Oven-Roasted Herb Tomatoes

photo-2 copy 2It was the summer of 1972,  I was 16 years old and I was going to Israel for the first time. The trip was organized by Hadassah, six weeks long, we were to spend a week on kibbutz, a week on Gadna (pre-army training camp) at Sde Boker, and the remaining month touring.  After we arrived, we drove to Jerusalem and were taken to our residence, Beit Riklis on Mt Scopus.  There was a brief orientation after which we were sent to our rooms and told ” lights out.”   But we were 16 year olds, naïve and foolish, and it didn’t take long before we decided to sneak out.  We began walking down the road  but our adventure soon ended when a Volkswagen pulled over and the driver, a middle-aged man, asked who we were, what we were doing, and where we were going.  He yelled at us, and made us pile into the car so he could return us to the safety of the dorm.  That was the first, but not the last, time that we got into trouble that summer, a summer filled with adventure and new experiences, exactly as it should have been.

Of course, I remember the food as well, my first taste of Falafel, of ice-cold Choco, of perfectly diced Israeli salads made with ripe red tomatoes and crunchy cucumbers, the centerpiece of those incredibly lavish Israeli breakfasts (my normal breakfast of Frosted Flakes and milk was no match).

For weeks now, Israel is never far from our thoughts.  We worry, listen to the news on an hourly basis, and check in with family and friends who live there.  I spend time reminiscing, thinking about that summer, and the year that I later spent on Kibbutz Usha.  I think about how lucky I was to have those experiences, as were my husband and children during the time they spent in Israel.  I think about how different this summer is, and hope that very soon, Israeli teenagers will once again be living in peace, and American teenagers will once again be taking their first trips to Israel, getting into trouble, and having a summer filled with adventure and new experiences, exactly as it should be.

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Sde Boker 1972

 

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Oven-Roasted Herb Tomatoes

When I spent time with our family friends on Kfar Meishar, a Moshav outside of Gedera,  I was always amazed at how quickly delicious salads would appear on the table, with what appeared to be little effort.  With a surplus of tomatoes in the garden,  many of which I used for Israeli salad, I decided to roast some.  I sliced them, placed them in a glass dish (avoid using metal that could react with the tomatoes) sprinkled them with a small handful of chopped herbs, also from the garden ( I used sage, oregano, rosemary and tarragon),  added 6 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced, a little sea salt and  drizzled Israeli olive oil over the top. They were a great addition to a breakfast of fried eggs, feta cheese and olives.

Bake at 325 for about 1 1/2 hours.

Enjoy,

Irene

Sweet and Savory Hot Wings

photo-6Christopher Columbus High School was considered one of the top performing schools in The Bronx, but to be perfectly honest that was not why I chose to go there (although I’d like to think that I wouldn’t have considered it if it had a poor reputation.)   The real reason was that I had just spent three years in an all girls middle school, and had no desire to go on to an all girls high school. Enough was enough.

Looking back I realize that the co-ed aspect of my high school experience wasn’t significant.  The most important lessons I learned had little to do with boys or academics, and everything to do with the people I met and their approach to life.  For the first time I found myself among students and teachers who were passionate, engaged, and involved.  There was Mr. Dubow, whose love of the French language was contagious.  Miss Silberstang, the art teacher who inspired and pushed me to do better on a daily basis, Miss Pakula, an English teacher who also taught drama, and whose encouragement and good nature appeared to be endless, and Mr. Tannenbaum, who taught me Hebrew in a way that I had never experienced in all  my years of Hebrew school.

I had a friend who suddenly and secretly flew to Moscow to participate in a protest on behalf of  Soviet Jewry.  I met students who were active in Zionist organizations and were strongly committed to living in Israel, some who were Betarniks and others from Hashomer Hatzair.  For the first time in my life I met drama students, and art students ,who like myself, spent hours working on portfolios.  I met students who cared about the world, and teachers who cared about us.  Both inside and outside of the classroom, I learned that passion was a great motivator.  It’s the lesson that I still try to remember each day.

