Curried Zucchini Soup

IMG_1692I often think of my mother, but as Chanukah approaches her memory burns bright.  She would stand at the kitchen counter with her box grater, and one by one grate the potatoes on the side with the finest holes.  Grated, not shredded.  No food processor in sight, just hard work that often resulted in raw knuckles.  The same pan was used to fry them each year, the one pan that produced a golden disc, not dark brown and not soft, but thin and crisp.  Since they were served as the main course, there were always plenty of Latkes to go around, and I would alternate between topping them with sour cream, apple sauce, or my personal favorite, just plain sugar.

For some reason my mother chose tuna salad as the side dish, and everyone was given hot tea which she served in drinking glasses.  The golden color of the Laktes was echoed in the color of the tea, my mother’s holiday china, and in the lights of the Menorah.  She loved the melodies of the Chanukah songs, and so each year we sing the Yiddish variation of Chanukah Oy Chanukah, a tradition we have carried on in tribute to this diminutive, brave, woman who made our home shine so bright.

 Chanukah, Oy Chanukah
A yontev a sheyner
A lustiger, a freylecher
Nito noch azayner

Alle nacht in dreydl
shpilen mir
zudik heyse latkes
Esen Mir
Geshvinder
tzindt kinder
Di Chanukah lichtelach ahn

Lomir alle singen
Und lomir ale Shpringen
Und lomir ale tantzen in kon

Lomir alle singen
Und lomir ale Shpringen
Und lomir ale tantzen in kon

 I think hot soup goes better with latkes, especially one that serves as another venue for sour cream.

Curried Zucchini Soup

2 Tb butter

1 Tb olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

1 small clove garlic, minced

1 small carrot, chopped

2 Tb butter

4 medium zucchini, coarsely chopped

4 cups pareve chicken broth

2 1/2 teaspoons curry powder, or to taste

salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot add butter and olive oil over low heat till butter is melted.  Add the diced onion and sauté till translucent but not brown.  Add garlic and carrots and cook for about 10 minutes.  Then add zucchini, chicken broth, and curry powder.  Season with salt and pepper.  Bring soup to a boil, and reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.
Carefully purée the soup in the blender in small batches.  Don’t forget to serve with a dollop of sour cream.  Happy Chanukah!Enjoy,

Irene

Simple Pot Roast

There are certain dishes that call out to us.  You might want to recreate that favorite cookie from your childhood, or a dish that a neighbor offered you when you visited, perhaps it’s something that you associate with a grandparent or even a close friend.  My mother used to make gedempfte fleish, braised beef of some kind, and although I have no recollection of how it was prepared, what it tasted like, or even the smell, I have wanted to duplicate that pot roast for years.  I finally decided to try it over Rosh Hashana.

This humble piece of meat, held together by white butcher twine, is cooked on low heat for hours, slowly coaxed into a dish worth serving.  Once released from the string, the meat just falls apart on the plate, landing in every direction, completely unlike brisket which is thinly sliced and carefully arranged on an elegant platter.  Pot Roast is peasant food at its best.  I have now made it twice and on both occasions it elicited a response that was perfectly suited to this earthy dish.  After dinner, when the roast itself was finished, “the kids” stood over the pan filled with the braising liquid, mopping it up with pieces of Challah.  Ignoring their pressed shirts and silk blouses, they risked spills and stains.  What more is there to say of the lowly pot roast other than to tell you it is my newly found treasure based on a vague and distant memory.

Simple Pot Roast

1  4 or 5 lb. chuck roast, tied.

