Stuffed Potatoes (Passover)

photo 1Spring is here, Purim is over, and Passover is just weeks away.  For the third year in a row, we are going back East to celebrate Passover with our children at the home of our older son and daughter-in-law, a home where we have always felt welcomed and included, to a seder that is open to so many.  As my part of the planning begins, various family members have gently reminded me that “less is more”,  have informed me that a Seder meal doesn’t need both chicken and beef, have encouraged me to cook larger quantities of fewer dishes, and have suggested to me that a good model to follow is something apparently common in restaurants in Williamsburg, where they often specialize in a dish or two that they make really well (does that sound like a hint?).  Appreciative of everyone’s wish to make the entire process less labor intensive, easier on me, healthier, less costly, etc. I understand and hear the words in my head, but they don’t resonate in my heart.  The dictionary definition of feast is to eat and drink sumptuously.

Last night I went to bed with a plan for a stream-lined menu that felt a little bit as if the “feasting” part of Passover, as we knew it, may be a thing of the past.  This morning I thought of my mom, a woman who knew what hunger was, what deprivation meant, and who, more, than many of us, understood the importance of Passover.  When the time came for her to serve the meal, there was no doubt that you were not sitting down to a typical dinner, but to a Passover feast.  She knew that less is not more, it is just less.  That when a family gathers together to celebrate, we should celebrate to the fullest, the wine should pour freely, and the food should be plentiful and varied.  Let all who are hungry come and eat.

Ode to Fried Potatoes by Pablo Neruda

Translated from the Spanish by Maria Jacketti

The world’s joy

is spluttering,

sizzling in olive oil.

Potatoes

to be fried

enter the skillet,

snowy wings

of a morning swan –

and they leave

half-braised in gold,

gift of the crackling amber

of olives.

Garlic

embellishes the potato

with its earthy perfume,

and the pepper

is pollen that has traveled

beyond the reefs,

and so,

freshly

dressed

in a marbled suit,

plates are filled

with the echoes of potatoey abundance:

delicious simplicity of the earth

 Stuffed Potatoes 

20, thin-skinned, new white potatoes, smallish and round, about 2″ in diameter

Filling

1 tablespoon olive oil  (for turkey or chicken which needs a little extra fat)

Chopped leftover potatoes

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 pound ground chicken, beef or turkey

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 teaspoon cumin

additional olive oil for frying

Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 cloves garlic, crushed

3 medium tomatoes, diced

1 Tb Telma chicken bouillon

1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

2 cups water

To make the sauce, add olive oil to a medium-sized saucepan.  Add minced garlic and sauté for a minute or two over a low flame,  just till fragrant.  Add diced tomatoes and simmer for 5 minutes before adding remaining ingredients.  Cover and simmer for an additional 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Place potatoes on a sturdy service and carefully cut off a small slice from both the bottom and top.  Stand potato on one end and using a small sharp knife, grapefruit cutter, or melon baller, hollow out almost all of the sides and the center of  the potato.

photoFinely chop leftover potato pieces in food processor, and add to a large bowl with the other ingredients for the filling. Mix well.  Using a small spoon, stuff filling into hollowed out potatoes.  Gently sauté stuffed potatoes in olive oil till golden on all sides.  Place in oven proof casserole.  Pour the sauce over the stuffed potatoes,  cover,  and bake in a preheated oven for about 2-3  hours.   Serves 15-20 as a side dish.

Note: Number of potatoes and amount of filling varies depending on size.  Any leftover meat can be made shaped into small ktzizot (burgers), sautéed in same olive oil and added to pot.  We did that and they were great!  This is a dish that is better when it has a chance to sit so make it the day before you are planning to serve it.

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

Sheila’s Brisket

photo 2I just finished reading Russ & Daughters, a memoir written by Mark Russ Federman, now retired owner of my favorite appetizing store in NYC.  It made me think about Pesach which we spent with our children and family on the East Coast.  This year felt different, with everyone helping, all in their own way of course, there was a rhythm and ease that I had not felt before.  Some shopped, some cooked, some did prep work, some set, some supervised, and some even cleaned.  In his book Mark Federman  talked about family and how important it is to rely on them when you need them to step up, and how that not only requires the patience to teach, but the ability to let go.  Getting ready for Pesach is like running a small family business and I can only say that by the time I left, I felt that while they already knew exactly how to run a Seder, this time they learned what it takes to prepare for one.

My own memories of Pesach include scenes of my mother and Tanta Marisha, cooking together in my aunt’s kitchen. I loved watching them, it made it so much nicer that they had each had a kitchen companion, not to mention  just having another person to ask if the soup is too salty or help decide if you really need another kugel.

