Stepping Out

A festival holiday table

Sharing springtime traditions with family and friends


Families throughout the area will come together in the holiday spirit shortly as we celebrate both Passover and Easter. These spring rituals of renewal and rebirth are a time to cherish age-old traditions and also create new ones.

Holiday meals are meaningful occasion to explore the boundaries of your family heritage. Try supplementing those tried-and-true recipes passed down from generation to generation with some creative additions to your holiday table.

Classic Chicken Soup

1 (3 pound) whole chicken, cut up

2 small yellow onions, peeled and cut in half

2 stalks celery, cut in half

3 carrots, cut into chunks

2 parsnips, cut into chunks

2 leeks, left whole

1 bunch fresh dill

1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped

3 quarts water

Salt and pepper to taste

Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Add the chicken and bring to a rolling boil; cook for 45 minutes. Skim the surface of the soup occasionally to remove any foam that develops.

Add the vegetables and return to the boil. Season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat, and simmer, partially covered, for at least four more hours.

Remove the chicken and vegetables from the broth. Strain broth, cool, and refrigerate overnight. When chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones, and chop or shred the meat; cover and refrigerate.

Traditional Fluffy Matzah Balls

The key to really fluffy, light and delicious matzah balls is not the matzah meal — it’s in the eggs.

4 eggs, beaten

1 cup matzah meal

1/2 cup water

1/3 cup oil

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, optional

Pinch of salt and pepper

Beat the eggs in a mixing bowl with a hand beater for a few minutes. Turn off the mixer; add everything else to the beaten eggs and stir with a fork. The mixture will fall a bit; this is fine. Cover mixture and refrigerate for an hour or overnight.

To prepare the matzah balls, use a large, wide pot, as matzah balls will grow a lot in size. Fill the pot 3/4 full with water; bring to a boil with half a teaspoon of salt.

Wet your hands with a bit of water and shape batter into small balls. Drop them gently into the boiling water.

Cook for 30–40 minutes. Remove the matzah balls with a slotted spoon. Place them on a flat plate and let cool.

Freeze your matzah balls in plastic bags or a container. When you are ready to use them, drop them into your boiling chicken soup while they are still frozen. Half an hour later they will be fluffy, soft and ready to eat!

Another idea is to use a mini ice-cream scooper or a mini cookie-baller to shape the matzah balls, so that every matzah ball will be the same size. Makes 15-20 matzah balls.

Lamb Shanks braised with Tomatoes and Coriander

2 tablespoons olive oil

6 pounds lamb shanks

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 cups sliced onions

2 tablespoons chopped garlic

2 tablespoon chopped ginger

1 teaspoon fennel seed

1 teaspoon coriander seed

1 teaspoon whole cumin seed

1 teaspoon mustard seed

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

Pinch cayenne

2 cups canned tomatoes, with juices

3 cups homemade or low-salt canned chicken broth; more as needed

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

1 teaspoon whole cumin seed, toasted in a dry skillet until fragrant

Heat the oven to 350° F. In a Dutch oven or high-sided skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Season the lamb shanks with salt and pepper. Working in batches, brown the lamb on all sides; transfer to a plate. Pour off all but a few tablespoons of fat from the pan.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the onions. Cook, stirring often, until the onions are tender and just beginning to brown. Stir in the garlic, ginger, fennel, coriander, the whole cumin seed, the mustard seed, the cardamom and the cayenne and cook one minute more.

Return the lamb shanks to the pot, and add the tomatoes and enough chicken broth to barely the shanks. Bring to a gentle simmer on the stovetop then transfer the pot, uncovered, to the oven.

Braise in the oven, basting and turning the meat occasionally. Adjust the heat as necessary to maintain a gentle simmer (barely bubbling). The lamb is done when it’s tender enough to cut with a fork and easily comes away from the bone, about 2-1/2 hours.

Transfer the lamb to a plate, let the liquid cool, and spoon off any fat. (For a smooth, refined sauce, strain the liquid and return to the pot.) Bring the sauce to a simmer and reduce until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Return the lamb to the pot.

When ready to serve, warm the meat in the sauce, basting frequently. Stir in the cilantro and toast cumin just before serving.

Make ahead tips:

The lamb is even better made a day or more ahead. Prepare the recipe through the step of f reducing the sauce, then return the lamb to its sauce and refrigerate, covered, for up to five days or freeze for up to three months. To serve, reheat the lamb shanks in their sauce, and stir in the cilantro and toasted cumin.

Chocolate Cups with Lemon Cream

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons cocoa

2 egg whites

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter or margarine, melted

Chocolate coating (recipe follows)

Freshly grated lemon peel (optional)

Heat oven to 400° F. Grease and flour cookie sheet.

Stir together sugar, flour and cocoa in small bowl. Add egg whites and butter; beat until smooth. Drop teaspoons of mixture onto prepared cookie sheet and spread out thinly in 5-inch circles.

Bake 6 to 7 minutes or until set. Immediately remove from cookie sheet; place top side down, over bottom of inverted juice glasses. Mold to give wavy edges (if chocolate cup cracks, gently press together with fingers). Let stand until hard and completely cool, about 30 minutes.

Place about 2 teaspoons chocolate coating into each cup; use pastry brush or spoon to coat inside. Refrigerate 20 minutes or until coating is set. Meanwhile, prepare lemon cream. Spoon scant 1/2 cup cream filling into each cup. Garnish with shredded lemon peel, if desired. About 6 cups.

Chocolate Coating: Place 3/4 cup dark chocolate chips or semi-sweet chips and 1 teaspoon shortening (do not use butter, margarine, spread or oil) in small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at medium (50%) 45 seconds or until smooth when stirred.

Lemon Cream: Combine 1 package (4- serving size) instant lemon pudding and pie filling mix, 1 cup milk and 1/8 teaspoon lemon extract in medium bowl. Beat with whisk or on low speed of mixer 2 minutes. Fold in 1-1/2 cups thawed non-dairy whipped topping; refrigerate 30 minutes or until set. About 2-1/2 cups.

Easter Basket Cupcakes

1 cup boiling water

Assorted candies (Jolly Rancher Jelly Beans, Mini Eggs candies and Hershey’s Kisses

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 can (16 ounces) creamy vanilla ready-to-spread frosting

3-3/4 cups sweetened coconut flakes, (tinted)

33 Twizzlers Strawberry Twists

1 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1 cup milk

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup cocoa

1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder

2 cups sugar

Note: To tint coconut, combine several drops green food color with 3/4 teaspoon water; add to 1-1/2 cups coconut. Stir until evenly tinted. Repeat using blue, pink or yellow food color.

Heat oven to 350° F. Line muffin cups (2-1/2 inches in diameter) with paper bake cups.

Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of electric mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Fill muffin cups 2/3 full with batter. Bake 22 to 25 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely.

To make Easter baskets, frost each cupcake with vanilla frosting. Immediately make “nest” on top of each cupcake with tinted coconut; place assorted candy in nests.

For handle, insert wooden pick in each end of strawberry twists; press down into each side of each cupcake, bending to form handle.

Makes about 33 cupcakes.