On low speed, beat in the flour until just incorporated.
Beat in the olive oil.
Finally, add in the toasted pine nuts. Stir with a rubber spatula to insure there are no hidden flour pockets.
Fill the prepared pan with the cake batter. Even out the surface with the back of the rubber spatula.
Place the pan in the middle of the oven and bake for 50 minutes. When the cake is done an inserted skewer or knife will come out clean.
Cool to room temperature.
Place a plate over the pan, flip and slip the cake out.
Remove the parchment paper. Flip again onto a serving platter.
Place powdered sugar in a fine mesh strainer to sprinkle generously on the cake top.