Ashkenazim and the Sephardim

Jewish identity is as much composed of cultural and ethnic dimensions as those of faith and religion. Originating from the Hebrews of the Ancient Near East, Jews branched out to the rest of the world forming distinct communities with their own traditions and cultures- and of course, cuisines!

The largest of these groups are the Ashkenazim and the Sephardim; here’s a synopsis of each group’s food customs.


 The Ashkenazi originate from Germany and Eastern Europe; “Ashkenaz” means “Germany” in Hebrew. In addition to that of Germany, the Ashkenazi cuisine is influenced by the foods of Poland and Russia (i.e. horseradish, rye bread, & pickles). In this cold region the food tends to be heavier, with lots of potatoes, noodles, and meat. Additionally, this group was forced to live in poverty after having been expelled from Western Europe in the Middle Ages, and therefore were limited in terms of ingredients. Their foods were made with fewer components (fewer spices and ingredients) and those that were more flavorful had to be used sparingly. This is why the Ashkenazi cuisine is often regarded as being blander than dishes in Sephardi cuisine.


The Sephardi originate from Spain, North Africa, the Middle East, Egypt, and Turkey; the root of “Sephardi” means “Spain” in Hebrew. Their cuisine was influenced by Spanish and Mediterranean cuisines (i.e. shakshuka and hummus) and was developed in a sunnier climate than Ashkenazi making it generally lighter, healthier, and more colorful than that of the Ashkenazi. Staples of Sephardi cuisine are salads, stuffed vegetables and vine leaves, olive oil, lentils, fresh and dried fruits, herbs and nuts, chickpeas, and lamb. Another interesting difference in the Sephardi tradition in relation to food is that they eat rice and legumes during Passover whereas other Jewish ethnic groups do not.




  • 1 ounce (scant ¼ cup) of Dried apricots, chopped
  • 1 ounce (scant ¼ cup) of Dark raisins, cut in half
  • 1 ounce (scant ¼ cup) of Yellow raisins, cut in half
  • 1 ounce (scant ¼ cup) of Dried, pitted dates, chopped
  • 1 ounce (scant ¼ cup) of Dried figs, chopped
  • 1 ounce (scant ¼ cup) of Pistachios, preferably dry roasted
  • 1 ounce (scant ¼ cup) of Walnuts, chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ⅛ teaspoon cumin
  • 2-3 twists of freshly ground pepper (optional)
  • About 4 tablespoons (¼ cup) hot liquid (sweet red wine like Manischewitz or grape or apple juice), added by tablespoonful


  1. Mix the dried fruit and nuts (all chopped) together in a bowl.
  2. Heat the liquid and add it to the fruit and nut mixture. Let the charoset sit for a few minutes until the fruit absorbs the liquid.
  3. Mix again and drain off excess liquid if any or add more if required.

*Original recipe:




Charoset Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ lbs Gala or Fuji apples (about 4 medium apples)
  • 5-6 tbsp sweet kosher wine
  • 1 tbsp honey (use agave to make vegan)
  • 1 ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ginger
  • ¼ tsp allspice
  • Salt to taste

Candied Walnuts Ingredients:

  • 1 cup raw walnut halves
  • ½ egg white
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp cayenne
  • Dash cinnamon
  • Dash nutmeg (optional)


  1. Peel and core the apples, then chop them fine. I usually put them in a food processor and pulse a few times till they’re chopped fine but with texture. Careful, it’s easy to over-chop if you go this route and you could end up with applesauce!
  2. Place the chopped apples in a bowl. Stir in 5 tbsp sweet kosher wine, honey, cinnamon, ginger, allspice and a pinch of salt (to taste). Taste the mixture; if you feel it needs more moisture or sweetness, add a bit more kosher wine. The wine will be soaked up a bit as the charoset marinates, but you don’t want it puddling too much at the bottom of the bowl… a little puddling is fine.
  3. Cover the bowl, place in the refrigerator, and allow the mixture to marinate for 24 hours.

Candied Walnuts Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Separate egg white from yolk, then pour half of the egg white into a mixing bowl (just eyeball this, it doesn’t half to be exact). Use a whisk to beat the egg white till frothy, then beat in the sugar, salt, cayenne, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add the walnuts to the egg mixture and stir till the walnuts are fully coated in the seasoned egg white mixture.
  2. Spread the walnuts out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 15-20 minutes till crisp. Remove sheet from the oven and allow the nuts to cool on the sheet.
  3. Pour the candied nuts onto a cutting board and roughly chop them into smaller pieces.