1 bottle of good red wine, like a Burgundy

2 onions, cut in half

2 cloves garlic

2 stalks celery, cut

2 carrots, cut

2 bay leaves

1 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

2 Tb oil

3 Tb flour

Put roast in a large pot and add wine.  Make sure meat is covered with liquid, and if not, add some beef broth.  Add vegetables, bay leaves, garlic, salt and pepper to the pot.  Allow beef to marinate overnight, turning meat every few hours.  Next day, remove beef from marinade and dry with paper towels.  Roll beef in a shallow plate of flour, shaking off excess.  Place oil in cast iron pan and sear meat on all sides till crusty and dark brown.  Return seared roast to pot filled with marinade, cover pot, and allow to a simmer over low heat for one hour.  Then put pot in a preheated 275 degree oven and cook roast for about three hours or till meat is very tender.  Remove string, slice think,  and serve  roast and some gravy over mashed potatoes or even on top of a stack of golden Latkes.  Serves 6-8

Enjoy,

Irene

Garlic Turkey

At 5:40 this morning we drove our friends to the airport.  They were flying to Boston to be with their “East coast” family for Thanksgiving.  On Wednesday we will return to LAX to pick up my daughter, and on Thursday to pick up my youngest son.  It’s the wonderful pull of Thanksgiving, being with the family and hanging out in kitchens where the smells are familiar.  Today I started baking, and so this morning my kitchen smelled like cinnamon and allspice from the pumpkin breads in the oven.  This afternoon it smelled of apples and dried cherries baking inside puff pastry squares that I folded into individual turnovers.  On Thanksgiving day the kitchen will smell like the mulling spices simmering in the pot of apple cider on the stove top, but as soon as the fridge door is opened,  the predominant smell will be the garlic that was rubbed into the turkey on Wednesday morning.  That specific smell of garlic-covered poultry is embedded in my memory because it is the smell that I most closely associate with my mother’s kitchen.  The smell that signaled it was Shabbat,  Yontif, and yes, Thanksgiving.  On Thursday the kitchen will smell both savory and sweet, depending if you are  standing near the oven or closer to the kitchen table covered with desserts.  I love the old recipes combined with an occasional new one, it sets the mood and gives me the perfect opportunity to remember and be thankful for what we had, what we have, and what we look forward to.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Garlic Turkey

Mixture for a 15 pound turkey

1 Tb kosher salt
1 Tb. paprika
2 tsp. pepper
1/3 cup  olive oil
2 whole heads garlic, peeled and minced

Mix all ingredients together until you have a paste-like consistency.  It should be red from the paprika and thick, almost like tomato paste.  Rub the garlic mixture on the inside and outside of the turkey and let marinate in fridge overnight.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Place turkey in a roasting pan, breast down, with about 2 ” of water on the bottom of the pan.  Bake for 30 minutes and then baste with liquid.  Add more water to pan if necessary.  Lower heat to 350 degrees.  Continue to add liquid and baste about every 30 minutes.  When turkey is golden brown, turn breast side up and finish roasting. Total baking time is about 3 hours depending on size of the bird.

Enjoy,

Irene

Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Mushrooms and Fried Onions

Our life as newlyweds began in Toronto.  There I was, 21 years old, living in a strange city in a foreign country.  I had no idea how to cook, but coming from a family with some very good cooks and bakers, I was determined to learn.  I remember exploring various neighborhoods around the city, my way of getting comfortable, and discovering shops that were more intimate and personal than the local supermarket.  Slowly I developed my  list of “favorites.”  I fell in love with Kensington Market and regularly went there to buy cheese, and sweet butter, cut from an enormous block on top of the counter and wrapped in wax paper,  on Sunday mornings I went to Gryfe’s for bagels, very different from the kind I grew up with but perfect when toasted, and Daiter’s for herring in cream sauce or smoked fish.  On occasion we would go to Markys for a deli sandwich (sadly no longer in business) and sometimes we would make a quick stop at United Bakers for Norm’s favorite local dessert, butter tarts,  a small, individual tart filled with a brown sugar and butter mixture that I prefer runny.

Last week Norm and I traveled to Toronto where we were joined by our sons.  We were there to celebrate my father-in- law Pinnie’s 93rd birthday and during our visit we managed to include a few short trips to our favorite haunts.  We went back to Kensington Market and saw the old cheese shops nestled among the new vegan hot spots and coffee bars, we went to Daiters and bought silky smooth Atlantic smoked salmon to put on our freshly purchased bagels from Gryfe’s.  Of course no trip to Toronto would be complete without at least one butter tart.  We spent time with my mother-in-law Lil, cooking and shopping.  She made stuffed cabbage and chremslech ( similar to a latke but made with leftover mashed potatoes) Norm baked Challot, which really do come out better on the East coast (is it really the water?) and I made Cholent for Shabbat lunch.

