Corn and Poblano Lasagne

My father had a standard response to a certain type of question, and that response was “only the best.”  That’s a tall order, and of course the idea of what’s best is very subjective.  The statement taught me not to settle for mediocrity.   At work I meet with families and often tell them to manage their expectations when it comes to their mentors, not because of the quality of the volunteers, but because I don’t want anyone disappointed.  Still even as I utter those words, I know I am not being true to myself or my father’s words.

When my father first arrived in NYC, he worked as a tailor for Davidow Suits. a women’s suit company whose ads I remember seeing in Vogue Magazine when I was a teen.  After coming home from a long day he would have dinner and head to night school to learn English.  Years later he decided to follow his passion and become a Stock Broker, not an easy thing for a man in his 40s who had to pass the grueling exam in English, by then his fourth language.  He studied night after night and when he passed away I found all the exams, almost perfect scores on each one.  It didn’t surprise me.

Shavuot is  holiday about relationships.  It is also the one holiday where dairy reigns.  One of my favorite cooking shows is called  “The Best Thing I Ever Made.”  The program features various chefs who talk about that one dish that they make at home for their loved ones and closest friends, the people who you want to serve your best.  Last week a female Mexican chef featured a lasagna that she makes with a Mexican twist.  The best of two great culinary worlds come together in perfect harmony.

May your relationships, your holiday, and your food come from the desire for it to be the best, even if it isn’t always achievable.  Chag Saneach.

 

 

 

Corn and Poblano Lasagna adapted from Marcela Valladolid

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups fresh corn kernels (from about 2 ears)

2 cups heavy cream

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 Poblano chiles, charred, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch strips

2 large zucchini, thinly sliced lengthwise

Twelve no-boil lasagna sheets

2 cups shredded Monterey Jack

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a saucepan over medium heat.  Add two cloves of minced garlic and the corn and sauté for 5 minutes.  Stir in the cream.  Cook over low heat for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let cool, and purée until smooth.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a small, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the remaining garlic clove along with the Poblano and zucchini and cook for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Spread about one-quarter of the corn mixture over the bottom of an 9 x 12 inch baking dish. Cover with a layer of 3 lasagna sheets. Spread 1/4 of the vegetable mixture and 1/4 of the cheese over the pasta.  Repeat the layering three more times. Cover with foil.

Bake covered for about 50 minutes. Remove the foil and turn up the oven temperature to brown, about 8 to 10 minutes.  Serves 6-8

Enjoy,

Irene

Sticky BBQ Chicken

I’ve had the good fortune of living near an ocean all of my life, first the Atlantic and now the Pacific.  My parents loved the beach, and growing up in the Bronx we spent every weekend on hot crowded buses just to get to Orchard Beach, a beach populated by immigrants and locals.  Once we arrived, my parents always sat in the same grassy area with the same group of people.  My mother would bring certain foods along,  blueberry buns, tuna sandwiches made with generously sliced challah, hard-boiled eggs, fruit, and cold beer for my father.  While the adults played cards and discussed politics, we would go off and play by ourselves for hours.  We played in the ocean or on the sand and sometimes we would keep busy by collecting starfish that we dried in the sun.   Our parents didn’t worry because our older siblings would be nearby laying on their blankets listening to music on transistor radios while spending hours sunbathing.  Not only are the memories embedded but so are the foods associated with those memories, and to this day when I bite into a blueberry bun, it tastes like summer.

Yesterday my daughter, Norm and I went to the beach, something we don’t do often enough.  We didn’t bring food, just some cherries for a snack, we didn’t meet up with friends and we didn’t play cards or discuss politics.  We relaxed, read the paper, took naps on the warm blanket, and eventually packed up the car and came home.  By then we were hungry, raided the fridge and ate cold, leftover BBQ chicken.  Sitting at the kitchen table my daughter took a bite, turned to me and said, “it tastes like summer.”

Sticky BBQ Chicken

2 chickens cut in eighths

Sauce

4 cloves garlic

4 Tb ketchup

4 Tb red wine vinegar

1/2 cup soy sauce

1 cup honey

1 tsp red chili flakes

2 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

Season chicken with salt and pepper and grill over medium heat till done.  This took about 45 minutes on a gas grill that was about 350 degrees.  Combine all the sauce ingredients in a small pot and bring to a boil.  Lower heat and simmer for about 10 minutes.  Using a brush, thickly coat chicken pieces on the grill with sauce.  Cook for five minutes, turn over and baste again.  Remove and pour any remaining sauce on top of chicken and it is ready to serve.  You will need plenty of napkins.

