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Kosher Food Basics

By Matt Tucker

The word "kosher describes foods that meet the requirements of "kashrut," which means fit or proper ( This definition is fitting as planning a kosher reception requires finding what kosher certification or rules are fit and proper for your party. The ideas and reasons behind kosher laws have various interpretations. Rabbi Mordechai Becher explains, in an "Ask the Rabbi" segment AT that, "The most obvious idea behind kashrut is self-control and discipline." He describes a story in which his five-year-old son removes his desire for a candy bar after the simple explanation that the candy bar is not kosher. Rabbi Becher suggests there are few other reasons that will stop desire. In the end of the segment, Rabbi Becher sums up the topic well with, 'The laws of kashrut allow us to enjoy the pleasures of the physical world, but in such a way that we sanctify and elevate the pleasure through consciousness and sensitivity. Kashrut recognises that the essential human need is not food, drink or comfort, but meaning.' General kosher rules suggest that certain animals are forbidden, namely shellfish and pork. The animal must be a ruminant and have split hooves. Meat preparation is specific as butchers must have formal training in Jewish law. The butchers must kill the animals quickly to inflict the least amount of pain. In addition, the butchers must drain all the blood, which is often done through salting. The animal or bird must not have any injuries, diseases or irregularities. Meat and dairy cannot mix, including the utensils. Kosher kitchens must have separate dishwashers and plates for serving meat and dairy separately. For wine to be kosher, the winemaker must be Jewish. Most hard cheeses are not kosher as rennet, an enzyme in cheese, is not kosher. Rabbis at kosher certification companies interpret these rules to create their own general standard for restaurants, caterers, or foods labeled with their symbol. These companies often use the letters to differentiate which foods are dairy and meat ("D" for dairy, "M"for meat and "P"for pareve, which means the food is neutral).

Likewise, individuals interpret Jewish law based on what they deem fitting. Some followers maintain a strict diet of certified kosher foods. Those who follow the law less-strictly may eat only kosher ingredients, but not require that the ingredients be certified kosher. There are even some people who keep kosher in the house, but if they go out to dinner they will mix meat and dairy, or eat shellfish. Of course, there may be many different combinations of the three. When selecting a caterer and a certification company, which often goes hand in hand, first consider your own requirements. Having some, but not all, kosher meals is an option. If you decide on a kosher reception because of specific guests, consult with them before selecting a certain company or caterer. Oakleaf Catering Group in Baltimore, MD, suggests that some people opt for their kosher catering solely because of a family member. Research the caterers offering kosher-certified parties and find one that fits your and your guests’ needs.

Food for the Teens: Personalizing Their Experience

By Matt Tucker

With chocolate fountains and themed platters as a staple at many B'nai Mitzvah parties, many parents find differentiation with food selections to be difficult. While teenagers will forever love chicken tenders, pizza, pigs in a blanket, and hamburgers, the bigger food hits are those with brand names and a personal connection.

Local favorites such as a well-known ice cream store, bakery, or even burrito joint are possibilities for using sources beyond the caterer. Simply Elegant Catering, the exclusive caterer for the Grey Rock Mansion in Baltimore, will work with food producers to bring your favorite food to your party. In the past, Simply Elegant Catering bought ice cream from a client's favorite shop and used it for dessert at their reception. This made it easy for the client who did no extra work.

When the reception is in a non-exclusive setting and the caterer is coming to your venue, you have more leeway with creativity. For example, your catering contract can consist of solely appetizers and entrees, leaving room for you to provide and decide on the dessert.

In either situation, considering seasonal items is worthwhile. If you happen to have a late summer party for instance, local fresh fruit is a welcome change. Sure, caterers offer fresh-cut fruit, but nothing beats in-season late-summer watermelon or once-a-year sweet Seckel pears (a very sweet pear in season August-September). With a growing trend in local organic food, seasonal items could be a big hit for a fruit-loving teen. The local food may not have a brand-name, but the food can be just as memorable.

Buying from a farmer's market is the best way to purchase local foods and find discounts. Cindy Longerbeam, a grower at the Fredericksburg Farmer's Market in Virginia, offers discounts to chefs, frequent shoppers, and those buying in bulk. Local purchases eliminate the costs of shipping, packaging and marketing.

If the party is small, you have even more room to personalize the food. For close-knit families, consider the B'nai Mitzvah's favorite family dish. Using family recipes often makes the food more memorable.

