Brooklyn food blogger gets creative with kosher recipes in latest cookbook

Busy in Brooklyn’s Chanie Apfelbaum launches ‘Totally Kosher,’ with more adventures in Jewish food, including Passover favorites

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Busy in Brooklyn food blogger Chanie Apfelbaum's 'Totally Kosher,' launched March 2023, with plenty of Passover options. (Courtesy: Lauren Volo)
Busy in Brooklyn food blogger Chanie Apfelbaum's 'Totally Kosher,' launched March 2023, with plenty of Passover options. (Courtesy: Lauren Volo)

Food blogger and cookbook author Chanie Apfelbaum spent many Passovers avoiding eating gebrochts — anything made with matzah that has absorbed liquid.

It made for complicated cooking during the eight-day holiday (seven, in Israel).

“We grew up using potato starch and I hate it,” said Apfelbaum, who was raised in a strictly observant Chabad home, where all fruits and vegetables were peeled during Passover to address fears they could have come in contact with hametz, leavened foods forbidden on Passover.

Even garlic was outlawed, as it’s often grown near wheat fields, said Apfelbaum, and some people only cook with rendered fat called schmaltz, because of concerns about various oils.

Apfelbaum doesn’t keep to Chabad strictures any longer, but still doesn’t eat gebrochts on Passover when cooking for her own family.

Instead, she tends to “roast everything with olive oil and salt,” and uses nut flour in any recipe that calls for matzah meal.

The cover of food blogger Chanie Apfelbaum’s ‘Totally Kosher,’ launched March 2023, with plenty of Passover options. (Courtesy: Chanie Apfelbaum)

That said, Apfelbaum, known for her blog, Busy in Brooklyn, is currently launching her second cookbook, “Totally Kosher,” (Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Random House), following her “Millennial Kosher” (Mesorah Publications, 2018), and has included some tempting Passover recipes.

There are Haroset Bars for snacking, Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Scones for breakfast and the creative Passover Panzanella with Matzo Brei Croutons (see below), whipped up by Apfelbaum on the eighth day of Passover — when she does cook with wet matzah and seeks to get rid of everything left in her fridge.

Apfelbaum has plenty of experience testing recipes for Passover; she has created Passover menus for kitchenware company Williams Sonoma and often makes appearances at hotel Passover programs.

But when she began developing the more than 150 recipes for “Totally Kosher,” she thought about the kinds of recipes people crave, often the traditional foods their mothers or grandmothers made.

“I think Passover is the time when a lot of people lean on traditional comfort foods they had growing up in their mother’s house,” said Apfelbaum. “Like matzah lasagna. It’s tied to heritage and tradition that they just want to eat those foods.”

Busy in Brooklyn food blogger Chanie Apfelbaum’s ‘Totally Kosher,’ launched March 2023, with plenty of Passover options. (Courtesy: Lauren Volo)

While Apfelbaum tends to offer modern spins on Jewish food, she’s found that readers want traditional recipes too, “potato kugel and cholent and gefilte fish, that’s what they want,” said Apfelbaum. “Why should they have to pull out another book for perfect chicken soup?”

So while she has Miso Matzo Ball Soup, Apfelbaum also offers The Rebbetzin’s Gefilte Fish, Ma’s Perfect Potato Kugel and Golden Chicken Soup, as well as Bubby’s Stuffed Cabbage and World Peace Challah.

“I literally have non-Jewish followers who buy the book,” she said. “I have a lot of people who are not Orthodox, or unaffiliated but want to make brisket for Rosh Hashanah and challah for Shabbat.”

It’s been five years since Apfelbaum’s first cookbook, “Millennial Kosher,” and 12 years since she began Busy in Brooklyn as something of a lark that turned into a career.

In those years, said Apfelbaum, she’s learned what people like, but it’s always a surprise to see which recipes go viral.

“People want something a little bit different but things that are not too hard or time-consuming,” she said. “I get that, as a mom of five who has to put dinner on the table every night. I get cooking fatigue.”

And so, Apfelbaum doesn’t offer recipes with “a million steps” but tries to remain true to who she is, with some recipes slightly more complex and others kept simple.

She has certain signature recipes that have become synonymous with the blog, including meat-stuffed arayes (now offered three ways in “Totally Kosher”).

There’s also Build Your Own Boards, spreads of edibles laid out on trays, boards or kitchen counters, this time with a choice of 10 themes, including a Fish Board for a Shabbat lunch, and Sushi or Taco Boards for weekday dinners, which Apfelbaum loves to do with kids as it gives them control over what they eat.

She’s also a self-taught food photographer. It’s the plating and artistry in food preparation that brought Apfelbaum to her food blog and recipe development, not the scientific rules of the kitchen.

In the last 12 years, however, she’s developed a love for creating and developing recipes that reflect who she is and what she loves to eat. In “Totally Kosher,” one favorite dish is Pad Chai, because of her love for Thai and Middle Eastern foods, and “the name is so cute.”

