Travelling to New York City in February may not be ideal but there is this internal “tug” that draws us to visit “the children” no matter where they are. Of course, my children are no longer children, but adults. Yet, they still have birthdays and that is as good a reason as any to visit. Two of my children now live in NYC, the city of my birth. My youngest is in Israel and though I have not yet visited him, I spend many hours contemplating that trip. So, what do you do when you go see your children in the dead of winter and know that your visit will span Shabbat? You plan to make cholent. I am a traditionalist when it comes to cholent. In other words my oven has never seen a veggie cholent, chicken cholent, tofu cholent or any of the other variations that are currently in vogue. As a daughter of Polish Jewish immigrants I remember the stories that my mother told me of what Shabbat was like in Mogielnica, a small town outside of Warsaw. Her aunt owned the local bakery and apparently each household would bring their cholent to the bakery before Shabbat and place their pots in the commercial oven from which they were retrieved the next day for lunch. I have often wondered how people recognized which cholent pot belonged to their family. So, I am off to NYC and in my “carry on” luggage there will be 5 Lbs. of frozen short ribs for the cholent, from Doheny Kosher, 3 packages of Jeff’s Sausages and two frozen layers of carrot cake, ready to assemble for my son’s birthday. Here is the basic recipe for my mother’s cholent.
Pre-heat oven to 250 degrees
I large onion, left whole
1 1/2 cups small white beans
1/2 cup pearl barley
4-5 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut in eighths
4 or 5 strips of short ribs, cut up
salt and pepper to taste
Place onion, beans, barley and potatoes in the bottom of a heavy pot. Add short ribs and enough water JUST to cover. Season with salt and pepper. Bring cholent to a boil, cover with lid and then place in a 250 degree oven overnight. I normally cook this for 12-14 hours. DO NOT STIR.
The scent of dough rising in the kitchen can create so many associations. It can bring us back to the bakeries we frequented as children, holding on to our mothers’ hands, and eating the sprinkle cookie given to us by the woman behind the counter. It can remind us of a flour covered apron worn by a grandmother making Challah. My own mother would make blueberry buns from blueberries that I was sent out to collect with my sister near my aunt’s house in Lakewood, New Jersey. There is something special about working with yeast, it has that distinctive lifelike quality and scent, always recognizable, like an old friend in the kitchen. My husband has recently started making home-made bagels, hazelnut flutes and artisanal French breads. They are wonderful, wheaty, warm and yeasty.
January, even in California, is a perfect time to bake. A warm kitchen is so inviting so go ahead and create a memory that your children will cherish. The scent of yeast.
Here is my tried and true recipe for challah. Be creative and add some dried cranberries, some chocolate chips, some dried figs or dates and most of all, have fun.
½ cup oil
3 tsp salt
¾ cup sugar
1 cup boiling water
½ cup cold water
2 pkgs dried yeast
1/3 cup warm water
7-8 cups all purpose flour
Put oil, salt and sugar in large bowl, add 1 cup boiling water and stir till sugar is dissolved. Then add ½ cup cold water and stir. Dissolve yeast in 1/3 cup warm water along with a pinch of sugar and proof for several minutes till bubbly. In a small bowl beat 3 eggs and add to cooled oil mixture. Then add yeast and stir. Add 7 cups of flour, one at a time, and stir after each cup. Put dough on floured board and knead for about 10 – 15 minutes.
Put in oiled bowl and let rise until double, about two hours. Punch down and knead gently for several minutes. Divide and make 2 large challahs or four medium sized. Let stand 45 minutes.
Bake in 375 degree oven for 30 minutes or until brown.
When we moved into our home in Beverlywood about 21 years ago our next door neighbor immediately greeted us with a cake. Having grown up in an apartment building in The Bronx, I always thought that particular tradition was something that only happened in the movies. Sara S. and her husband Ben had built their home in Beverlywood in 1947 and had lived there ever since. Sara was a petite, elegant and vibrant woman in her seventies. Ben was a towering, handsome businessman who was still going to work every morning ( and still does.) Having moved into Beverlywood just after the birth of our third child, there was something so comforting about having Sara and Ben next door. Sara and I soon discovered that we both loved to cook and garden. Sara was famous for her fudge, a recipe I never was able to coax out of her, but through the years we were the happy recipients of numerous tins of fudge and enjoyed every piece. Sugar, butter and eggs passed back and forth between our kitchens. Sara heated her pool during the summer and my children had swimming lessons there. If my kids weren’t in the pool on the weekend, Sara would call me on the phone and remind me that heating a pool was an expensive proposition and my kids better get over there and use it. Last week Sara passed away. It was not only the loss of a friend and neighbor but the end of an era. Good neighbors are hard to find. Fortunately we still see Ben as he leaves for the office in the morning. So, in memory of Sara and to promote “neighborliness” here is a recipe you can make. It isn’t fudge but it is pretty close. A dense, dark, fudge brownie. Why not make a batch and bring it over to your neighbor.
Chewy Fudge Brownies
4 Oz. unsweetened chocolate
1 stick butter
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup flour
1 cup walnuts
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 8″ square pan. Melt chocolate and butter in heavy pan set over low heat or in double boiler. Stir till melted and smooth. Let cool for a few minutes. Add vanilla, eggs, sugar and salt to chocolate mixture and stir. Add flour and mix well and then add nuts. Bake 45 minutes till toothpick in center is barely clean. Remove and cool on rack.