Picnic or Shabbat dinner, recipes for a delicious and easy 4th of July celebration

by | Jun 27, 2014 | Featured

For many Tidewater residents, Fourth of July celebrations conjure up vivid images of picnics in a park or on the beach, festive red, white and blue neighborhood parades, cookouts with family and friends, and fireworks lighting up the night sky.

This year’s celebrations may be more, or less elaborate for Tidewater’s Jewish community members, depending on the degree of Shabbat observation, since the holiday falls on a Friday.

Options abound, however. Many have the day off and can gather as a group for a patriotic breakfast or mid-day backyard meal, rather than dinner. Or, for those who choose, host a Shabbat, Fourth of “Jew-ly” cookout or attend one where you know you’ll have a good view of the sparkly light shows— near the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, Mount Trashmore, downtown Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, Suffolk.

The Jewish News spoke with two Tidewater Jewish community foodies about their favorite recipes for the Fourth, or any summer Shabbat.

Neal Schulwolf
Neal Schulwolf describes himself as a “tomato connoisseur.” No distance is too far for the Virginia Beach resident to drive in his hunt for the perfect tomato; no hour too early to ensure he gets the peak selection at a farmers market or vegetable stand.

Whether it’s Richmond, Pungo, or a neighbor’s beautiful potted tomato plant, if it feels right in the hand and looks good to his experienced eye, Schulwolf will bite into the fruit and relish the flavor.

He’ll only eat tomatoes in the summer, when they’re in season, which translates into a unique view of the Fourth of July as mostly red—white and blue are merely sidebars to the opening of “the season.” Where some go home and have a glass of Scotch or wine after work, Schulwolf heads straight for his fridge where he keeps his weekly supply of tomatoes. Over the years, he’s simplified and refined his recipe:

Neal Schulwolf’s Tomato Tips, and Simple Recipe
• Try to find heirloom tomatoes—Better Boys are good choices.
• Look at the tomatoes. Ugly does not mean bad, in fact, the uglier they are the better they usually are.
• Touch them—you want a firm tomato, but not hard. Go through every fruit at the stand, if necessary, to find the perfect one. Smaller tomatoes tend to have more flavor.
• Buy one, cut it open and taste it. If it’s good, buy more. Take them home.
• Slice the tomato, add a sprinkle of kosher salt, and perfection. Nothing more is needed.

Schulwolf notes tomatoes are delicious chilled from the fridge; he buys six at a time, puts them in a paper bag and says they keep just fine.

Linda Peck
Linda Peck is known throughout Tidewater as an exceptional cook, chef and baker. She has a photo of herself at three, rolling out cookies with her grandmother, but says her first cooking lesson was from Janie Jacobson, another local resident known for her culinary skills.

“She taught me how to make Spaghettios,” says Peck, director of Congregational Life at Ohef Sholom Temple in Norfolk. “You know how to make Spaghettios, right? You open the can, pour them in a pan and heat them up!”

Self-effacing humor aside, Peck studied cooking and pastry at two of the finest schools in the world: Le Cordon Bleu London and the Ecole Ritz Escoffier in Paris.

She hesitated when giving us her recipe for grilled salmon, because of it’s simplicity, but she says it is delicious and would recommend it for any summer cookout.

“Working full time, I need to make a Shabbat dinner that is pretty quick to assemble. The salmon is one of my favorites,” she says. “My other standard cookout fare is Grilled Mole Chicken.”

Linda Peck’s Grilled Salmon
• Large piece of salmon
• Paul Prudhomme’s Blackened Redfish Magic (It’s Kosher)
• Olive Oil
• Sprinkle the salmon with the Paul Prudhomme seasoning, and brush with olive oil. Place on grill and cook for about 4 minutes per side.
• You have to watch it carefully so it doesn’t overcook!
It’s so easy and very delicious.

Linda Peck’s Grilled Mole Chicken
• Make a Mole rub with:
3 tablespoons of ancho chile powder
1 tablespoon of dark brown sugar
1½ teaspoon cinnamon
1½ teaspoon cocoa
1 teaspoon of cumin
1 teaspoon of oregano
• For each pound of boneless breast of chicken, combine 2 teaspoons of the spice rub with ¾ tsp. kosher salt and ½ tsp grated garlic.
• The morning you intend to cook the chicken, coat the breasts in the rub and refrigerate.
• Before putting the chicken on the grill, brush the breasts with oil.
• Grill the chicken until its cooked through—anywhere from 6 to 8 minutes a side.
• (If you can’t get to a grill, you can cut the chicken into small pieces, and make sure they are all nicely coated. Saute in a little oil in a pan over medium heat until cooked through).
Peck serves the chicken with warmed tortillas, chopped tomatoes, salsa, guacamole, and scallions.

These recipes please most guests at a Shabbat or summer cookout, Peck says, adding a few side dishes that add color and flavor to the proteins.

After I take the fish or chicken off, I love to throw fresh asparagus tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper on the hot grill. You can either place them directly on the grill on or in a grill basket. They’re done in about five minutes,” she says.

“We love an Israeli salad. I dice red, yellow and orange peppers, cucumbers, scallions (or red onions) the night before. Before serving, I season the mixture with freshly squeezed lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.”

As a special treat to honor America’s Independence, and the Jewish immigrant experience that is a large part of Tidewater Jewry’s heritage, Peck shares her favorite challah recipe.

“I grind my whole wheat flour from wheat berries so it’s light, fresh and really healthy. Freshly ground wheat is better than store bought wheat as they have to remove the healthiest part of the flour, namely the wheat germ, so the “whole” wheat will have a longer shelf life. When you grind your own wheat, you really get the whole wheat with all the natural nutrients. It’s also lighter and fluffier than products made with store bought whole wheat,” she says. (If anyone wants to try fresh ground wheat, contact Linda, and she’ll I’ll grind you some!)

The trick to making challah when you don’t get home until 5 pm, Peck says is this: Make the dough the night before and let it rise in the refrigerator. Take the dough to work the next morning (She uses a large zippered plastic bag) and store it in a refrigerator there. About an hour and a half before leaving work, take the dough out of the refrigerator so it can come to room temperature. By the time Peck gets home, it will be ready to braid. It will rise in the 45 minutes to 1 hour that it takes to get the rest of the meal prepared. “Bake it as directed, and your house will still smell like bread when your guests come!”

My Favorite Challah
by Linda Peck
4 packages yeast
2 cups warm water
2 teaspoons sugar
4.5 cups bread flour
4.5 cups whole wheat flour
4 eggs
¾ cups sugar
¼ cup honey
1 cup oil
3 teaspoons salt
egg, for brushing
sesame seeds or poppy seeds, for garnish

1. Combine yeast in warm water w/ a little sugar and flour
2. Mix remaining ingredients with yeast mixture. Add enough flour to get a smooth yet sticky consistency. Turn into a greased bowl, cover and let rise 1 ½ hour or overnight
3. Punch down. Let rise again for 45 minutes
4. Divide into 3 or 4 sections for 3 or 4 challot
5. Braid and let rise 45 minutes. Brush w/ egg and sprinkle with seeds.
6. Bake 365 for 30 -35 minutes Enjoy your Fourth of July celebrations, and Shabbat Shalom!

by Laine Mednick Rutherford