This week marks the beginning of the Jewish High Holidays. On Wednesday evening at sundown, Jewish communities around the world will welcome Rosh Hashanah–the New Year (the Hebrew year 5775). Ten days later comes Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which is also a day of fasting. That day ends with a celebratory meal that breaks the fast.

gefilte fish

Gefilte fish

There’s hardly a Jewish holiday that doesn’t involve food–and foods specific to the holiday. Come Rosh Hashanah, celebrants will be sharing slices of apples to dip into bowls of honey to harken a sweet new year. Challahs, usually braided into a straight loaf for each Shabbat Friday night are still braided but shaped into a circle for the High Holidays. Most traditional Rosh Hashanah meals will include dishes like gefilte fish served with horseradish, chicken soup with matzo balls, roasted chicken or brisket, and perhaps an apple or honey cake for dessert. To break the fast at sundown of Yom Kippur, many Jewish families choose a  buffet of light fare–usually dairy oriented–with noodle kugel or cheese blintzes; salads; bagels, lox, and cream cheese (as well as white fish and smoked cod) on a platter with sliced tomatoes, red onions, and capers; maybe some chopped liver, pickled herring, egg salad, and lots of mini rye and pumpernickel breads.

Personal chefs with Jewish clients may find themselves asked to prepare holidays meals for them and their families. So, for those who haven’t much experience with this type of food we thought we’d give you some resources for planning a meal and finding recipes–including your own APPCA colleagues–along with discussions here on our forums that offer recipes.

APPCA member Shelbie Wassel of Shallots Personal Chef Service in Maryland grew up with traditional holiday fare. “We had matzoh ball soup, chopped liver (made with mayonnaise, not schmaltz–chicken fat–I come from a family of bad stomachs), and brisket in Lipton’s onion soup,” she says. “I’ve long given up on the powdered onion soup–too much salt!–and now make a brisket with coffee.”

Mrs. Ribakow’s Brisket
Courtesy of Shelbie Wassel
Serves 8

3 1/2 to 4 pounds brisket, first cut
2 medium onions cut into chunks
1 bunch celery, leafy tops only, sliced
1 large bay leaf
1/3 cup ketchup
1/2 cup black coffee
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Sprinkle salt and pepper on the bottom of a roasting pan. Place brisket in the pan and sprinkle the top of the brisket lightly with more salt and pepper. Arrange onions and celery around and on top of the brisket. Drizzle with the ketchup. Roast meat, uncovered for 15 minutes to sear.

Reduce heat to 350 degrees. Add bay leaf and coffee, then cover tightly with foil. Continue cooking for approximately 2 1/2 hours longer. The meat should feel tender when fork is inserted in the thickest part.

Remove from oven and let cool before slicing. Refrigerate gravy and vegetables. Skim off fat.

To serve: Puree gravy and vegetables in a blender. Pour over sliced brisket. Cover with foil and heat through in 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes. Add some kick to the dish by offering freshly grated horseradish on the side.



So, what would you serve with the brisket? Well, tzimis is a really traditional dish focused on roasted carrots and dried fruit. Do it right and each ingredient sparkles. Mess it up and you got a mushy mess. So, to the rescue with a contemporary tzimis recipe here. But you don’t have to go completely traditional. A great salad, a side of grains of some kind, and veggies all work great.

And remember, you’re probably also serving matzoh ball soup and gefilte fish even before you hit the main event. Let’s talk matzoh balls first. These are Eastern European Jewish dumplings made with matzoh meal, eggs, water, and a little fat. The goal is for them to be light (floaters) as opposed to dense (sinkers)–although there are some who prefer sinkers.

APPCA member Linda Berns of CustomKosher,LLC. in Maryland has been making her gramma’s recipe for matzoh balls all her adult life. It’s oh so simple. And, as Linda explains, according to Jewish lore, matzoh balls are eaten at Rosh Hashanah because they remind us of the cycle of life and change of season ushered in by the new year.

Linda Berns’ Matzoh Balls

Yield: About 8 to 9 matzoh balls

1 cup Streits matzoh meal (be sure to use the Streits brand)
4 eggs
1/4 + 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Bring a large pot of water to the boil with a liberal 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt. While the water is coming to the boil, set a bowl filled with water next to the stove. You’ll use the water to moisten your hands while forming the balls.