Each day we spent time visiting my father-in-law who was in good spirits.  My sons were very entertaining and their grandfather roared with laughter on more than one occasion.   Of course one of the first questions I asked Pinnie was about the food he was  served, and he responded by saying “everything is delicious.”  At the end of each visit we would say, “see you tomorrow” and Pinnie always responded by saying “I hope so.”  Just in time for Thanksgiving, we are so grateful that we were able to celebrate your 93rd birthday together and “hope” to come again next year for your 94th!

One more thing.  In those early days, no matter what I made, as long as it had fried onions, Norm thought it was delicious.  He still feels that way.  Like father, like son.

Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Mushrooms and Fried Onions

1 pound Brussels Sprouts, tip cut off.

2 large brown onions, chopped

16 oz. assorted mushrooms, sliced (I used a combination of shiitake and portobello)

1/3 cup olive oil

Using double blade, place Brussels Sprouts in food processor and pulse till shredded.  Set aside.  Chop onions in processor and place in frying pan with olive oil.  Allow onions to slowly cook over a low flame till golden brown.  Add sliced mushrooms to pan and sauté for about 10 minutes. Next add shredded sprouts and cook for about 3 or 4 minutes. Do not overcook. You want that beautiful green color and a little crunch.  Salt and pepper to taste. I put a generous amount of pepper in.  Serves 4-6

Enjoy,

Irene

 

Cheesy Grits

I had forgotten how dark, how quiet, and how peaceful it is to be out in the woods.  The pleasure of being temporarily disconnected from things that beep, light up, or plug-in, is an added bonus.  For many years we took a yearly trip to the national parks with my parents and sister.  After  joining us on a trip to Sequoia, we quickly realized the benefits of having that kind of family time together, there were few distractions, lots of unstructured activity, and no fixed schedules.  My parents and sister were troopers and year after year they drove up treacherous mountain roads, participated in nature walks, attended the evening ranger talks, and stayed in places that were not particularly luxurious.  During those trips my parents often shared their own memories of going to the woods in Poland before the war.  My mother talked about the delicious mushrooms that she picked and dried, to be used in soups all year long.  My father spoke about the gypsies that came through each year, setting up camp in the woods, entertaining the locals with their small circus act.  Those trips were definitely planned by Norm, who always insisted that we start at the visitor center and who always left the parks with a patch that he planned to sew on a wool blanket one day.

This past weekend we went camping for the first time in many years.  I loved every minute of it and on Sunday morning when I knew that we would have to pack up and leave, I stayed in our small two-person tent as long as I could.  It had rained the night before and I was enjoying that cozy feeling of being warm and comfortable in a very small space.  Eventually I got up and walked out into the crisp morning air, and there stood Norm, still a Boy Scout at heart, slowly stirring a pot of grits, frying up eggs, making fresh coffee, and buttering up the toast.  When we came home, I was still thinking about all those past trips that we had taken with our children and parents and realized that something was missing.  This time Norm forgot to buy a patch.  I guess we’ll have to go back soon.

Cheesy Grits

1 cup Falls Mill White Corn Grits.

1 Tb sweet butter

dash of salt

8 oz. sharp grated sharp cheddar cheese

Place grits in bowl and cover with water, and stir so light bran will rise to the top.  Carefully pour off water and light bran. In the meantime bring 2 cups of water to a boil with 1 Tb butter and 1/2 tsp salt. Add grits and reduce heat to low, cover pot and cook for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Grits should be thick and creamy.  Add cheese, ground pepper, and a little milk if needed.  Serves 4
Enjoy,

Irene

Winter Squash filled with Garbanzo Beans, Dried Cranberries, and Caramelized Onions

