Asparagus in Bell Pepper Coulis

IMG_1413Sitting in my backyard for hours on Shabbat morning is one of my greatest pleasures.  I usually have a magazine or book in my hand, cookbooks and crossword puzzles stacked next to me on the table, and a hot cup of French Press.  But when Spring arrives, it’s hard to sit still and I find myself getting up and down from my chair to look at something in the garden more closely.  A rose on the bush that one week ago was practically bare.  The first apple on a tree given to me on Mother’s Day by my friends Michael and Jenny, just two years ago.  The tulip that came up from the bulbs given to me a few months ago by Elin, after her first trip to the Netherlands.  I look at the blood orange tree and see that it’s covered in hundreds of fragrant tiny white flowers.  I wait to get a glimpse of the hummingbird that visits every Shabbat morning and watch it draw nectar at the same time that I drink my coffee.  I always smile and wonder who is watching who.  Eventually I return to my book but yesterday my mind wandered to Pesach and vegetables, not the muted color of winter vegetables, but vegetables whose colors will remind me of my garden and the beauty of Spring.

 

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photo-2Asparagus in Bell Pepper Coulis

Depending on the size of the asparagus, blanch to desired tenderness.  My asparagus were very thin so I just cooked them for about 3 minutes in rapidly boiling salted water and then plunged them into a sink filled with ice water to stop the cooking and set the color.

1 orange bell pepper and 1 yellow bell pepper  (red would be beautiful!)

3 cloves garlic

salt

2 Tb olive oil

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Peel the skin of the bell peppers and place them in a pot with garlic cloves and a pinch of salt.  Cover with water, bring to a boil and cook for about 15 -20 minutes.  Drain and allow to cool so they can be handled.  Open up the peppers and remove seeds and stem.  Place one pepper in a food processor with a 1/2 teaspoon of salt and one tablespoon of olive oil.  Puree and place in a bowl.  Repeat with the other pepper.  Take a large serving place and spoon yellow pepper coulis on one side of plate and orange pepper coulis on the other.  Lay asparagus across the top and drizzle with a little more olive oil.

Enjoy,

Irene

Cottage Cheese Chremslach (Passover)

IMG_0377We use to have really good home-cooked breakfasts when our children were little.  Norm would spend every Sunday morning in the kitchen, trying to please everyone by preparing pancakes, eggs, hash browns, and French Toast.  Despite the complaints, especially if the yolk of the fried egg broke, we knew how much the children enjoyed not only the variety, but the feeling of being in the kitchen, eating as much as they could possibly want, and not having to hurry off to school.

It’s not just the food that I miss, it’s the ritual of waking up in the morning to the smell of something cooking.  Breakfast foods have their own special smells, eggs frying in butter, potatoes and onions simmering in oil, bread that has been perfectly toasted, and of course,  freshly brewed coffee.  It all tastes better when the amount of time you can devote to enjoying the meal equals the amount of time spent on its preparation.  These days, even our Sunday mornings have become so busy, there no longer seems to be enough time to sit around and enjoy a leisurely breakfast.  But Pesach is different.

Since I only make certain dishes during Passover, and try to make those that have been passed down from family members, it seems that the recipes themselves have taken on a life of their own.  Each one is a little reminder of a story, a person, a time or a place.  What would breakfast during Passover be without making Matzoh Brie, a bubbelah, or the cottage cheese pancakes that my mother-in-law Lil used to make.  Whenever I make them, I think of Passover on Chiltern Hill Road in Toronto, and breakfast in Lil’s kitchen.  Norm said his Mom took pride in the fact that she made ” a sponge cake a day” something I have never been able to duplicate.  I don’t remember the sponge cakes, but I do remember the delicious cottage cheese pancakes.  Serve them with fresh berries or a little jam, some coffee, and a side order of time.

