You’ve been seeing the ads for The Bais Yaakov cookbook for weeks. You’re probably wondering, “Can this really live up to the hype? Is it just another cookbook with a pretty cover but nothing worth making inside?”
After going through the cookbook cover to cover, the definitive answers to those questions are “yes” and “no.”
First, let’s talk about the food. It’s all about the food, isn’t it? The 200 original recipes extend the boundaries of the box without stepping out of the box. The ingredients called for are not exotic or hard to find, the cooking methods are not complicated, but the end result is a notch up from your standard fare. The photography and food styling is so magnificent you will want to eat dinner off the page. The editors of this cookbook managed to avoid mediocrity while maintaining sensibility. The recipes are original, different, enticing, and tantalizing, but easy, simple to follow, and won’t take a whole day in the kitchen to make.
In the Bais Yaakov cookbook, you won’t find plain recipes. You’re not going to find a plain orzo recipe but a recipe for Pastrami Orzo. You won’t spot your standard zucchini soup but Roasted Garlic Zucchini Soup. You won’t be seeing instructions on how to make Yerushalmi kugel, but you’ll be seeing a mouthwatering recipe for Two Layer Yerushalmi Kugel with a Rice Krispies topping. Just the names of the recipes will make your mouth water: Chilled Strawberry Soup with Walnut Crunch, Honey Ginger Grilled London Broil Salad, Champagne Apple Salad, Crunchy Pecan Chicken Cutlets, Salmon in Pink Cream Sauce, Pralines and Cream Semifreddo, Apple Crumble in Caramel...do you hear your kitchen calling yet?
And now for the hidden jewel of this cookbook: The halacha guidelines section written by former Clevelander Rabbi Daniel Neustadt. This 23-page guide to halachos in the kitchen is so informative it could be its own book. It answers all those questions you might have on Shabbos or during a late-night cooking spree in a concise, comprehensible manner. How to prepare kishke on erev Shabbos, wash dishes on Shabbos, use one oven for meat and dairy, read a menu on Yom Tov, and so much more is lucidly explained in this section. It includes a brochos list and bug-checking guide.
But we still haven’t reached the end! The Halacha section is followed by a culinary tips section. Guides to wine, meat, poultry, fish, spices and herbs, fruits and vegetables, cookware, and kitchen gadgets are displayed in clear charts. There is so much information bundled into the last 55 pages of this cookbook you will find yourself reaching for it again and again.
Now, you may be asking, what does this all have to do with Bais Yaakov? The cookbook opens with a history of the Bais Yaakov movement written by acclaimed Yated columnist Avrohom Birnbaum. He weaves a beautiful picture of Sarah Schenirer’s dream, its implementation, her teachings, and how the Bais Yaakov movement has influenced the Jewish people to this day. The recipes have been gathered from Bais Yaakovs around the country and the proceeds from this cookbook will fund Jewish education.
The Bais Yaakov Cookbook provides food for the mind, soul, and of course, the palate, all in one attractive volume. My only disappointment? The Bais Yaakov Pesach cookbook will not be released in time for this coming Pesach. We will have to wait a year...
Peanut Butter Cookies
Peanut butter lovers, this one is for you! You can serve these as a single cookie, but if you want an explosion of peanut buttery goodness, try spreading a layer of your favorite peanut butter between two cookies to create a sandwich.
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter or margarine, softened
1 cup chunky peanut butter, room temperature, plus 1/3 cup (for filling)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1 tablespoon milk or unsweetened plain soy milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chocolate chips
1 to 2 tablespoons superfine or regular sugar
Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, combine all-purpose flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, beat butter or margarine and 1 cup peanut butter until fluffy. Add sugar and brown sugar; beat until smooth. Add egg and mix well. Add milk and vanilla; continue beating. Add flour mixture and beat thoroughly. Stir in the chocolate chips.
Place 1 to 2 tablespoons superfine sugar on a plate. Drop cookie dough by rounded teaspoonfuls into the sugar, then onto an ungreased cookie sheet, leaving several inches between each cookie for expansion.
Using a fork, lightly indent cookies with a criss-cross, but do not overly flatten cookies. Bake 8 minutes. Cookies may appear to be underdone, but they are not.
Remove cookies from oven and let cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough.
If desired, turn half of the cookies upside down. Spread about 1 teaspoon of peanut butter over upside down cookie and top with a second cookie.
Yield: 36 cookies or 18 sandwiches
The Bais Yaakov cookbook (ISBN: 978-1-58330-348-1), published by Feldheim Publishers, is available for purchase here.