When the water come to the boil, crack the eggs into a large bowl and beat vigorously. Add approximately 1/8 teaspoon salt to eggs and continue to beat. When the eggs are well beaten, add the matzoh meal and continue to stir to combine with the eggs. Your mixture should be sticky to the touch and not shiny.

Dip a hand into the bowl of water to wet it, then scoop out enough matzoh mixture to form into a dumpling the size of a large golf ball. Drop gently into the boiling water. Repeat until you’ve used all of the matzoh mixture. If your batter becomes too dry, stir in another egg and a little more matzoh meal to avoid having hard matzoh balls.

Bring the water back up to the boil and then turn down the heat to a simmer. Cover the pot, leaving the lid slightly ajar, and let the matzoh balls simmer for approximately 30 to 40 minutes. You’ll see your matzoh balls float and puff to approximately twice their size. Take care to not let the water boil out of the pot or your matzoh balls will stick together and stick to the bottom of the pot.

Once the matzoh balls are done cooking, you can add them to the chicken soup. You can also make them in advance and keep them refrigerated, covered so they don’t dry out. Add them to the soup pot as you heat it up on the stove. When serving, place the matzoh ball(s) in the bowl first, then ladle out the soup.

Photo from Linda Berns

Photo from Linda Berns

Here are some websites where you can get more recipes for both matzoh balls and the chicken soup. Be sure to cook them first, then add to your chicken soup. P.S., You’ll see Passover mentioned a lot in recipe notes–matzoh balls and chicken soup  are multi-holiday dishes.

Andrew Zimmern’s version in Food & Wine

Smitten Kitchen version

Bon Appetit version

As for the gefilte fish (also served on Passover), this is a dish filled with tradition. Like many Eastern European Jewish dishes it was a way to create a nutritious dish on a very limited budget. Back in the day, this dish was handmade with inexpensive white fish (often carp, mullet, or pike), ground and then mixed with onion, eggs, and matzoh meal–or other ingredients–and shaped into individual ovals. Then they’re poached, cooled, and served chilled with a side of ground horseradish. These days, most people simply buy jars of it and perhaps doctor it a bit by adding cooked, sliced carrots and onions. But our Shelbie makes her own and you can find her recipe here.

Photo from Shelbie Wassel

Photo from Shelbie Wassel

Can’t forget the challah (egg bread)! Here we send you off to one of the best teachers of classic Jewish cooking–Joan Nathan. Our Caron Golden has been making challahs since she was a child, but when she saw this video of Joan Nathan making this challah, she converted. Try it; you’ll like it.

Round braided challah

In fact, for any of these dishes, simply Google the dish and Joan Nathan and you’ll get something splendid. Like her apple honey cake, which Caron made last year. You’ve got to try this!

Joan Nathan's Apple Cake

Now for Yom Kippur. You don’t really need to do a lot of major cooking since you want a gentle meal to follow a day-long fast. Salads are good–including a good tuna and/or egg salad. Pick up some rye and pumpernickel breads at a Jewish bakery, along with some challah, to put out. If you want to make chopped liver to create a real old-timey table, here’s a terrific recipe from Ina Garten (the Barefoot Contessa), which is more modern than what your client’s bubbe (grandma) probably made. For chopped liver, you’ll want crackers or broken pieces of matzoh to serve with it.

A classic treat for Yom Kippur (although you can serve this anytime of the year–except Passover) is noodle kugel. This is a sweet, rich casserole made with wide egg noodles, sour cream, cream cheese, eggs, and sugar. Some people like to add fruit–fresh, canned, or dried–to it and top it with everything from bread crumbs to ground up Corn Flakes. Caron recently published her family recipe on her blog San Diego Foodstuff, which is as traditional as it is simple to make–pure comfort food.

photo 4

Another favorite is blintzes–crepes usually filled with a soft cheese like farmer cheese or ricotta, but also fruit–commonly cooked blueberries or apples. We send you back to Smitten Kitchen for these.

These dishes should get you started and will certainly make your clients happy as they ring in the new year!

What dishes do you make for the High Holidays? What is a client favorite?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.





Linda Berns

For Linda Berns of CustomKosher, LLC in Bethesda, Maryland, her fondest memories are of cooking with her grandma from the time she was a little girl in St. Louis. “I went to the culinary school of Gramma,” she says. “My grandparents cooked for everybody. They made challah and sweet rolls for everyone that friends would pick up for Shabbat–for no charge.”