Cottage Cheese Chremslach

1 cup cottage cheese (try to get a brand that isn’t too runny)

3 eggs

1 Tb sugar

½ tsp cinnamon

3/4 cup matzoh meal

dash of salt

Butter/oil for frying

Mix all the ingredients and let stand for about 5 minutes.  Batter should hold together and depending on size of eggs, add a little more matzoh meal.  Then pour a couple of tablespoons of oil into a frying pan along with an equal amount of butter.   Using a large spoon, drop the batter into the pan to make small pancakes.  Fry till golden and then flip over.  Makes about 12.

Enjoy,

Irene

Etty’s Chocolate Meringue Cookies (Guest Post)

It wasn’t Passover in our house until we had eaten my mother’s Chocolate Meringue cookies. When I was young we lived in Pittsburg California.  There were only a handful of Jewish families, and the local market didn’t have Passover foods, so my mother came up with this recipe.   I remember after Purim, my mom would drive into San Francisco and do what she called her  “major Passover shopping”.   She would buy the canned macaroons, but they didn’t compare to her special cookies.  Of course in our family, if it wasn’t chocolate it wasn’t dessert.   (What would we do if we couldn’t eat chocolate on Passover?)  Perish the thought!!

Etty’s Chocolate Meringue Cookies

3 egg whites at room temperature
1/2 c sugar
6 oz melted semi sweet chocolate
2/3 chopped walnuts, or any chopped nut of your choice
(almonds are delicious, as are pecans)

Whip the egg whites until they just start to shape into peaks and slowly add the sugar.  Beat until whites are stiff and then gently fold in the melted chocolate and the nuts.  Chocolate and nuts should be well incorporated into the egg white mixture.  Drop by teaspoons onto a cookie sheet that is covered with parchment paper.

Bake at 325 for 10 minutes and then turn the oven off and let them sit in the oven either overnight or for 4-6 hours.  At this point they can be frozen and keep beautifully until served.   Jessica Sacher

Dina’s Herb Dip (Passover)

 

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I’ve had some requests to post what I plan to cook for the Seder.  Though it always is a work in progress, and there may be lots of changes over the next few weeks, there are some standard dishes that we seem to have every year.  Unlike the seders of my childhood where we were starving waiting for the meal to be served, we have a new tradition that started several years ago, placing small dishes around the table filled with healthy things to snack on.  I don’t know why we hadn’t that thought of it before but I highly recommend it, everyone is more relaxed and less anxious to get to the meal.  For a couple of years I made kale chips but last year during our small annual Academy Awards gathering my daughter’s friend Dina brought this delicious dip and I knew right away that it would be a perfect thing to serve for our “seder snack”.

Dina recommended making it the day before and refrigerating it overnight.

I have added links to the rest of the dishes that I plan to serve.  I’de love to hear what you are making as well, so please share your favorite Passover recipes, and if there is a story behind it, share that as well.

Scroll down to links for my Seder recipes.

My mother’s Chopped Liver

Tovchik’s Eggplant

My favorite Matzoh Balls

A slightly adapted version of Sheila’s Brisket

Garlic Chicken and Roast Potatoes

Tzimmis

Chocolate Chip Mandelbroit

Dina’s Ranch Dip  (adapted for Passover)

2 cups mayonnaise
1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Stir together mayonnaise, parsley, chives, garlic, salt, and pepper in a bowl until combined well.  Chill dip, covered, overnight for flavors to develop.

Note: I will most likely double this recipe.

Enjoy,

Irene

 

Stuffed Potatoes (Passover)

photo 1Spring is here, Purim is over, and Passover is just weeks away.  For the third year in a row, we are going back East to celebrate Passover with our children at the home of our older son and daughter-in-law, a home where we have always felt welcomed and included, to a seder that is open to so many.  As my part of the planning begins, various family members have gently reminded me that “less is more”,  have informed me that a Seder meal doesn’t need both chicken and beef, have encouraged me to cook larger quantities of fewer dishes, and have suggested to me that a good model to follow is something apparently common in restaurants in Williamsburg, where they often specialize in a dish or two that they make really well (does that sound like a hint?).  Appreciative of everyone’s wish to make the entire process less labor intensive, easier on me, healthier, less costly, etc. I understand and hear the words in my head, but they don’t resonate in my heart.  The dictionary definition of feast is to eat and drink sumptuously.