Despite numerous options, remember to understand your limitations. For larger parties, keep it simple and let the caterer do their job. Do not go overboard with the tasks you assign to yourself. In all cases, let the teenager have a say in the food selection. While there may be a difference between food for adults and friends, ensure that the food selection is personal to the B'nai Mitzvah. Selecting a special food item will give more meaning to the party.

Jewish Food, a History and Tradition

By Moshe Aliel, Garden Fresh Market

There has always been a history and a tradition when it comes to Jewish food. Food on the Jewish table has long been associated with the strong history of it's people. Since the beginning of the first exile, Jews have taken the flavors of the land in which they lived and have made it a part of their lives. Whenever the Jewish people were forced out of a country and forced to start over in a new land, they always integrated foods that they found there and along with Jewish laws and traditions, added them to their long history. Holidays are true symbols of these traditions and rituals: from the matzos of Pesach, to the many fried dishes of Chanukkah, and the sweet and delectable foods associated with Rosh Hashanah.

The laws of Kashrut have also applied to these new foods. Kashrut is the set of ritual dietary laws that are set out in Jewish religious laws. Food that conforms to these standards is described as kosher. Kosher, meaning "fit" or "proper" describes the foods that the Old Testament declares appropriate to consume. Although Kosher laws may seem difficult to understand at first, they actually follow an understandable logic. Kosher foods are divided into three classifications: meat, dairy, and pareve. Meat must never be eaten with dairy, but pareve foods can be eaten with either meat or dairy. As said, "Thou shall not seethe a kid in his mother's milk." The ways that foods are classified and prepared are very often indicated on the packaging that they come in. For instance, the labeling on a package can immediately show not only the kosher contents of the package, but also the methods and equipment on how that item was produced.

Though the basic principles of Kashrut are outlined in the Bible, they have been ruled upon and commented upon by rabbis in many books, such as the Shulhan Aruch, the code of Jewish law. There is no reason given for the laws of Kashrut, though many have suggested that hygiene, food safety and health might be contributory factors. The rabbis state, however, that no reason or rationale is needed; obeying the laws of Kashrut is a commandment from God. To start out, one must keep a truly Kosher kitchen. This requires that a person must have at least three sets of dishes, pots, and utensils. Milk and meat products can never be prepared in the same pot or served in the same plate. (Kosher cooks even use different soap for washing each set.) Kosher households must also have an additional set of dishes and utensils that are used only for Passover (Pesach) (for meat and dairy).

Some more basic understanding of the classifications include:

Meat kitchen: Only certain meats are allowed, based on the text Leviticus ,which states: "Whatsoever parted the hoof, and is clovenfooted, and cheweth the cud...that shall ye eat." No birds or animals of prey are allowed, nor are scavengers, creeping insects or reptiles. For a Kosher animal to become Kosher meat, it must be slaughtered ritually and humanely by Shechita. Animals that die from natural causes or are killed by another animal is forbidden. Certain types of injury also render the animal unkosher. Kashering the meat, a term used to describe the removal of blood from an animal immediately after slaughter, is used, because blood is forbidden to be consumed by the laws of Kashrut. All meat must be soaked in salt water, grilled, or broiled, so that no blood remains. This is usually done by the butcher. Even a spot of blood in an egg renders it unkosher.

Dairy: Foods in this group are milk and milk by-products such as cheese, cream, yogurt, and ice cream. Yogurt is one example of a kosher dairy product that should be eaten only with the symbol of Kashrut because to produce, sometimes gelatin is used and gelatin is made from the bones of animals (and the concern is that bones may be used from a non-kosher animal). Kosher yogurt is made from gelatin that is vegetable based seaweed, or carrageen, as it is commonly known. Even after eating a meat meal, a certain amount of time must elapse before dairy food can be consumed. Some communities wait six hours, while others wait only two. While eating dairy, meat is appropriately consumed within fifteen minutes to a two hours after.

Pareve: A term meaning neutral foods that are neither meat nor dairy .They do not have the same restrictions imposed upon them and can be eaten with either meat or dairy foods. All fresh fruits and vegetables and grains, nuts, as well as eggs are pareve. These can be served with either dairy or meat. Fish falls under the pareve category too, however, only fish with fins and detachable scales are Kosher. Shellfish, as well as eel, monkfish, catfish, and frogfish, are not considered Kosher. Despite the fact that fish have blood, no special kashering process is needed. Just keep in mind that even though fish are pareve, it cannot be cooked with meat. Some communities do not cook in milk as well. One should take a fifteen minute break after eating fish before consuming meat.

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