The family held huge seders–the celebratory dinners at Passover–with a table that stretched from the dining room to the living room. In fact, Linda has all of her grandmother’s glasses, plates, silverware, and pots and pans. “So I cook with the same things she cooked with and it’s the same table she set.”

While she grew up cooking, Linda actually studied international studies and communications at American University in Washington, D.C. with the motivation of designing educational materials. Eventually she opened a graphic design company, Berns & Kay, Ltd., a business she’s had for more than 30 years.

Spinach Salad with balsamic vinaigrette and candied walnuts

Spinach Salad with balsamic vinaigrette and candied walnuts

But, with the onslaught of computers, she realized that everyone could now be a designer. While running her graphic design business, she was also cooking for her synagogue and friends whenever there was a simcha (celebration) or a shiva (mourning ritual). Need a meal for 200? Linda could and did make them. So, when she was watching the Food Channel with her husband one evening and saw a show on personal chefs, she turned to him and said, “Well, shoot, I could do that!.”

That was 14 years ago. Linda joined APPCA and took the course to learn how to launch her business. And, in doing so, believes she became the only kosher personal chef in the country. As a graphic designer, she can create her own tablecloths, room decorations, signage, invitations, programs, and wedding announcements for her clients.

Indeed, her business is a mix of catering and cooking meals for regular clients, many of whom aren’t Jewish and some of whom have significant health conditions. As part of her design business she created a lot of health materials for the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Health and Human Services, picking up a wealth of nutritional information as part of developing the materials. So, she finds it easy to create healthful, delicious meals for elderly clients with medical issues like heart disease or diabetes.

“I’m like their Meals on Wheels girl,” she jokes. “I enjoy it and its a wonderful connection to my love of my grandparents. I used to go with my grandmother to visit old people and cook for them, so being around old people has always been very special to me.”

Curried Cauliflower

Curried Cauliflower

Over the years, Linda has taught cooking classes at synagogues and nutrition classes at women’s organizations. She was the food manager at the George Washington University Hillel for four years, which gradually came to feed 150 to 200 students on Friday nights and serve 450 meals for Passover. Today, she gets a kick out of teaching the kids on her street how to cook–everything from sufganiyot (sweet donuts for Chanukah) to potato latkes (potato pancakes, also for Chanukah).  And, she kvells about her grown sons’ cooking talents. “My sons are spectacular cooks. My oldest son, who is 29 and a trombone player in L.A., finds people hiring him to cook for them. My 25-year-old son in Boston is also a terrific cook.”

One of Linda’s greatest achievements is having six custom kosher recipes in the book, Made With Love: The Meals on Wheels Family Cookbook. “It’s filled with recipes from celebrities like Joan Rivers, Al Franken, and Martha Stewart, but I actually have more recipes–and healthy ones–than any other contributor,” she says.

Since Passover begins early next week, we asked Linda to give us some tips for cooking for Jewish clients who observe the holiday–and some recipes that would fit into the restrictions that eating during Passover entails. The two recipes below are healthy and delicious–and perfect for any occasion, including Passover.

“Although my gramma never made these dishes, they are infused with her love of blending traditional ingredients to create new holiday meals, and to celebrate everyday and for all occasions,” Linda says.

Moroccan Carrot Salad

Moroccan Carrot Salad

Linda’s Passover Cooking Tips:

The Jewish religion is complicated! Levels of observance vary widely, as do types of observance depending on regions of the world. The easiest thing to do when shopping for processed products of any kind is to look for items labeled “Kosher for Passover”. They are always safe.

The smartest thing to do when preparing Passover meals is to always ask your customers their level of observance and what fresh and processed foods they consider kosher for Passover.

Passover is the Jewish holiday of unleavened bread. Jewish people from Eastern European countries – Ashkenazi Jews (the majority of Jewish families in the U.S.) — don’t eat foods that rise, including bread or pastry with yeast, pasta, rice, barley, rye, legumes, soy, or corn. Substitute quinoa, potatoes, matzo, matzo meal, and matzo farfel.

Substitute white vinegar — a wheat derivative — with apple cider vinegar.

Substitute pure cane sugar or honey for anything containing corn sugar or high fructose corn syrup.