Enjoy,

Irene

Spicy Grilled Corn

I have no memory of the first time I ever ate BBQ.  Clearly it wasn’t in The Bronx and it surprises me that what I now count among my favorite things to eat has a beginning steeped in mystery.  Chicken, hot dogs, hamburgers, corn, it doesn’t really matter, nothing tastes as good as something hot off the grill.  That perfect combination of fat hitting flame is hard to duplicate in the kitchen.  When the days are longer I often come home from work and BBQ, trying my hardest to re-create what I imagine “real BBQ” might taste like when prepared by those “guys” who love to cook meat (my guy doesn’t even eat red meat.)  After all these years I am still a novice, mainly because we don’t really live in a BBQ culture.  For me BBQ conjures up certain images like large family gatherings, home-cooking, cold beer, and being outdoors, all so appealing.  So each year I try to learn a little more about grilling and once in a while I get it right.

BBQ corn is a staple at our farmers’ markets but because of the Latin influence you normally can have them plain or heavily seasoned, my personal preference.  I have tried marinating the corn in spices before grilling them but the flavor never really penetrated the surface. I have tried shaking on the spices just after I have removed the corn from the grill, but that didn’t work very well either.  Today I read an article that mayo is the “glue” of choice for grilled corn.  I went and bought two ears of corn, pulled back the husks, removed the silk, brushed the corn with a little olive oil and grilled them on high for about 10 minutes.  Then I brushed the grilled corn with a very thin layer of mayo, and rolled them in a combination of spices.  I am proud to say that this is not my mother’s corn.

 

Spicy Grilled Corn

Prepare corn and grill for about 10 minutes, till lightly charred.

In a bowl mix 1/2 tsp smoked paprika with 1/2 tsp chili powder and 1/2 tsp garlic powder.  Add a pinch of salt.

Brush grilled corn with mayonnaise and roll in spices.  Squeeze lime juice over the top.

Enjoy,

Irene

Curried Swiss Chard and Lentil Stew

The Graf brothers all loved nature, the outdoors, and animals.  My father would watch shows about the animal kingdom and would tell us stories of the pets he owned growing up in Warka, Poland.  A porcupine, really?  He was already well into his seventies when he suddenly decided to stop eating chicken and beef, purely for ethical reasons.  With longing and affection, my father would talk about the orchard and vegetable garden behind his mother’s home.  At the farmer’s market he would choose his fruits and vegetables with such care and tenderness, rotating each apple or pear to make sure it was blemish free, fresh, firm, and fragrant with ripeness, intent on selecting the best he could find.

The brothers were all avid gardeners, and I was fairly certain that their green thumbs were not passed down to my city hands.  I love the idea of gardening, to be able to go into your backyard and plan your meal based on what’s ready to be picked.  After a long hiatus, I was determined to try my hand at vegetable gardening once again and so I ruthlessly pulled out a whole bed of roses.  It took months to prepare the soil and put in the first raised bed.  During a trip back East my cousin Janine laid out the plans for my garden and I use it as my roadmap.  Not only does it guide me but it provides me with inspiration,  knowing that another branch of the Graf family are successful gardeners.  My first planting included broccoli which was a complete failure, basil which was immediately consumed by insects and several plants of red leaf lettuce which grew well, but became limp immediately after being harvested, not a desirable texture for a fresh salad.  I thought I would try kale and swiss chard and finally I was able to experience the sense of pride that comes with success.  There is more chard and kale in my garden than I know what to do with.

My father would probably chuckle at my meager garden but despite its small size, the pleasure that I derive from it is immeasurable.  My father and I never gardened together, I was too young and independent to listen to his advice when he offered it, but now each time I am in the garden I think of Harry, Charlie and Jack, and the legacy they left behind.

 

 


This dish is a vegetarian stew but so hearty that you really don’t miss the meat. Serve with rice or whole wheat pasta.

Curried Swiss Chard and Lentil Stew (adapted from a recipe from Bon Appetit)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
5 tsp curry powder
1 /2 tsp chili powder
42 oz. pareve chicken stock or vegetable broth
1 large bunch Swiss chard, stems thinly sliced and leaves coarsely chopped (about 12 cups)
1 pound brown lentils, rinsed well
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans
2 tsp salt
1 heaping tsp cumin.

Saute onion in olive oil till golden.  Add spices and sauté for several minutes, till fragrant.  Add broth and bring to a boil, then put in lentils and garbanzo beans.  Lower heat to a simmer, add salt and chard, and cover.  Cook till lentils are tender but still whole.  About 20 minutes.  Serves 6

Enjoy,

Irene