Last night I went to bed with a plan for a stream-lined menu that felt a little bit as if the “feasting” part of Passover, as we knew it, may be a thing of the past.  This morning I thought of my mom, a woman who knew what hunger was, what deprivation meant, and who, more, than many of us, understood the importance of Passover.  When the time came for her to serve the meal, there was no doubt that you were not sitting down to a typical dinner, but to a Passover feast.  She knew that less is not more, it is just less.  That when a family gathers together to celebrate, we should celebrate to the fullest, the wine should pour freely, and the food should be plentiful and varied.  Let all who are hungry come and eat.

Ode to Fried Potatoes by Pablo Neruda

Translated from the Spanish by Maria Jacketti

The world’s joy

is spluttering,

sizzling in olive oil.

Potatoes

to be fried

enter the skillet,

snowy wings

of a morning swan –

and they leave

half-braised in gold,

gift of the crackling amber

of olives.

Garlic

embellishes the potato

with its earthy perfume,

and the pepper

is pollen that has traveled

beyond the reefs,

and so,

freshly

dressed

in a marbled suit,

plates are filled

with the echoes of potatoey abundance:

delicious simplicity of the earth

 Stuffed Potatoes 

20, thin-skinned, new white potatoes, smallish and round, about 2″ in diameter

Filling

1 tablespoon olive oil  (for turkey or chicken which needs a little extra fat)

Chopped leftover potatoes

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 pound ground chicken, beef or turkey

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 teaspoon cumin

additional olive oil for frying

Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 cloves garlic, crushed

3 medium tomatoes, diced

1 Tb Telma chicken bouillon

1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

2 cups water

To make the sauce, add olive oil to a medium-sized saucepan.  Add minced garlic and sauté for a minute or two over a low flame,  just till fragrant.  Add diced tomatoes and simmer for 5 minutes before adding remaining ingredients.  Cover and simmer for an additional 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Place potatoes on a sturdy service and carefully cut off a small slice from both the bottom and top.  Stand potato on one end and using a small sharp knife, grapefruit cutter, or melon baller, hollow out almost all of the sides and the center of  the potato.

photoFinely chop leftover potato pieces in food processor, and add to a large bowl with the other ingredients for the filling. Mix well.  Using a small spoon, stuff filling into hollowed out potatoes.  Gently sauté stuffed potatoes in olive oil till golden on all sides.  Place in oven proof casserole.  Pour the sauce over the stuffed potatoes,  cover,  and bake in a preheated oven for about 2-3  hours.   Serves 15-20 as a side dish.

Note: Number of potatoes and amount of filling varies depending on size.  Any leftover meat can be made shaped into small ktzizot (burgers), sautéed in same olive oil and added to pot.  We did that and they were great!  This is a dish that is better when it has a chance to sit so make it the day before you are planning to serve it.

Enjoy,

Irene

Almond Crisps

IMG_1008Our Mishloah Manot arrived on the East Coast today, and though it may be too late to share this recipe in time for  your mishloah manot, I promise that these cookies are worth making any time, even after Purim!

Preparations began last Sunday morning with a trip to Trader Joe’s to stock up on baking supplies, and as you might have seen on Facebook, some packages of quick cooking grains.  By 10:00 a.m. I was home, in the kitchen, and had my radio turned on to my favorite station (the one that plays lots of Pink and Adele).  I rolled up my sleeves, divided my counter space into three stations, and after several hours, had three varieties of cookies ready to freeze (so they would stay fresh before shipping), and one batch of spiced nuts cooling on the stove.

In the afternoon I went to Sawtelle Ave. with a friend, a street filled with Japanese markets and shops.  I love going there, the prepared foods smell great, the produce is beautiful, and even though it’s just a few miles from my house, it’s a whole different world.  We did some shopping for the Purim baskets, ate some sushi, and headed home.  On Thursday, the gift baskets were assembled, packed and shipped.
 