*Original recipe:

Halloween Mason Jar Luminaries

Mason Jar Luminaries



mason-jar-luminaries_02 mason-jar-luminaries_03

These luminaries are an easy-peasy, economical, and kid-friendly activity. These are quick to make and I found all of the supplies at my local dollar store.

For, the Jack-O-Lantern luminaries, I decoupaged clipart of faces and orange tissue paper to the inside of mason jars. I used Mod Podge, but I believe Elmer’s glue diluted with water would also work. Simply let your design dry then place a battery-powered tea “candle” in the jar.

The spider web luminary centerpieces are even more simple: wrap webbing around the jars before placing the lights into the jars. Voila!


Baking Science

Eggnog Cupcake

Cocoa Anatomy

Cocoa beans naturally start out at about 50% fat.  After fermenting, drying, roasting, and de-husking, the beans are ground to a paste; at this point it’s essentially baking chocolate. When put through a hydraulic plate press, squeezing out about half of the cocoa butter, a hard disk of concentrated cocoa remains. This block is then ground into cocoa powder.    


Cocoa Butter: fat squeezed from cocoa beans

Cocoa Solids: the substance remaining after the cocoa butter has been removed from cocoa beans

Cocoa Nibs: roasted, de-husked cacao beans broken into pieces

Natural Cocoa Powder: cocoa beans that have been roasted and ground into a fine powder. Baking soda, which is alkaline, is generally paired with natural cocoa in recipes to neutralize its acidity.

Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder: dark, milder tasting cocoa powder treated with an alkali (potassium solution) to neutralize its natural acidity. Baking powder, also near-neutral in pH, is paired with Dutched cocoa in recipes.

jill_cocoa powder

Black cocoa: cocoa powder that has been heavily-Dutched  Ex: Oreo cookies

Unsweetened/Baking Chocolate: pure, ground, roasted chocolate beans (cocoa butter + cocoa solids)

Dark Chocolate: cocoa butter + cocoa solids + sugar

Milk Chocolate: cocoa butter + cocoa solids + sugar + milk powder or condensed milk

White Chocolate: cocoa butter + sugar + milk powder or condensed milk (no cocoa solids)

Notes & Tips

  1. Cocoa powder can be used instead of flour to dust pans
    (especially if concerned with gluten free cooking)
  2. Because of the differences in chemistry, Dutched cocoa powder and natural cocoa are not reliably interchangeable in baked goods. The easiest substitution advice I found is:
    • To replace natural cocoa and baking soda with Dutch-process cocoa, substitute an equal amount of Dutch-process cocoa but replace the soda with twice the amount of baking powder.
    • For Dutch-process cocoa powder and baking powder, substitute the same amount of natural cocoa but replace the baking powder with half the amount of baking soda.
      (The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion)


Europe Part 2: Graz, Austria



Oh, hello blog, I remember you…

Kunsthaus Graz (Graz Art Museum)
detail of Kunsthaus Graz (Graz Art Museum)
View from Grazer Schloßberg (Castle Mountain)

Head & shoulders protected? Check
& the genitals? Let’s not get extravagant

Europe Part 1: Lausanne, Switzerland

A sunrise walk to Lake Geneva and my first fondue experience are my souvenirs from  Lausanne, Switzerland. Nestled in the Jura Mountains, this city is incredibly charming.

Interesting facts about Lausanne

  • It is the site of the International Olympic Committee headquarters and is officially recognized by the committee as the ‘Capitale Olympique’
  • It is the smallest city in the world to have a rapid transit system
  • The Lausannes consume 4 tons of chocolate per day and the average resident drinks 40 liters of wine a year
Vineyards, Swiss chocolate, year-round skiing; does life get any better than this?


I explored one of my new favorite ‘hoods of the city this past Sunday: Astoria, Queens!

The occasion was “Sweets for your Sweet,” a food artisan market at the Queens Kickshaw. This place serves possibly the finest grilled cheese sandwich in existence: gouda, black bean hummus, guava jam, and pickled jalapenos on brioche.


But I digress. As stunning as the sandwiches are, they certainly didn’t outshine the vendors. I met the proprietors, and of course, tasted and gushed over their marvelous creations.

AJ Simone, the brilliant mind behind Handjobs (for the Home),
revealed  to me his plans to teach a preserving class in the near future.
Keep us posted AJ, I’m looking forward to it!

AJ's handmade sea salt from Provincetown, MA

The vegan, Indian inspired delicacies of Sweet Silk

The beautiful Shefalee of Sweet Silk

Matt Swanston, creator of the evilly addictive cakes of  Gooey&Co.