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

 

Baby Eggplants with Plum Tomatoes

As the summer comes to an end, my thoughts are beginning to turn to Rosh Hashana.  These long, lazy days will soon be replaced with an onslaught of holidays and the frenzy of preparation.  I wonder if my Mother compiled lists in her head as I have already begun to do.  In some ways, even without the modern conveniences of food processors and dishwashers, things were simpler.  The menus were standard,  Yontif meals were at home or with family that lived close by, and although everything  was hand-made, her days were orderly and divided into tasks.  There was shopping, baking, cooking, and dealing with that carp in the bathtub.  Baking day meant the large wooden board and rolling-pin were placed on the dining room table where she would prepare homemade noodles, challahs, and roll out the thin dough for favorkes (something like wonton skins,  fried and served in the soup.)  The next day the Gefilte Fish, Kreplach, and Chicken Soup were prepared.   Just hours before Erev Rosh Hashana, the last details were given her fullest attention.  Garlic chicken and potatoes were roasted in the oven along with a sweet bread pudding.  On top of the stove was a pot of simmering sweet carrots with a knaidle in the middle.  A green salad was easily assembled and there was always an apple cake for dessert.

My life seems far less predictable in some ways.  As each holiday approaches, I now wonder if I will be at home in Los Angeles, or on the East Coast with my children.  The menus change from year to year, incorporating whatever the new food rage is, quinoa, kale chips, freekah, etc.  The number of vegetable dishes increase, and the brisket has lost its place as the centerpiece of the holiday meal.

As I step into my yard,  I see the changes that are taking place there as well.  My summer garden is coming to an end which means we are harvesting the last of the tomatoes and eggplants.  That leads me to think about fall, wondering which vegetables to plant in spite of the nagging uncertainty of how they will grow.  As I contemplate both the past and the future,  it is 25 years ago today that my youngest son was born.  A quarter of a century has passed and our hope is that his future be filled with love, health, and happiness, on his birthday and in the New Year.  For him,  for us, and for all of you.

The last of the garden tomatoes and eggplants

Sautéed Baby Eggplants ad Plum Tomatoes

12 baby eggplants, firm and unblemished, peeled and sliced into 1″ pieces

1 large onion, diced

12 plum or Roma tomatoes, diced

1 tsp Piment d’Espellete ( or substitute red chili powder)

1/3 cup olive oil

5 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp freshly ground pepper

cilantro

In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil and add the diced onion.  Saute onion till golden and then add minced garlic.  Saute for a minute and add sliced eggplant.  Add salt, pepper, and Piment d’Espellete.  Lower heat to a simmer, and cover pan, allowing eggplant to cook through.  This takes about 30 minutes. Then uncover and add diced tomatoes.  Cook eggplant for another 20 minutes, again over a low flame.  Serve hot or at room temperature with chopped fresh cilantro sprinkled on top.

Enjoy,

Irene

Grilled Short Ribs

We shared a room until the day she moved away from home.  Meticulous by nature, my sister used to draw an imaginary line across our bedroom, a line that I was not allowed to cross.  Eight years older than I, Anita was more than just my big sister.  She was my role model.  Her shoes always matched her purses, her hair was what the 60s demanded of curly-haired girls, ironed, straightened and made to conform to the necessary flip that was all the rage.  She took me to museums, bought me dolls and books, introduced me to new foods and exposed me to the exotic East Village, home of the Beatniks.  This past weekend my sister and I once again shared a bedroom, as I kept her company while she’s recovering from a broken leg.  We watched movies, reminisced, wrote down our family history, drank wine, and laughed.  The best part was getting to be the “Big Sister” to my big sister, a role that I must admit I relish.  The one thing I couldn’t do for her was cook, and so now that I am back home, I thought about what I would have made for her had I been able to.  My mother always fed us beef when we needed to gain strength, firmly believing that red meat had restorative properties.  A plate of ribs for my sister, that would be perfect.  Speedy recovery shvester!

Grilled Short Ribs
3 to 4 lbs of bone-in Short Ribs
1/3 cup Brown Sugar
1 tsp Pepper
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Cumin
1 tsp Garlic Powder
1 tsp Paprika
6 Tb red wine vinegar
Combine spices and rub into short ribs.  Place ribs, flat side down, in glass baking dish in one snug layer, cover with foil  and allow to marinate in fridge overnight or for at least several hours.  When ready to prepare, sprinkle ribs with red wine vinegar, and cover tightly with aluminum foil.  Bake at 300 degrees for 2 1/2 hours.
Rib Glaze (adapted from Spirit of Tennessee)
1 cup Jack Daniel’s Whiskey
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup ketchup
1/4 cup vinegar
3 cloves garlic
salt and pepper
Combine all ingredients in small bowl.
Make glaze and brush on ribs while grilling, basting each time you turn the ribs.  Grill on lowest heat for about an hour or till ribs are tender.
Enjoy,
Irene

Susan’s Mini Corn Muffins

The stoop was not just an architectural feature of many of the buildings in The Bronx, it was much more than that.  In addition to flanking the entryway to the building , it was the place to linger, to hang out and have what my older son refers to as a “stop and chat.”  It even served as a destination because plans were often made to meet up with friends at “the stoop”  The boys played stoop ball and the girls used the same pink Spalding ball to play “A my name,” a children’s game where you continuously bounced the ball and turned your leg over the ball on the word that contained the letter of the alphabet that was being emphasized.   i.e. A my name is Anita and my husband’s name is Al, we come from Alabama and we sell Apples.  It wasn’t until about 7 years ago on a trip to Brooklyn when I bought several “spaldines” and discovered that we had mispronounced Spalding all these years.