Over the course of two days leading up to Yontif, we prepared for 28 guests.  We had more kitchen companions than I can mention, but each one made a significant contribution, and although they were not technically all family members, they acted and felt like family.  I was thrilled to be a part of it, but the best part is knowing how well-prepared the next generation is to tell the story, carry on the traditions, and even make the brisket.  Letting go?  I guess next year Kitniyot may appear on the menu.  I look forward to finding out.

Sheila’s Brisket

Note: I changed this recipe slightly by adding a rub that I massaged into the brisket the day before cooking it, two days before the Seder.

1- 10 pound brisket, both first and second cut.

Rub

10 cloves garlic

2 tsp salt

2 tsp pepper

1 Tb paprika

2 Tb olive oil

Mix ingredients and “massage” into brisket.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

5 large brown onions, thinly sliced.

2 cups good quality Cabernet

2 cups Ketchup

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place brisket in a large roasting pan and cover with sliced onions. Combine wine with ketchup and pour on top. Cover and bake at 325 till tender. About 6 hours.  Slice cold and reheat.  Served 20 when cut with an electric knife!

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

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

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

Marisha’s Veal Roast

It is an unfortunate truth that extended family members may only get together for life cycle events, both happy and sad.  Two weeks ago many members of the Graf family came to Philadelphia, and as a result I was able to spend time with my Tante Marisha.  Marisha is now the matriarch of the family, the only person still alive of my father’s generation, and she looks great.   She and my Uncle Charlie met in Poland during the war, moved to France after the war, and then eventually settled in Lakewood, New Jersey, where I spent much of my childhood visiting them and my cousins.  I reminded my aunt that she use to call me “princess” and she reminded me that she would take me to the “market’  to help her sell hats.

Marisha arrived in Philadelphia with her sons, daughters-in-law, her eldest grandson and his wife.  Both my cousin Michel and I named our middle children David, after our fathers’ brother who died during the war.  I watched these two Davids, second cousins, both grown men, both married, both serious and both learned, talking to each other, and I was filled with a sense of continuity.  Wherever I looked, cousins were conversing and getting to know each other.  There was talk of cars, horses, gardening, art and architecture, and I was feeling strangely content despite the overwhelming sadness of the occasion.  I realize that it may be years before all the cousins get together again, and hopefully next time it will be for a happy event, but I was sure that the three brothers, Jack, Charley and Harry knew we were there, together, under one roof, for a brief time.

At one point my daughter and I were sitting with Tante Marisha when the conversation turned to food.  My aunt told us that her grandchildrens’ favorite dish is veal roast, and related that she prepares it in the same way she and my mother prepared chicken and turkey, coated with a simple mixture of minced garlic, salt and pepper, and baked till golden and tender.  I couldn’t wait to come home and make it, knowing that I would feel as if I had a bit of Marisha with me, but also wanting to preserve another recipe, and another memory, for another generation.
Marisha’s Veal Roast
8 lb Veal Roast, bones left in
10 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tb salt
1 Tb cracked pepper
1 Tb paprika
3 Tb olive oil
Make a paste of all the ingredients and rub into veal.  Place veal in roasting pan that fits snugly, cover well and refrigerate overnight.  Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees, add enough water to just come up to the bottom of the veal, cover tightly and bake for about 3 hours, basting after each hour.  Add water if needed.  Uncover for last hour to brown.  Serves 8
Enjoy,
Irene

Tongue in Spicy Tomato Sauce

Last night I attended the Annual Dinner for the non-profit where I work.  It was held at a restaurant in a very chic hotel in Los Angeles run by a chef who is known for his use of molecular gastronomy.  As I wandered around the room, I felt as if I were in a theatre where the food not only took center stage but the dishes were both unusual and magical.  Everything was bite size, with choices like Cotton Candy Foie Gras, (which I didn’t try) tiny cones filled with cream cheese and topped with salmon caviar, Caprese Salads no bigger than your thumb prepared with liquified mozzarella, and silver spoons that held “Spherical Olives” a process where the chef purees and strains olives to separate the essence, and somehow creates soft little green balls that, despite their olive flavor, are almost foam-like in consistency.  One of my favorite “bites” was the brown egg that looked as if it was soft-boiled but in fact was hollowed out and filled with Flan.

When all was said and done, I left feeling like I had experienced a great show.  I wasn’t disappointed, but I didn’t have that familiar sensation that you have when you eat a meal that is nourishing, earthy, and soulful, something like the dish I had prepared earlier in the week for a friend, Tongue in Spicy Tomato Sauce.

