Virtual Delights

adj. almost or nearly as described, but not completely or according to strict definition.

It’s become the new normal. Meetings, classes, book clubs, all manner of celebrations, are now held virtually on Zoom, FaceTime or YouTube –“almost or nearly” as good as the real thing, but is a cooking class a cooking class if we don’t get to taste?

Every aspect of our lives has been affected by COVID, and education is no exception. In the food world that means that the group experience of the cooking classes we all knew and loved, many of which were hands-on, has been replaced by on-screen learning.

Chef Liron Herzog, who teaches cooking classes at the Blaze Bernstein School of Culinary Arts at the Merage Family Jewish Community Center in Irvine, has had to make some adjustments. “Its different now, because when the students were here, I would prep the recipes in advance, but basically they were doing almost everything,” she told me. “When I’m doing the class on Zoom, I’m cooking everything and showing them how to do it. At least they don’t have to do the dishes!”
Chef Liron grew up in Jerusalem where her father was a prominent Reform rabbi. Frequently there were guests for the holidays and Shabbat, so she grew up helping her mother in the kitchen and developed an early interest in food. After her service in the Israel Defense Forces, she completed a degree in baking and pastry arts at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Next she studied Hotel, Food and Tourism Management at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, becoming the sous pastry chef for the grand opening of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Jerusalem where she worked until relocating to the U.S. in 2015.

The newly constructed state-of-the-art kosher kitchen at the JCC, normally abuzz with instructive and interactive cooking classes for children, teens and adults, is dark now, but through the magic of Zoom the classes go on. Look for Chef Liron’s “Cookie Decorating” and “Summer Delights” in August and her “High Holiday Meal” and “Cake Decorating Master Class” in September. For details and a list of on demand classes available on YouTube, go to

Back in May, I “attended” The Great Big Jewish Food Fest, 10 days of Zoom workshops, interviews, happy hours and Shabbat dinners on topics as diverse as Jewish Cooking in America with Joan Nathan and Ruth Reichl, city tours of the Lower East Side, a hamantashen tutorial with cookbook writer Leah Koenig, Creating Your Own Crazy Challah Creations, the Spirituality of Jewish Food, Getting Your Table Instagram ready, Mexican Brunch, Shaping the Future of Plant Based Cooking, an interview with the legendary Claudia Roden, Restaurants and Chefs during COVID-19, and many more. Missed it? No worries. All the classes, videos, recipes and stuff for kids are available on their website,, and are free, thanks to generous funding by their donors, although donations, of course, are welcome “to help support those in the food industry who have lost critical revenue during the COVID-19 crisis and those who are experiencing food insecurity,” as stated on their website.

The Great Big Shabbat Cook-Along hosted by Gail Simmons with chefs Michael Solomonov, Adeena Sussman and Einat Admony was my favorite, and for this one the tasting wasn’t virtual, because I actually cooked along! As a “Top Chef” groupie (Bravo TV’s smash reality show, which just completed its 17th season), I was as eager to see Gail Simmons, a frequent judge on the show, as I was to see the chefs, all of whom have recent best-selling cookbooks devoted to Israeli cuisine: Solomonov with “Israeli Soul,” Sussman with “Sababa” and Admony with “Shuk.” The recipes were provided in advance, and viewers could cook along with some or all of them, including Solomonov’s hummus with mushrooms, Admony’s Moroccan chicken with lemons and olives, and Sussman’s jeweled rice and tahini-glazed carrots.

“In Israel, chicken with olives is a simple midweek dish, made with tomato paste and the most basic pitted olives,” said Admony, “but this version, while still simple to make, is a delicious step up. In place of tomatoes, citrus provides the brightness—fresh and preserved lemons, dried limes, and orange juice. Just mix everything together and put it in the oven, and about an hour later, you have a fragrant, tangy chicken dish that is beautiful as part of the couscous table.

Baked Cheesecake

A lighter version of everyone’s favorite dairy dessert. For a video demonstration, go to


1 cup graham cracker crumbs

¼ cup brown sugar

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, melted

Zest of half a lemon


2 cups Greek yogurt

1½ cups sour cream

3 large eggs

1¾ cups confectioners’ sugar

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract (or 1 vanilla bean, scraped)

Zest of 1 lemon

Zest of 1 orange


1 cup sour cream

2/3 confectioners’ sugar

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Place an 8-inch bottomless ring on top of parchment paper and foil cut larger than the ring (okay to use a springform pan), and fold both tightly around bottom of pan to prevent leaks. Spray inside with vegetable spray. and place pan on baking sheet.
  2. Mix all crust ingredients together, pack in bottom of prepared pan, making sure it is flat and even.
  3. Whisk dry and wet filling ingredients separately, add dry to wet, and whisk until smooth. Pour into pan; bake 10 minutes. Reduce temperature to 280°F and bake 40 minutes more until cake sets and center is still a bit jiggly.
  4. Meanwhile, combine topping ingredients. When cake is ready, remove from oven; raise heat to 350°F. Spread topping, and bake 5 minutes. Let cake cool 30 minutes before refrigerating overnight.
  5. When ready to serve, remove parchment and foil. Run a knife around edge of cake and remove from ring. Set on cake plate, and decorate with fresh berries that have been macerated in 1 tablespoon sugar, if desired.

Einat Admony’s Braised Chicken with Olives and Citrus

If you don’t have preserved lemons or dried Persian limes, skip either one or both. The fresh lemons and olives add plenty of flavor.
Serves 4 to 6.

4 chicken legs or 8 thighs or 8 large drumsticks

½ cup pitted olives (cracked green, Moroccan oil-cured, Manzanilla, or Kalamata)

1 medium yellow onion, halved and sliced

4 wedges preserved lemon, store-bought or homemade, pulp and seeds scraped out

2 dried Persian limes, cracked

1 lemon, thinly sliced and seeded

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 ½ teaspoons honey

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, plus a handful of whole leaves for serving (optional)

2 large garlic cloves, smashed

½ teaspoon ground turmeric

1½ teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon sweet paprika

Pinch chile flakes

1 cup homemade or low-sodium store-bought chicken stock

1 cup fresh orange juice

Cooked couscous, for serving

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Put chicken, olives, onion, preserved lemon, dried limes, lemon slices, oil, honey, salt, cilantro, garlic, turmeric, cumin, paprika, and chile flakes in large bowl. Using your hands, mix everything thoroughly, making sure chicken pieces are well coated with spices and herbs.
  3. Arrange chicken pieces skin-side down in deep baking dish in a single snug layer. Arrange remaining mixture over chicken. Whisk stock with orange juice in measuring cup and pour over chicken.
  4. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove foil, and, using tongs or a couple of spoons, turn chicken pieces skin-side up. Bake, uncovered, for another 20 to 25 minutes, until chicken is cooked through and skin is nicely browned and crackly. To check for doneness, make a small incision in thickest part of a chicken thigh and make sure juices run clear. If they are still pink, baste skin with pan juices to prevent chicken from drying out, and roast for another few minutes.
  5. Sprinkle with cilantro leaves (if using) and serve over couscous.

Source: “Shuk” by Einat Admony and Janna Gur (Artisan Books).


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