Recently I found out that Christopher Columbus is closing its doors, the result of  poor academic performance and low graduation rates.   I am sad that other students won’t experience what I experienced during my years in a great high school, in a great neighborhood, in a great borough.  Goodbye, Columbus.

Goodbye Columbus (a poem in the Anchor Yearbook of 1973 )
“…. May every season…winter, spring, summer or fall….add new phases to your life, when you will more vividly remember saying hello rather than goodbye….”
The foods I craved most during my high school years were pizza, hot dogs with sauerkraut, and black and white cookies.  I  still eat those same foods on almost every trip back East, but in recent years we have been introduced to hot wings, and they have become a family favorite.
Sweet and Savory Hot Wings
2 dozen wings cut in half or the same number of winnetz, which is just the little drumstick part of the wing.
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
5 Tb pareve margarine
Preheat oven to 475 degrees.  Season wings with salt and pepper and place on cookie sheets in a single layer. Bake at 475 till crisp on one side and then turn over and continue baking.  Total baking time is about one hour.  In the meantime, melt margarine over low flame and mix in large bowl with sriracha and brown sugar.  When wings are done toss them in the  bowl of sauce till well coated.  Reheat before serving for about 10-15 minutes.  Serve with a pareve ranch dressing.
Enjoy,
Irene

Whitefish Salad

photo-19We landed in Montreal, a city that neither of us had visited before, and in spite of my many trips to Toronto, clearly this was a very different part of Canada.  As my daughter and I strolled around old town, walking on cobblestone streets, surrounded by French speakers, I couldn’t help but wonder how my parents had felt when they first arrived in Paris just a year or so after the war.
As we explored the various neighborhoods, we enjoyed wonderful meals in small Bistros, every evening trying a different salmon preparation, accompanied by good wine and ending with a fairly rich dessert.  Each morning we left our hotel with a list of coffee shops and bakeries that had come highly recommended.  It soon became clear that those addresses were not needed because the scent of butter-laden pastries just coming out of the oven could be detected blocks away.  Twice in three days, we visited Boulangerie Kouign-Amann where we enjoyed freshly baked croissants, sampling the plain, chocolate, and almond.  Of course we also had to try the pastry that the shop is named after, Kouign-Amann,  similar to a croissant but both top and bottom layers are made of a thin crispy coating of caramelized sugar.
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One afternoon we made our way to a local greasy spoon, not a place or an area that I think attracts very many tourists, but we were on a mission to eat a vegetarian version of  Poutine, a common Québécois dish of fries topped with cheese curds and smothered in gravy.
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On the morning we planned to have the famous Montreal bagels for breakfast, subject of much debate among people who engage in bagel war conversations, we took the Metro to the area known as Mile End, a neighborhood where waves of immigrants had once settled, Jews among them.  The bagels were smaller than New York bagels and slightly sweet, first boiled and then baked in a wood-fired oven.  As we munched on our warm bagels slathered in cream cheese (sadly there was no whitefish salad)  we passed spice stores, vintage shops, and cafes, and my guess is that new immigrants now settle elsewhere.
We turned a corner and came to an area with a Shul, a kollel, a kosher market and bakery, discovering a community of Belzer Hasidim nestled among the trendy shops.  Suddenly I heard Yiddish, saw sprinkle cookies, looked at faces whose features were clearly Eastern European and once again I imagined  how my parents might have felt wandering around the streets of Paris and suddenly seeing Hasids walking towards them.  No doubt it would have made them smile, and I smiled as well.   The only thing missing was whitefish salad.
Whitefish Salad
1 whole smoked whitefish, about 1 pound.
1/4 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp sesame oil
1 Tb minced shallot
3 Tb mayonnaise
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Skin fish and very carefully remove from bones.  Mix with sugar, sesame oil, minced shallot and mayo to taste.  I like my fish flaked and not too mushy.  Serves 2-4.
Enjoy,
Irene

Stuffed Eggplant Rolls

photo-16Nir and Guy arrived at my home early Sunday afternoon, carrying shopping bags filled with fresh groceries they had just purchased at the local Persian market.  Although we hadn’t met before, these young Israelis, full of personality and charm, quickly made themselves at home.  Promoting their company, Puzzle Israel,  (which provides a unique approach to touring) they come to the U.S several times a year offering cooking classes and demonstrations.