If  you are the kind of person who looks for changes that occur with each season, even subtle changes, you might notice that the leaves are not as bright as they were during the summer.  Their beauty is not in any way diminished, it is just different.  The Fall palette is everywhere.  Inside my home, autumn is reflected in the color of the tablecloths, candles, floral arrangements, and even in the foods that come from the kitchen.  The bright greens, reds, and yellows of summer vegetables are gone, replaced with oranges, purples, burgundy, and softer shades of green.  The youthfulness of summer is just a memory, overshadowed by a more mature Fall season, a season that presents us with a range of colors, a more complex season.  We leave a certain kind of fun behind, but in its’ stead, we welcome inspiration.  Who can help but sigh when looking out over the Hudson River Valley,  seeing shades of every color, mixed together by Mother Nature, our greatest artist.  We attempt to duplicate her sense of color in our fall kitchen.  We roast root vegetables that mimic the purple and orange leaves that take our breath away, we braise stews and large cuts of meat, reminiscent of the earthy tones of fall, flecked with herbs, like leaves still clinging to the trees.

The shift comes in other ways as well. We slowly move away from outdoor activities to puzzles and board games that we can play in the quiet and warmth of our homes.  Beach Boys give way to “Autumn Leaves.”   I begin to think about new dishes using this palette, celebrating the new season, and welcoming it into our garden, our home, and our landscape.  Like a friend I haven’t seen for a while, I can’t wait to spend time with her and see what we can create, together.

                                                                            Scenes from The Hudson River Valley

Winter Squash Baked with Garbanzo Beans and Dried Cranberries

One large piece of  winter squash, cut, and hollowed it.

2 Tsp cinnamon

1 Tb olive oil

Mix oil and cinnamon and rub into the entire inside surface of the squash.  Bake on parchment paper lined cookie sheet at 350 degrees till flesh is easily pierced with a knife.  About 30 minutes.

Filling

4 brown onions

1/3 cup olive oil

1 cup dried cranberries

1 large can garbanzo beans, drained

2 tsp honey

Pomegranate Molasses

Slice onions in wedges and place in frying pan with enough water to cover.  Bring to a boil and cook for about 5 minutes.  Drain onions and place  in dry frying pan with the olive oil.  Increase flame to medium heat, add honey, and allow onions to caramelize, lowering heat after several minutes till you achieve the desired golden color.  In a large bowl combine garbanzo beans, dried cranberries, and a dash of salt and pepper.  Add 2-3 Tb pomegranate molasses and adjust seasoning to taste.  Gently spoon filling into hollowed out squash,  gently cover surface with caramelized onions, cover with foil and bake for about 45 minutes at 350.  Great side dish for brisket or roast chicken.   Serves  6-8

Enjoy,

Irene

Micheline’s Creme Caramel

We are standing in the kitchen together again, as we have for more than 50 years, but this time we weren’t in her kitchen.  The location doesn’t seem to matter, we have an easy rhythm that two people share when they are just happy to be together.  Like a duet, effortless, even though we hadn’t practiced in a long time.  We shop, cook, eat, drink, and talk, and after resting we start all over again.  I learned that our Uncle David was going to be a rabbi, she learned that my favorite wine is Vouvray.   We have history, both genetic and the kind that comes from having lived in close proximity to each other, and despite our mature ages, she is still my role model.  I am astonished that she arrives to cook with perfectly done hair and make-up, wearing a twin sweater-set she could just as easily have been dressed for an afternoon at the museum.

On Friday afternoon Micheline took center stage, no recipe in hand to guide her, just years of practice and the experience of having prepared this dish hundreds of times.  I stood and watched, still learning from my cousin who has already taught me so much about food, family, and life.

After the first day of Yontif,  Micheline went home, and we discovered a brown bag with her custard pan, the slightly larger pan which she uses for a Bain-marie , along with the small Corningware pot that she uses to make her caramel.  I called her to see if we should ship them to her, but she said to keep them.  Now those pans belong to my son and daughter-in-law.  May they use them in good health, and have them as a reminder of the wonderful Rosh Hashana that they created for the family.  Maybe one day they too will make crème caramel.