Tongue in Spicy Tomato Sauce

1 Beef or Calves’ Tongue

Bay Leaf

2 Large Onions

6 Cloves of Garlic

1 Green Pepper

1 tsp chili flakes

1 tsp dried oregano

1 14 oz. can tomato sauce

salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, cover Tongue with water, bring to a boil and cook for about 15 minutes. Drain and fill pot with fresh water, again making sure tongue is submerged.  Add one large onion cut in half, 1 large bay leaf, 3 cloves of garlic, a pinch of salt and about ½ tsp freshly ground pepper.  Bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer, cover pot and cook tongue for about 2 hours.  Make sure that tongue can be easily pierced with a fork before removing from heat. Allow to cool completely.

In the meantime chop a large onion and sauté in 2 tbsp olive oil till translucent, about five minutes. Add 3 cloves minced garlic, 1 tsp chili flakes, 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp dried oregano.  Saute for 2-3 minutes.  Add green pepper that you cut into strips. Then add 1-14 oz. can tomato sauce and about 1 cup water.  Cook for about 10 minutes covered, on low flame.

In the meantime, slice cold Tongue on the diagonal and add to tomato sauce. Cover and stew for about 30 minutes. Serve with rice, mashed potatoes or corn tortillas. Serves 6-8

Enjoy,

Irene

Sheila’s Perfect Beef Ribs

In a world where things are not very predictable, it is nice to know that there are some things you can always count on.  Isn’t that what comfort food is all about?  We crave what is familiar to us, a taste of something that reminds us of a particular time or place.  How pleasurable is that moment of recognition when we walk into a kitchen and instantly know which dish is simmering on the stove.  When I was growing up, I knew that if we visited Tante Marisha there would be the smell of wonderful nut cakes baking in the oven, Fanny could be counted on for the best Tzimmis, the “Mima” always made white bean soup and Micheline, well there are too many things to mention but her Creme Caramel was always my favorite.  Those associations may not be as long-lasting as an old photo but they can be just as wonderful.

I am sure that at some point my children will come to crave comfort foods and perhaps they will reminisce about certain dishes that they had at the homes of family members and friends.  My mother’s Bubelach, Fredda’s Tortilla Soup, Judy’s Salmon, Elin’s Roast Chicken, Susan’s Taquitos, Sheila’s Ribs, Rena’s Cheesecake and Susan T’s raspberry squares, along with many other dishes lovingly prepared over the years by many others.  Of course, comfort food is different for each of us.  For me, it is meat and potatoes, and any variation on the theme will do, but Sheila’s ribs hit the spot, every single time.  The only improvement would be to serve them over a bed of creamy white, steaming mashed potatoes.

Happy New Year to all of you.  I hope that  2012 is filled with good health, good friends and good food. 
Sheila’s Beef Ribs
10 Beef Ribs

1 1/2 jars of  Char.B.Que Sauce  (20 oz. size)
Place ribs in a large pot and cover with cold water.  Bring water to a boil and then reduce to medium heat. Cook ribs for about 1 1/2 hours.  In a roasting pan, cover bottom of pan with half the amount of Char. B. Que Sauce.  Layer ribs on the sauce, side up, and cover with remaining sauce.  Cover pan with silver foil and bake at 325 degrees for 2 hours.  Serves 5
Enjoy,
Irene

Ktzizot (Hamburgers)

In Aaron Lansky‘s book, Outwitting History,  he relates that in the Conservative synagogue he attended as a young boy, the front rows of the shul were filled with ” American-born professionals” who created an atmosphere that become more decorous each year.  On the other hand, the back of the shul was filled with Eastern European immigrants who spoke Yiddish and almost never stopped talking.  He tells us that by the age of 7 he already preferred” the heymish, home-grown, back of the shul to the highbrow front.”

When I read that passage, I smiled because this past week my friend Fredda and I spent some time standing at the back of the shul, talking and enjoying the casual “heymish” atmosphere.  It was liberating, no shushing and no rules.  I am also a ‘back of the shul” kind of cook.  That was the food I grew up on, simple, unpretentious, nourishing food that would fill your stomach and feed your soul.  My mother used to make pan-fried hamburgers that I thought were too basic and too simple.  Now I know that’s exactly what made them so good.  G’mar Hatimah Tovah.

Ktzizot

1 pound ground turkey, chicken or beef

1 small onion, finely chopped

3-4 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tbsp. fresh parsley, finely chopped

2 eggs, lightly beaten

2-3 Tbsp. bread crumbs

salt and pepper to taste

1/3 cup Vegetable oil

 Place ground meat in a large bowl and add chopped onion, garlic and parsley.  Beat eggs and combine with meat along with bread crumbs, salt and pepper.  Mix well.  Form into oval or round patties.  In a cast iron skillet, heat about 1/3 cup oil till hot.  Fry Ktzizot for several minutes on each side.  Serves 4