My friend Saul likes to make fun of the days I spent hanging out at the stoop but to this day I smile when I am in NYC and see that kids and adults are still doing it.  After spending those hot summer days lingering around the stoop I would go upstairs and have an ice-cold glass of milk with an afternoon snack.  If my mother were here, she would tell you that had the milk been out of the fridge and on the counter for more than one minute, I would refuse to drink it.  The snacks?  My favorite were, iced brownies with walnuts, black and white cookies, Chinese cookies, or a corn muffin split in half and lathered in butter.   The stoops are in The Bronx and I am in L.A. , but the corn muffins are in the kitchen, hot and fresh from the oven, and the milk is still in the fridge.

 

Susan’s Mini Corn Muffins

2 cups yellow cornmeal

2 cups flour

1/2 cup sugar

2 Tb baking powder

2 tsp salt

2/3 cup oil

2 eggs

2 cups milk

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.  In a large bowl, mix dry ingredients.  Combine oil, eggs, and milk in a small bowl, and add to dry ingredients till just combined.  Grease mini muffin tins well and fill to the top.  Bake for about 8 minutes using a convection oven or about 10 minutes in a conventional oven.  Makes 24 muffins.

Enjoy,

Irene

Summer Fruit Cobbler

My father had a story to tell but unfortunately I was not ready to hear it when he was alive.  I know that he was the youngest of seven children and that his father died shortly after my father was born.  I don’t recall my father sharing many stories about his siblings, extended family or even his mother.  Perhaps the loss was so painful that he just couldn’t bring himself to speak of them, or maybe he thought his stories couldn’t compete with my mother’s colorful delivery.  Either way, there are holes in the family history and nobody left to ask.

My mother was a storyteller and spoke warmly of her large family and their lives in the small shtetl of Mogielnica.  We grew up hearing about my maternal grandfather’s tannery, about her aunt who owned the bakery in town and whose sisters were also bakers, about her unruly brothers who she clearly adored.  The meals, the food, the holidays, the memories were vivid and sharp and I can recall many of them to this day.

My daughter recently traveled to Germany and realized that she doesn’t know as much about my family as she had thought.  She has asked me to write down what information I have, but I must admit it is very limited.  It is a tall order and it feels like I am trying to recreate something without knowing all the ingredients.  So instead, I spent the afternoon baking a Fruit Cobbler, in memory of all the family bakers that preceded me, and in honor of my daughter who wants to know more and is ready to ask.

 

Fruit Cobbler

1 stick butter

1 cup flour

1 cup sugar

1 Tb baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 cup milk

4 cups fruit ( I used blackberries and peaches)

1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

Place butter in a large round baking dish and melt in a 375 degree oven.  In the meantime, mix 1 cup of sugar with the flour, salt, and baking powder.  Add milk, stirring gently but not thoroughly.  Pour batter over melted butter but do not stir.

In a medium pot, cook fruit with sugar and cinnamon for just a few minutes.  Pour over batter and sprinkle with more cinnamon.  Bake for about 45 minutes or till golden brown.  There is liquid in the center even when the cobbler is fully baked, just take the juices and spoon over each serving.  Serves 8

Enjoy,

Irene

 

Italian Sausage and Peppers

Recently I have eaten more hot dogs, hamburgers, and sausages than I normally would in the span of a few weeks, mainly because it’s summertime and everyone is busy grilling.  Typically I would try a bit of everything but as the weeks have gone by I realized that hamburgers (even the Brazilian style burger we made with a pan-fried egg on top) just can’t compete with a really good hot dog or sausage.  When I was growing up franks and sausages were part of the culinary scene among both Jewish and Italian immigrants.  Three preparations come to mind.

The salty scent of frankfurters remind me of Ben’s Kosher Deli which was located on the Concourse and 183rd Street.  The hot dogs were prepared in the front window where they shared center stage with salamis, large and small, suspended from the ceiling, drying.  The hot dog buns were the perfect texture, soft and fresh, the mustard was traditional yellow deli mustard, and the sauerkraut warmed to just the right temperature.  Of course the only suitable drink was a Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda.  The best part of the meal was undoubtedly the first bite, because nothing could compare to that immediate burst of flavor.

Another favorite was a dish my mother made using kosher knockwurst, a larger, plumper hot dog.  According to my sister it was called choucroute and my mother learned to make it in France.  The preparation was simple.  My mother would dice a large onion and brown it in a little vegetable oil in a large pot.  She would then take a jar of sauerkraut and rinse it, and add it to the caramelized onions, along with about 3 cups of water.  To this she would add a few meaty beef bones, season the dish with salt and pepper, cover and cook it for about an hour and a half.  She would then add a package of knockwurst and let simmer for another hour.  It was a hearty winter dish, served steaming hot on top of mashed potatoes.

Finally, if you went to the Bartolinis on a Sunday,  you would get a whiff of the Italian version of frankfurters, Italian Sausage and Peppers.  A simple dish that combined sausages, onions, and green bell peppers, all sautéed till golden brown and piled into a crusty Italian roll.

For those of you would never consider eating hot dogs and sausages, there are now vegetarian, chicken, turkey, tofu and “low-fat” versions.  Personally, I prefer mine fully leaded, with either a cold cream soda or a beer.

Italian Sausage and Peppers

6 Italian sausages, cut in large chunks  (try Jeff’s, Neshama or Jack’s )

2 large brown onions, cut in half and then thinly sliced

2 large green Bell peppers, sliced

3 Tb olive oil

Heat olive oil and over a high flame, browning  sausages.  Add onions and peppers, reduce flame and cook till onions are caramelized and peppers are tender.  Add some chili flakes if you like it hot.  Pile high in a crusty Italian roll.

Enjoy,

Irene