As an impressionable teenager I was an avid babysitter and one of my favorite families would invite me to participate in their annual Hanukkah celebration. In exchange for keeping an eye on the wee-ones throughout the festive evening, I was fortunate enough to spin the dreidel and witness the lighting of the menorah before savoring a cozy meal.

The hearty menu always featured fried potato latkes, braised beef brisket, rich noodle kugel, and sweet jelly-filled donuts called sufganiyot. Participating in holiday celebrations with my Jewish friends cemented my love for large scale entertaining and the importance of keeping family-centric  traditions alive in my own life.

As a teenager the Hanukkah meal seemed to magically appear at the family table, but the grown-up chef in me knows executing a proper holiday dinner goes way beyond careful menu planning. Celebrating the Festival of Lights is supposed to be a lighthearted and casual affair,  but let’s be honest-even straightforward holiday meals are complicated when it comes to timing.

Tradition dictates a Hanukkah meal should feature fried items to symbolize a single night’s worth of oil lasting a miraculous eight days. As lovely as that sounds, all that frying translates to a whole bunch of last minute work. Thankfully my Sweet Cherry and Brown Sugar Braised Brisket offers hosts a convenient make ahead main course option for their Hanukkah table.

Cows spend a bunch of time wandering through their pastures. As a result of that daily work-out, beef brisket becomes wickedly tough over time. A low and slow braise breaks down pesky connective tissue and brings out the best in this Hanukkah entree. Properly braised brisket has a homey feel just like Grandma’s old fashioned pot roast and cooking it a day in advance allows deeper flavors to develop and makes slicing the tender roast a breeze.

Serving this sweet brisket with my make-ahead savory noodle kugel ensures you’ll have plenty of time to fry up a batch of latkes, donuts, or honey puffs to honor the symbolism of the day.

Happy Hanukkah!

Sweet Cherry and Brown Sugar Braised Brisket (Makes 10 servings)

Begin preparing this recipe the day before you plan to serve it. 

1 (750ml) bottle of red wine (I used a Grenache)

1 (4 ½ – 5 pound) flat cut beef brisket

Kosher Salt and coarse black pepper

2 Tablespoons canola or grapeseed oil

3 Large carrots, diced

1 Large sweet onion, diced

6 Garlic cloves, smashed

1 (8-ounce) can tomato paste

5 Tablespoons unsalted butter

¾ Cup brown sugar

2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 Bay leaves

1 Cinnamon stick

1 (12-ounce) bag frozen bing cherries

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Pour the bottle of wine into a large sauce pot, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and allow the wine to cook down until reduced by half (about 20 minutes). Meanwhile, season the brisket liberally on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat the canola oil over med-high heat in a large, high-sided skillet until nearly smoking. Add the brisket, fat side down, to the hot oil. Allow the meat to sear for 6 minutes per side until deeply browned. Transfer the brisket to a large glass or ceramic casserole. Add the carrot and onion to the drippings, season with salt, and cook until fragrant and starting to brown-about 8 minutes. Add the smashed garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomato paste to the pan and allow the mixture to cook for 5 minutes more. Whisk in the reduced wine before adding the butter, brown sugar, balsamic, bay leaves, and cinnamon. Mix well and bring to a boil. Toss in the frozen cherries and pour the sauce around the brisket. It should come ¾ up the side of the roast. Cover the pan with a piece of parchment paper and seal tightly with foil. Place the pan on a rimmed baking sheet (just in case it bubbles over a bit) and cook in the preheated oven for 2 ½ hours. Remove the pan from the oven, allow to cool to room temperature before refrigerating overnight.

When ready to serve, remove the brisket from the refrigerator and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the solidified fat from the brisket and place the cold roast on a board. Slice the meat, against the grain, into ¼” thick slices. Place the sliced brisket in a baking dish just large enough to hold it. Add ½ Cup of the braising liquid and ½ Cup of water to the pan. Place a sheet of parchment over the brisket and cover tightly with foil. Place the pan in the oven for 35 minutes or until heated through.

Scrape the remaining braising liquid into a sauce pot and heat through. Serve the sliced brisket topped with the cherry braising liquid and garnished with parsley or arugula.

Savory Mushroom and Spinach Noodle Kugel (makes 10 servings)

Bake the kugel while you reheat your sliced brisket and you’ll have plenty of time to fry your signature Hanukkah side-dishes.

4 Cups uncooked egg noodles

Salt and Pepper

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 medium sweet onion, diced

2 Garlic cloves, minced

8-ounces Cremini mushrooms, sliced

8-ounces baby spinach

Generous ¼ Cup sour cream

3 Tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, divided

3 Eggs, well beaten

Cook the egg noodles in boiling salted water according to package directions taking care not to overcook (as a rule, I like to cook pasta that will be further baked for the minimum suggested cooking time). Drain the pasta and transfer it to a large mixing bowl.

While the pasta is cooking heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and season with ½ teaspoon of salt. Allow the onion to cook over medium-high heat for 8 minutes until softened and slightly golden brown. Add the garlic and mushrooms to the pan, season with ½ teaspoon coarse pepper, and allow to cook, stirring frequently, until mushrooms are soft. Add the spinach to the skillet and cook until spinach has wilted. Adjust the seasoning and add to the bowl with the noodles. Mix slightly and allow to cool for 15 minutes.  Recipe can be completed to this point and refrigerated overnight.

Before baking, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Add the sour cream, 2 Tablespoons of Parmesan, ½ teaspoon kosher salt, ¼ teaspoon coarse black pepper, and the eggs to the noodle mixture. Mix well and transfer the kugel mixture to a greased 2 quart glass baking dish. Top the kugel with remaining parmesan cheese and bake for 40 minutes until eggs are set and the edges are beginning to crisp and brown. Allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

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