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Rosh Hashanah

Uncomplicated Kosher

September 12, 1996|BARBARA HANSEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For more than 30 years, Rosalyn F. Manesse labored in the kitchen, turning out tasty, homey dishes for her husband and three children.

Now, all of a sudden she's blossomed into a cookbook author, in demand for interviews and book signings.

This doesn't happen to the average home cook, no matter how talented. What sets Manesse apart is her specialty--kosher cooking. She's a whiz at translating kosher rules into simple, practical, inexpensive dishes.

Recipes for 360 of these appear in her book, "Easy Kosher Cooking" (Jason Aronson, $29.95), due out Oct. 3. Thumb through the book and you'll see lots of doable, interesting dishes, along with menus and recipes for the Jewish holidays. "If you are not Jewish, there are maybe five or 10 recipes you might not have any interest in. The rest are for anybody," she says.

Manesse, who lives in Covina, cooks with one disadvantage: There is no kosher market in her area, so she must drive to Los Angeles to purchase kosher meats, which she stores in the freezer. "The ordinary food [fresh produce and staples such as flour and sugar] that we eat every day, we can get in the supermarket," she says.

It takes more than a cook to produce a cookbook, and Manesse makes that point by saying, "I am not a cook who writes. I am a writer who cooks."

Her articles on needlework have appeared in crafts magazines, and she is at work on a humorous science fiction novel. The idea of doing a cookbook grew as she wrote down recipes for her children, now grown and living elsewhere.

"The bulk of the recipes I had accumulated were easy to make, and things that the kids and my husband enjoyed eating," she says.

Manesse put together a three-page proposal with a table of contents and one recipe--chicken cacciatore--and sent it to publishers. Jason Aronson, which deals in Jewish interest books, responded at once.

The company asked to see the entire manuscript, and in five weeks, Manesse had a deal. One heart-stopping episode threatened the project: As Manesse went to print the manuscript, her aged computer started to crash, which would have obliterated her work. Nervously nursing the computer along, she ran the entire manuscript off in a day.

Even before the book was published Manesse acquired a fan: the printer who photocopied the manuscript. "I like what you said about pancakes," he told her, "so I am going to give you a discount."

Still another tribute to Manesse: "Easy Kosher Cooking" appears on the cover of the September issue of Jewish Book News, a publication of the Jewish Book Club.

Manesse, a grandmother and a retired nurse, wrote a previous book on Jewish needlework but couldn't find a publisher. Rather than giving in to disappointments, she lives by the motto, "Get up and keep skating."

Manesse's husband, Ira, is an artist and their home is a virtual gallery with his paintings and sketches and her needlework and quilting.

It was Ira who caused her to become a kosher cook. "My husband came from a more religious family," says Manesse, who was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Sydney, Nova Scotia.

After their marriage in 1960, Manesse took up cooking with a couple of kosher books as texts. Gradually, the rules became second nature. "You get so used to it," she says. "I wouldn't know how to cook any other way."

A sign in her kitchen announces, "We Serve Kosher Only." Cupboards are labeled to indicate whether they contain equipment for meat or dairy cookery. Kosher Jews neither combine these foods at a meal nor use the same pots and dishes to prepare and serve them, Manesse explains. Kitchenware has to be washed separately too, so Manesse dedicates one side of her divided sink to meat, the other to dairy.

On this day, Manesse's kitchen was fragrant with the chicken stew she was simmering for lunch. Ira started the meal with a prayer and the breaking of homemade rolls. Then came wedges of sweet honeydew melon, followed by a chopped vegetable salad and the chicken, which was cooked with brown rice, carrots and celery.

Because this was a meat meal, the "butter" that accompanied the rolls was nondairy margarine, and the "cream" for coffee was nondairy liquid creamer. The cookies for dessert were also nondairy: macaroons with ground walnuts from the Passover section of "Easy Kosher Cooking" and chocolate cookies made with oil and cocoa.

The table was covered with an example of Manesse's handiwork: a white cloth embroidered with motifs copied from ancient Israeli coins.

As her guest expressed appreciation for the meal, Manesse responded, modestly, "I'm glad you like it. It's really simple food."

CHICKEN AND BROWN RICE STEW

"This recipe is easy to prepare in a covered chicken fryer or an electric skillet," Manesse writes. "It is nice to make in hot weather, when you do not want to heat up your oven."

Nonstick cooking spray

1 chicken, cut up, or about 4 pounds chicken pieces

1 onion, diced

1 stalk celery, sliced

3 carrots, peeled and sliced

1 teaspoon dried thyme

3/4 cup brown rice

2 1/2 cups hot water

Salt, pepper

Spray large pan with tight-fitting cover with nonstick spray. Place over medium-high heat, add chicken and cook covered, until brown. Remove chicken from pan and add onion, celery, carrots, thyme, rice, water and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to boil. Lower heat to simmer. Place chicken on top of ingredients, cover tightly and cook 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until rice and chicken are tender.

Makes 6 servings.

Each serving contains about:

471 calories; 189 mg sodium; 128 mg cholesterol; 26 grams fat; 23 grams carbohydrates; 34 grams protein; 0.76 gram fiber.

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