The class was hands-on, and with everyone participating we all had a good time. There was a station in the kitchen for the meat dishes and a station in the dining room for salads and dessert.  The menu included freshly baked Foccacia,  chicken liver stuffed mushrooms, salmon ceviche salad, cabbage salad, and eggplant rolls filled with ground beef.  Dessert was a dish of baked bananas with a biscuit Halvah topping.

When I asked Guy how he expanded from culinary arts to the touring industry, he said “cooking is the best way of making connections.”  How right he is. 

Stuffed Eggplant Rolls

2 globe eggplants

1 1/2 pounds ground beef, not too lean

1/3 pound Medjool dates, pitted and coarsely chopped

olive oil

1 purple onion, finely diced

1 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.   Slice the eggplants to a 1/4 inch thickness.  Layer slices on a greased cookie sheet and drizzle olive oil over both sides.  Bake for about 20 minutes until slices are golden brown and tender but do not overbake.  In a bowl, combine ground beef with dates, onion, salt and pepper.  After eggplant has cooled, place about 1 Tb of mixture on edge of each slice of eggplant, roll up and layer in greased baking dish. Place in 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes.  Serve hot.

Enjoy,

Irene

Beet and Blood Orange Salad

IMG_2186I grew up hearing stories of my grandmothers and their preparations for Passover, most of which began way in advance of the holiday.  The walls had to be whitewashed, the geese had to be slaughtered and the goose fat rendered, and the down pillows were opened so that the feathers could be cleaned and re-stuffed into new ticking.  Then there was the shopping and cooking.  With large families, and no take-out or prepared foods available, everything was made at home.  I was told that my maternal grandmother baked an enormous sponge-cake every morning,  made with 12 dozen eggs, a cake large enough so everyone could have a piece for breakfast.  I wish I knew my grandmothers, these women who worked tirelessly to keep their traditions and whose efforts made lasting impressions on their children and on the grandchildren they never had the chance to meet.

I think of my mother’s preparations for Passover and wonder how much she was influenced by her own childhood experiences.  I think of my children and wonder if there are pieces they will choose to keep from their childhood.  Do they remember that the glass dishes soaked in the bathtub for days, that they were made to clean their dresser drawers while keeping an eye out for pieces of gum or candy that might have been missed.  That the trunk of the car was loaded with all the cutlery, pots and pans that had to be toivled at the synagogue and then driven to the car wash so that the back seats could be lifted and vacuumed?  Or my personal favorite which was hiding the chametz around the house and searching for it by candlelight?

I too am starting to think of Passover and I remember specific foods that my mother always had on hand during the holidays.  Home-made beet borscht for one, the cold version that had sour cream mixed in which turned it into the color of bubble gum, but which I never did acquire a taste for.  When I met my friend Susan T., I discovered a meat version of beet borscht, made with short ribs and served piping hot with a generous dollop of mashed potatoes mixed with fried onions, heaped in the center of the soup bowl and suddenly I discovered how good beets could be.  Eventually there were other preparations that I now love, like beets paired with goat cheese and walnuts, or simply roasted and drizzled with an aged balsamic vinegar.

I wish my grandmothers had lived to see how Passover is observed in the homes of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  I imagine that they would shep naches knowing that their descendents make an effort to get together for the seders, that we care enough to argue over issues like kitniyot, that we have dishes like beet salad whose ingredients they would still recognize as being familiar, and that no matter how many of us there are, we make sure there is enough cake so that everyone can have a piece for breakfast.