I called  Micheline this morning and she asked me to share this part of the story.  That afternoon, she trustingly left me to watch over the crème caramel while she ran to the market.  I over-baked it and “ruined it.”   I hope she will forgive me, but it was a lesson well learned and one I don’t think I will ever forget.  There is still so much to learn.  Chag Sameach.

Photo taken by Glenda Amit

Micheline’s Creme Caramel
(original recipe from Mireille)

Custard

8 egg yolks and 4 whole eggs

1/4 cup sugar

1 quart whole milk

dash of salt

2 tsp vanilla

In a large mixing bowl, mix eggs with sugar, then add milk and salt, ending with vanilla.  Set aside.

 

Caramel

1 cup sugar

water to cover

To make the caramel, place sugar in a small saucepan and add just enough water to cover the sugar, no more than that.  Place pan on stove over medium heat.  Do not stir.  Allow syrup to boil until it starts to turn dark brown.  Then quickly remove from the heat and immediately pour into baking dish, tilting pan till bottom is covered with caramel.

 

Pour custard over caramel.  Place larger pan in the oven and put custard-filled pan inside of it.  Carefully add cold water in between the two pans, 2/3 up the side.  Not too much!  We don’t want it to flow over into the crème caramel.

Set oven temperature to 350° F.  and bake for about 30 minutes. The water should not boil during baking. The custard is done when it has set, which you can test by inserting a  knife which should come out clean.  DO NOT OVERBAKE. Allow the custard to cool completely, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate till serving time.  To serve, run a knife along the outside and turn over onto a dessert plate.  Serves 10-12

Enjoy,

Irene

Moroccan Carrots

 

Photo taken by Elizabeth Saiger

They are almost like characters in a book, these relatives that I have heard so much about but never had the opportunity to meet.  The baker, the grocer, and the tanner.  Yisroel (Isser) Gutman, my maternal grandfather, the one who I know the most about, owned a tannery in Mogielnica.  Is it coincidence or did I purposely seek out the stories of my namesake?  What I do know is that he was observant, davening in Shul three times a day, leaving little time to spend with his family.  My mother told us how he maimed himself to avoid conscription into the Polish army out of fear that he would be forced to eat “treif.

My favorite story was the one of his great adventure.  One night, long before the war, Isser left his home in the middle of the night, while everyone else was asleep,  to rendezvous with an uncle with who had concocted a plan.  They had hired a driver with a horse and wagon to meet them at a certain hour and take them to the port where they boarded a ship bound for the United States.  Apparently when my grandmother woke up that morning and heard the news, she went to the port to stop him, but it was too late.  Yes, my grandfather left his family without any discussion, but I prefer to think about the great lengths that he undertook to improve their lot.  Isser stayed in New York for about a year, but we don’t know anything about his life there.  Did he work as a tanner, did he live on the Lower East side, where I imagine him living, was he happy, lonely, prosperous?  We know that my grandmother refused to join him in this “heathen” land and eventually Isser returned to Poland and neither she nor he survived

I think of Isser more often during this time of year because of two stories that connect him to the holidays.  One was that he would insist on eating all of his meals in the sukkah no matter how bad the weather was, forcing my grandmother to carry his food out to him while the rest of the family ate inside.  The other story is that the head of the fish, which was considered not only a delicacy but also a symbol of good fortune, was always saved for my grandfather on Rosh Hashana, out of deference and respect.

We didn’t make fish for Rosh Hashana but we did serve other symbolic foods.  Dates and pomegranates, beets and kreplach, (kreplach represent our concealed fate for the coming year.)  In Yiddish the word for carrots is mehren, a word that also means multiply or increase, so they too were included.  I like to slice them and drizzle them with olive oil so that they look like a bowl of glistening golden coins, a reminder of the riches we hope for in the New Year.  Riches that come in the form of enjoying good health, from spending time with family, and from remembering and sharing the stories that have enriched my life.   These carrots, although not an Ashkenazi dish, remind me of Isser who wanted more from life and tried his best to achieve it.  G’mar Hatimah Tovah.

