Purim is just around the corner, beginning Saturday, March 19th, and some of us are already daydreaming about hamentashen; kreplach; sufganiyot; and other bizarre-sounding foods. Tori Avey, also known as Shiksa in the Kitchen, is loosening her belt this year while celebrating Purim with lemon poppy seed cake and kosher cosmos.

A recent convert, Avey gave up a career as a screenwriter to teach Jewish cooking classes, blog, and write a cookbook with about 100 recipes. “I've been interested in Judaism since before I was conceived. My mom and dad walked down aisle to 'Sunrise, Sunset,'” Avey said. Growing up on country-style meals, Avey abandoned foods such as bacon, tuna casserole, and fried chicken to test her hand at baking challah, brisket, and sambusak. “I started the blog and was shocked at the response I got. After a while I thought, 'I'll do this full time,'” she said.

Purim is a Jewish Halloween of sorts, except temple-goers dress up as Biblical figures such as Mordechai and Esther, instead of slutty Santa or naughty Hermione. Thankfully, clothes worn during the Persian Empire are a bit more forgiving. And as with most Jewish holidays, drinking booze is highly encouraged.

Read on for a Shiksa's Guide to Cake Baking and Martini Shaking

Credit: Tori Avey

Credit: Tori Avey

Pomegranate Cosmo

Note: (from Shiksa in the Kitchen) Using rich pomegranate juice (POM Wonderful or fresh is best) with orange-flavored vodka and other flavors.

Serves: 1 drink

¼ cup pomegranate juice

1 ¼ oz orange vodka

½ oz triple sec

¼ oz sweetened lime juice

8 ice cubes

Pomegranate seeds (optional – for garnish)

Kosher Liquor and Mixer Suggestions:

POM Wonderful Pomegranate Juice

Absolut Mandarin Vodka

Leroux Triple Sec

Rose's Sweetened Lime Juice

1. Place all ingredients except for pomegranate seeds into a cocktail shaker along with ice cubes.

2. Shake vigorously for a few seconds until well chilled.

3. Drop about 10 pomegranate seeds into the bottom of the martini glass.

4. Strain cocktail into the martini glass and serve.

Turn the page for Avey's poppy seed cake recipe:

Credit: Tori Avey

Credit: Tori Avey

Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

Note: (from Shiksa in the Kitchen) This poppy seed cake is dairy, making it a good choice as the sweet ending of a vegetarian kosher meal. Also, If you are about to take a new job that requires a drug test, skip this cake. Poppy seeds can cause a false positive for heroin use.

Serves: 10-12

1 cup poppy seeds

1 cup lowfat milk

2 tbsp honey

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 ½ cups sugar

4 eggs, separated at room temperature

3 tbsp lemon zest

2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

1 ½ tsp vanilla

1 cup lowfat sour cream

2 ½ cups all purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

Warm lemon glaze:

1 cup powdered sugar

3 tbsp fresh lemon juice

1 tbsp water

Powdered sugar for dusting

1. In a small saucepan combine 1 cup of powdered sugar with 3 tbsp lemon juice and 1 tbsp water. Warm the glaze till it's heated through and bubbling around the edges.

For the cake:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Grease bundt cake pan (12 cup capacity) and set aside.

3. For a less crunchy cake with a more pronounced poppy seed flavor, grind the seeds in a coffee grinder. Or leave the seeds whole.

4. In a small saucepan, combine poppy seeds (whole or ground), milk, and honey. Stir till combined and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Let mixture boil for 1 minute, then remove from heat and let stand for 20 minutes.

5. Place poppy seed mixture into a mixing bowl along with butter and sugar. Beat on high until all ingredients are thoroughly mixed.

6. Add egg yolks to the mixture and beat again on high. Add lemon zest, lemon juice, vanilla and sour cream and beat until blended.

7. Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt.

8. Gradually add wet ingredients to dry.

9. Use an electric mixer to beat everything together until well combined. Scrape the sides of the bowl to make sure all dry ingredients are fully incorporated.

10. In a separate clean mixing bowl, beat egg whites to stiff peaks.

11. Gently fold the egg whites into the poppy seed batter.

12. Pour the batter into the Bundt pan to ¾ full or less. Use a spatula to gently push the batter to the outside of the pan, pushing slightly up the walls. This will help to get rid of any air pockets that might interfere with the pretty details of the pan.

13. Smooth the batter on the top so it is flat and even all the way around the pan.

14. Bake cake in preheated oven for 55-65 minutes. When the edges darken and pull fully away from the sides of the pan and the cake browns all the way across the surface, it's ready. You should be able to insert a toothpick into the thickest part of the cake and have it come out clean.

15. Either dust with powdered sugar or pour a few tablespoons of hot glaze over the warm cake slices just before serving.

Tori Avey is writing a Jewish food cookbook, which she hopes to publish by late 2012.

LA Weekly