Beet and Blood Orange Salad

5 medium beets, use a combination of red, orange, and yellow.

Dressing

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 cup orange juice

1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses

1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar

1 medium red onion, thinly sliced, placed in cold water for 1 minute and squeezed out.

5 blood oranges, peeled, and segmented

1 cup pomegranate seeds
This is how the produce man at the farmer’s market suggested that I prepare the beets.  Take a thin slice off the top and bottom of each beet and then place beets in a pot with enough water to cover.  Bring water to a boil, lower heat to medium, and cook beets until they can be easily pierced with the tip of a knife.  Cool just enough to be able to handle beets and then peel by rubbing skin off with your fingers.  The skin will easily fall off.
Cut beets into 1/3-inch-thick wedges and place in a large bowl with orange segments and onion. Top with pomegranate seeds. Whisk orange juice, pomegranate molasses, vinegar, and olive oil.  Dress salad and add salt and pepper to taste.  Serves 4-6
Enjoy,
Irene

 

Chicken Taquitos

IMG_2145Some family patterns are repeated from generation to generation.  When I was growing up it wasn’t unusual for my mother to make three different entrees for the four of us.  My parents would share one main course, but in addition, my mother often prepared whatever it was that my sister and I each craved.  I now see that it was just a “crazy” thing to do, but it is a pattern that I repeated with my own children.  Food was love and nobody was ever expected to eat something they didn’t care for.  Meals were about enjoyment, pleasure, and indulgence.

Last week all four of my adult children were coming to town to attend the wedding of family friends.  Two were arriving in time for Shabbat and not knowing exactly what each one would want for dinner, I covered all the bases.  I prepared enough food for ten, completely unable to cook for four.  I made Matboucha (a Moroccan tomato salad) to start with, followed by chicken soup with matzoh balls.  The main course included shredded brisket that was braised for ten hours, baked honey garlic chicken, roast potatoes, sautéed Bok Choy with shiitake mushrooms, and a green salad.  Dessert was fruit, and brownies covered with a layer of caramel and sea salt, an Ina Garten recipe.  I guess I went overboard, but as a result we had lots of leftovers.  On top of it all, I still had to do something with that soup chicken.  My mother used to serve the soup chicken as a main course (one reason that she was forced to make something different for my sister and me,) and my mother-in-law used it as filling for knishes or shepard’s pie.  I decided to make Chicken Taquitos.

During the course of the weekend, as the kids devoured the Taquitos, they shared some “constructive criticism.”  One son suggested that next time I might consider adding some diced potatoes or chunks of avocado, and another said the Taquitos could   have used more seasoning and cilantro.

On Wednesday morning we woke up to a much quieter household and I decided to get up and clean out the fridge before I left for work.  The leftovers were gone as were three of the four children, and there wasn’t a Taquito in sight.

Chicken Taquitos

4 large cooked chicken breasts

4 green onions, thinly sliced

½ cup chicken broth

24 corn tortillas.  4 1/2 inch size

2 tbsp canola oil plus oil for frying

1 tsp salt and ½ tsp pepper
In a large bowl, skin, bone, and shred cooked chicken, and set aside.  In 2 tbsp oil, sauté sliced green onions for about 3-4 minutes and add to shredded chicken along with salt and pepper to taste.  At this point you might want to add some diced pre-cooked potatoes, taco seasoning, chopped fresh cilantro, or some avocado chunks.  Add chicken broth to moisten the mixture.  Warm tortillas in microwave, wrapped in a slightly damp paper towel or in a tortilla warmer, till soft enough to roll.  Place about 2 tbsp of chicken mixture at the bottom part of the tortilla and roll tightly.  Place tooth pick through the flap to hold Taquito together.  Add enough oil to a large frying pan so that it is about 2 inches deep.   Place pan over med-high heat till hot, and fry Taquitos till golden brown on one side and then turn.  Cook about 3 minutes per side.  Serve hot with salsa and guacamole.  Serve 2 to 3 Taquitos per person.
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