My First Matzo Kugel

I would consider myself a practicing Jew, only I don't make it into synagogue that frequently. I do, however, know all my prayers and have been bar mitzvahed and confirmed, so I'm pretty Jewish. This past month saw a slight uptick in my Jewish cultural activities, starting with a little family Chanukah party at home for which I made matzo ball soup. Last week I was supposed to go to a friend's Chanukah party and make latkes with her, but I got sick, so I had to miss it. Only, I'd shlepped my mother's Cuisinart and deep fryer up to LA, so I was going to make latkes one way or another. And I did.

Despite a nasty headcold, I spent two hours peeling, cutting, grinding, mincing, shredding, cracking, shaking, stirring, mixing and frying, and I've got a freezer full of latkes to prove it. I'm going to use them as party favors over the coming months since they keep forever and they're one of the less scary Jewish foods (herring in sour cream anyone?).

Then on this past Friday evening, my neighbor Kevin had some friends over for dinner and one of them decided that we should make it a Shabbat dinner since he is Jewish and was the one doing the cooking. I happily contributed some drinking glasses and a few cooking ingredients and explained a few of the prayers to the other attendees. Only my fellow Jew had his hands full with the chicken-beer-onion stew thingy that he was making, so he would not have time to make the matzo kugel he was planning for dessert.

For you non-Yiddish speakers out there, a kugel is sort of like bread pudding which we make with noodles or matzo. We had matzo, and I had an extra set of hands, so I set about preparing it. First, the matzo was whole grain, which we all thought would be interesting to try. Then instead of raisins, we used currants from Whole Foods--delish and a little bit tangier than your average raisin. Throw in a few different kinds of chopped apples and some walnuts, and voila, you've got the basics. I mixed in the eggs, oil, salt, sugar and cinnamon, folded everything together with my hands and scooped it into a baking dish. What do you know, 45 minutes later, we had a very respectable matzo kugel.

Against my better judgment, I'll say this and hope my mom never reads it. My latkes are just as good as hers--but that is a testament to her cooking and teaching skills since we always used to make them together when I was a kid and I learned everything from her (except that year when we forgot to add flour to them and had a rough time figuring out why our latkes weren't frying right!). My matzo balls are also pretty darn good and give hers a run for the money. When it comes to matzo kugel, I have to say that while my first attempt was pretty distinguished, I need to do a little work before I catch up to Mama Rosen. Mine needed a touch more cinnamon and sugar, plus a bit more even distribution of the fruits and nuts, but it was a pretty decent specimen. I can tell it will take a while, though, before my kugel is like mom's. Hers is fluffy and light, almost like a souffle--which, when you're cooking with matzo, is saying something!

Despite the quality, I have to say, it was a great feeling to be cooking for Shabbat with friends, saying the prayers and talking about Judaism. I think I'm going to have to have my own dinner party soon so I can do it again--and get another chance to practice my kugel.