Moroccan Carrots

2 pounds large carrots, peeled and sliced into coin size thickness

1/3 cup olive oil

juice of two lemons

5 garlic cloves, minced

2 tsp ground cumin

salt and pepper to taste

Boil sliced carrots in a large pot of water for about 8 minutes.  Drain under cold water.  Place carrots in bowl and toss with remaining ingredients.  Adjust seasoning.  Sprinkle with chopped cilantro if desired.  Serves 6-8 as a side dish.

Enjoy,

Irene

 

Kitchen Safety Tips for the New Year

To all of you whose support, comments, constructive suggestions, and encouragement have kept me going,  Shana Tovah.  May this coming year be filled with health, happiness and joy.  First and foremost here are some tips to keep us all “safe” in the place we love to spend time, our kitchens.

 Houston Fire Department (HFD) Offers Cooking Safety Tips

HFD reminds residents that cooking is the number one cause of residential fires and is preventable by following these safety tips:
• Always, have a working smoke detector!
• Over half the people attempting to extinguish a kitchen fire are injured. Often the best advice is to get everyone out of the house and call the fire department (911) from a neighbor’s house.
• Use a moderate cooking temperature
• Don’t overfill the container
• If you must leave the kitchen, turn the burner off (Unattended cooking is the primary cause of kitchen fires. Over half of these are grease/oil fires.)
• Turn pot handles away from the front of the stove. Curious children may reach up and grab the handle, pulling the hot contents down on themselves.
• Don’t position handles over another burner, it may catch on fire or burn someone who touches it.
• Wear short sleeves or tight fitting long sleeves when cooking to reduce a clothing fire hazard.
• Shield yourself from scalding steam when lifting lids from hot pans.
• Make sure pot holders are not too close to the stove. They could catch fire!
• Keep ovens, broilers, stove tops, and exhaust ducts free from grease.
• If there is a fire in the oven – Turn off the oven and keep the oven door closed.
• Never try to move the pan, don’t throw water on it, and don’t put flour on it.
• If you attempt to extinguish the fire, it is best to use a class ABC multipurpose fire extinguisher. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions – stay back 6 to 8 feet and be careful not to spray the grease out of the pan. Baking soda can also smother the fire. Fires can double in size every 30 seconds.

Vegetable Confetti

Certain rituals signaled that the holidays were approaching.  The parquet floors of our apartment were waxed, the silver Kiddush cups, candelabra, sugar bowl and prongs (used to pick up the sugar cubes) were polished , new dresses were bought, and shoes were purchased at Buster Brown.  I still remember walking up several stairs to the little platform in the middle of the store so that our feet could be x-rayed, insuring a proper fitting shoe.

On Rosh Hashana the four of us went to Shul, something we only did on the holidays.  Everyone got dressed up and when we returned home for the Yontif meal, the table was “dressed” as well.  My mother spared no expense during a holiday, it was her way of transmitting the significance of the day to her children.  As a child I loved it all, but only now do I understand that despite the hard work, my mother’s happiness stemmed from being able to take care of her family.  May your year be filled with abundance and beauty,  and the gift of having family to take care of.  Gut Yontif, Gut Yohr.

Vegetable Confetti (pretty enough for Rosh Hashana)

3 large eggplants, diced into 1” pieces

6 large peppers, two each of,  red, yellow and orange, cored and diced

1 red onion, peeled and diced

3 ears of corn, kernels removed

2/3 cup of olive oil

1 dozen cloves of fresh garlic, peeled and left whole

2 tsp salt

2 tsp pepper

2 Tb honey

Take two cookie sheets and line them with parchment paper.  Place diced eggplant on one sheet, peppers and onion on the other.  Divide remaining ingredients between the two trays of vegetables and toss to coat with seasonings and olive oil.  Roast vegetables at 425 degrees for about 30 minutes or till tender and caramelized, stirring occasionally.  Note: Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds for the holidays.

Enjoy,

Irene