She’s also partial to the Harvest Bundt Cake, a decorated bundt cake that developed out of a honey cake failure, as well as Cauliflower Kasha Varnishkes, a spin on the Ashkenazi dish of buckwheat kasha traditionally made with bowtie pasta.

“So many people grew up on kasha varnishkes and I think it’s super smart to be able to make a recipe that’s different that still brings someone back to the nostalgia, and without pasta,” said Apfelbaum.

Like so many of the recipes in Totally Kosher, it’s familiar, fresh and doesn’t take all that long to put together.

It may just be what’s for dinner tonight.

Passover Panzanella with Matzo Brei Croutons

Passover Panzanella with Matzo Brei Croutons from food blogger Chanie Apfelbaum’s ‘Totally Kosher,’ launched March 2023. (Courtesy: Chanie Apfelbaum)

Serves 6 to 8
It was the last day of Passover, and I needed to prepare yet another meal, but I was tired of cooking. I had some leftover steak in the fridge, a jar of horseradish from the seder plate that no one was ever going to eat, too much matzo, and plenty of homemade mayo. I took whatever veggies I could find and voilà—a filling and delicious salad! After an eight-day food fest, this salad was everything we wanted, and we scraped the bowl clean!

1 extra-large egg white, beaten
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 square unsalted matzos or 2 round matzos

1 pound London broil (preferably the shoulder blade cut)
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
Kosher salt and butcher grind (coarse) black pepper to taste
2 heads romaine, roughly chopped
2 Persian cucumbers, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 carrot, peeled into ribbons (see Note)
4 radishes, thinly sliced
1 avocado, sliced
½ small red onion, thinly sliced

½ cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons grated horseradish
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. To prepare the croutons: Preheat the oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg white with the olive oil, salt, oregano, garlic powder, and pepper. Break the matzo into small pieces, about ½ inch, and add them to the bowl. Gently toss the mixture with a spoon until the matzo is fully coated, then spread it out on the baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until the matzo crisps up into clusters. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool completely.

2. To prepare the steak: Rub the London broil with the grapeseed oil and season liberally with salt and pepper. (I like to use a lot of pepper so that it’s pepper-crusted.) Grill over high heat or broil on a sheet pan with the oven rack in the highest position for 6 to 8 minutes per side, until the steak is charred on the outside and cooked to medium-rare. Transfer the steak to a cutting board and set aside to rest for 10 minutes. Thinly slice crosswise and against the grain.

3. To make the dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, horseradish, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and pepper until creamy. If a thinner consistency is desired, add water to thin.

4. To make the salad: In a large bowl, combine the romaine, cucumbers, carrot, radishes, avocado, and onion. Toss with the horseradish dressing. Top with the meat and the croutons and serve.

Easy Does It!

Instead of making the Matzo Brei croutons, you can toast the matzo in the oven for a few minutes to make it extra crispy, then break it apart into bite-size pieces.

Charoset Bars

Charoset Bars from Chanie Apfelbaum’s ‘Totally Kosher,’ launched March 2023, with plenty of Passover options. (Courtesy: Chanie Apfelbaum)

Serves 12
Charoset is a relish made of fruit, nuts, and red wine that represents the mortar used by Jewish slaves in the building of pyramids in Egypt. It is one of the symbolic foods on the Passover seder plate, and its ingredients vary by custom. Sephardic charoset incorporates dried fruit (like dates, raisins, apricots, or figs), nuts (often almonds or walnuts), and cinnamon. Ashkenazi charoset includes fresh fruit (my dad always used pears, but apples are also common), walnuts, and red wine. This recipe fuses both versions into delicious bars that are so good, it’s hard to imagine that they are kosher for Passover!

3 cups superfine blanched almond flour
¾ cup sugar
½ cup walnut or grapeseed oil
1 extra-large egg
1½ teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1 ripe pear or Granny Smith apple, peeled,
cored, and roughly chopped
14 plump medjool dates, pitted (about 10 ounces)
¼ cup dry red wine
¹⁄8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ cup chopped walnuts (about 2 ounces)

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8 × 8-inch pan with parchment paper.

2. In a medium bowl, stir together the almond flour, sugar, oil, egg, and 1 teaspoon of salt until combined into a smooth dough. Remove 1 cup of the dough and set aside.

3. Using your hands, press the remaining dough into the bottom of the prepared pan in an even layer. Bake for 12 minutes, until lightly puffed. Cool for 5 minutes.

4. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together the pear, dates, wine, cinnamon, and remaining ½ teaspoon salt until pasty, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed (it should resemble mortar, just like the story of the Exodus!).

5. Add the walnuts to the reserved 1 cup of dough and mix with your fingers to combine. Spread the charoset filling over the cooled baked dough and crumble the walnut mixture over top. Bake for 18 minutes, until browned around the edges. Cut the bars into squares and store in an airtight container (use parchment paper if layering). Store at room temperature for up to 2 days or refrigerate for up to a week.

6. To freeze, wrap squares individually in plastic wrap, transfer to a zip-top bag, and freeze for up to 2 months.

Totally Kosher by Chanie Apfelbaum

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