Mediterranean stuffed eggplant

Mediterranean Stuffed Eggplant

Mediterranean Stuffed Eggplant
from Linda Berns
Hardy and heart healthy all year round!
Recipe serves 4 as a side dish or 2 as a main course

1 Medium eggplant cut in half lengthwise. Remove the meat. Leave the shell intact and set aside.
2 Large zucchini diced into approximately 3/8-inch pieces
2 Large yellow squash diced into approximately 3/8-inch pieces
24-ounce can diced tomatoes with juice
8 ounces fresh mushrooms wiped clean, stem tips removed, cut in large pieces
2 cups diced onions
2 to 3 tablespoons chopped garlic
1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil as needed
1/4 cup wine, red or white–whatever is on hand (optional)
8 ounces firm tofu cut into approximately 1/2-inch cubes (optional)
8 ounces canned beans of your choice drained and rinsed (optional)
1/2 to 3/4 cup mozzarella or feta cheese (optional)
1 teaspoon sugar to taste
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
Additional salt & pepper to taste

1. Dice eggplant meat into approximately 1/2 cube.
2. Fry eggplant cubes in 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Stir frequently to brown evenly. You may have to add extra olive oil. When brown remove from pan and set aside in a large bowl.
3. Brown onions and 2 tablespoons of garlic together in sauté pan with another 3 or 4 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Scrape up eggplant bit. Cook until onions begin to turn golden.
4. Add diced tomatoes and juice, sautéed eggplant, wine, sugar, kosher salt, black pepper to the pan. Bring to a boil, and then turn down to a simmer. Let sauce simmer uncovered until most of the liquid is reduced.
5. Add trimmed and quartered button mushrooms. Continue to let simmer 5 minutes. Adjust seasoning and remove from heat.
6. Mix sauce with uncooked and diced squash, beans, and tofu in a large bowl.
7. Spread the saved 1 tablespoon of ground garlic and drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil around the inside of each half of the eggplant shell.
8. Fill the shells with the vegetable stuffing and top with mozzarella or feta cheese (optional)
9. Bake in oven preheated to 375° until the cheese is melted, the yellow and greens squash turn bright colors, and the stuffed eggplants are hot throughout — approximately 20 minutes.

Note: You can also substitute the eggplant with portobello mushrooms or acorn squash. Follow steps 1 through 6. With mushrooms, then spread pureed garlic and drizzle olive oil on the underside of each cap and fill with stuffing mixture, then top with cheese. Line a baking dish large enough to hold all the mushrooms with foil and brush with oil. Add mushrooms and bake at 400° until the cheese is melted, yellow and green squash is brightly colored, and stuffing is hot–approximately 15 minutes.

With acorn squash, you’ll cut the squash across the middle, scoop out the center seeds, turn the cut side down in a baking dish with water about half way up the sides of the squash and bake at 400° while you make the stuffing (steps 1 to 6 above). Remove squash from oven and baking dish when it feels soft to touch and let cool, then fill with vegetable stuffing and top with cheese. Bake in preheated 375° oven until cheese is melted, yellow and green squash is brightly colored, and stuffing is hot–approximately 20 minutes

Kale and sweet potatoes

Kale and Sweet Potatoes

Please Pass the Kale & Sweet Potatoes!
From Linda Berns
Eat as a healthy side dish with fish, chicken or beef
Recipe serves 4

Medium large bunch of kale (approximately 3/4 lb. kale)
3 to 4 medium sweet potatoes
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic or sherry vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Remove the kale leaves from the hard center stems. Tear leaves in large bite size pieces.
2. Soak leaves in large bowl of water while you peel the sweet potatoes and cut them into approximately 2-inch chunks.
3. Boil sweet potatoes until just tender as you assemble all the other ingredients.
4. When just tender, drain the sweet potatoes and set aside.
5. Drain kale leaves in colander and set aside.
6. Add olive oil to large skillet or sauté pan over medium high heat.
7. Add kale and stir to coat with oil. Continue tossing and stirring kale until it turns bright green and becomes tender. Do not over cook.
8. Add sweet potato chunks to kale and toss.
9. Add balsamic or sherry vinegar to pan and toss to coat kale and potatoes.
10. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.

Sweet potatoes, usually an integral ingredient in tzimmes, are traditionally served at Passover because root vegetables were often the only vegetables available in Eastern Europe.

What are you favorite Passover dishes? What the journey that led you to becoming a personal chef? Please leave a comment and let us know.

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

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