Now what? I sit back and wait for the reviews and the comments.  They will come, and I am ready for them, feeling a little bit nervous, and of course, curious as well.  In the meantime, I am enjoying a delicious glass of wine with an almond crisp.  Hope they’ll enjoy them too.  Chag Purim Sameach.
 
Almond Crisps   adapted from a recipe by David Lebovitz

8 tablespoons butter, unsalted, cubed

1 1/3 cups Turbinado raw cane sugar

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/3 cup  water

2 1/3 cups  flour

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan over low heat with the sugar, cinnamon, and water.  Stir until the butter melts but don’t allow to boil.  Don’t allow the sugar to completely dissolve.  Remove from heat and stir in the flour, baking soda, and almonds until well mixed.  Line a 9-inch loaf pan with plastic wrap and press the dough into the pan so the top is smooth.  Chill in the fridge until firm.        IMG_1004

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Remove dough from loaf pan and place on wooden board.  Using a very sharp knife, slice the dough as thin as possible, across the width.  Thin equals crisp!!   Place cookies on parchment paper covered baking sheets and bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the undersides are golden brown.  Flip the cookies over and bake an additional 10-15 minutes, until the cookies are crisp and deep golden-brown on top. The baking times depend on how thin you cut the cookies.

Enjoy,

Irene

 

Dried (and fresh) Mushroom Soup

mushroomLetters would arrive from France, Poland, and Israel, my father carefully removing the stamps before tossing the envelopes.  Once in a while, no more than once or twice a year, a package would arrive as well.  It was always the same, a cardboard box wrapped in brown paper tied with a rope.  It was clear from the handwriting that it was addressed by someone whose native language was not English.  A pungent, earthy smell seeped through the box, revealing the contents before we managed to cut the string.

The box contained dried mushrooms, grzyby.  They were sent to us by a Polish man who had helped my father during the war, a man who in return for his kindness and heroism, received a small check from my father, every month, for as long as I can remember.  They never saw each other again, but the relationship was maintained by this exchange that went back and forth across the ocean, via mail.

In an age where letters are a rare form of communication, and packages often come from Amazon, I miss that feeling of anticipation and excitement that went hand in hand with the approach of a mailman.   We say our hectic lives are to blame, but I think about this Polish farmer, whose life I am sure was challenging in many unimaginable ways, going out to the woods to pick mushrooms after a rainfall,  then drying them, boxing them, and taking them to a post office to mail them to a man in the United States who he had not seen in years.

It has been rainy and cold (for L.A.) and Purim is around the corner.  That means Mishloah Manot will soon be mailed.  I have no doubt that there will be various comments about the contents, but I hope that the packages will stir the same feelings that I think my father experienced when those boxes arrived.  Knowing that someone is thinking of you, year after year, and from miles away.

In the meantime, it is a perfect time of year to make a pot of mushroom soup.

Dried Mushroom Soup

2 oz. dried Polish mushrooms

1 cup hot water

1 lb small brown or white mushrooms

2 Tb olive oil

1 large brown onion

1 small leek, white part only

1 large russet potato

2 Tb butter

3 cups pareve chicken stock plus reserved water that mushrooms were soaked in.

1 1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

1/2 cup whole milk

Soak dried mushrooms in a small bowl of hot water for a few minutes to release any dirt.  Then strain and place mushrooms in about 1 cup of hot water for about 20 minutes till mushrooms soften.  Peel and dice onion, clean and thinly slice leek,  and add both to a large soup pot along with the 2 Tb  of olive oil.   Saute onions and leeks for about 5 minutes over a low flame but do not allow to brown.  Thinly slice fresh mushrooms and add to pot along with dried mushrooms, reserved liquid, and chicken broth.  Add potato that you have peeled and diced and salt and pepper.  Bring  soup to a boil, lower heat and simmer covered, for about one hour.  Allow to cool and then purée using an immersion blender.  Add butter and milk and adjust seasoning to taste.  If you want to reheat, do it over a low flame.  Serves 6 – 8

Enjoy,

Irene