Sticky BBQ Chicken

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

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

Sticky BBQ Chicken

2 chickens cut in eighths

Sauce

4 cloves garlic

4 Tb ketchup

4 Tb red wine vinegar

1/2 cup soy sauce

1 cup honey

1 tsp red chili flakes

2 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

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

Enjoy,

Irene

Chicken Schnitzle

 My colleague at work calls them her Divas In Training, the young women who cook with her every Sunday, learning to make the family recipes by her side.  I had a similar experience this Passover when we were joined by young women for almost every holiday meal.  The kitchen was filled with chitchat along with the sound of stainless steel spoons hitting metal pots, of salad dressing being whisked, and of chicken Schnitzle sizzling in hot oil.  My favorite kind of noise, the noise of a busy kitchen.
Once upon a time I too was a young and inexperienced cook and stood in the kitchens of women whose food I enjoyed, so I could learn from them.  It just so happens that this Passover, Schnitzle was served at least 3 or 4 times over the course of the week (some from Fresh Foods Catering in Houston, Texas.)  At one point I was asked to post my recipe for Schnitzle (you can also try the non-Passover version of Schnitzle and see which you prefer) and so this is for “the girls.”
I love the idea that a new generation of women, all busy with their careers, and some with families, still want to take the time to prepare Schnitzle.  It’s like keeping a little part of Passover alive all year long, until it rolls around again.  Just remember to listen for the sizzle.
Chicken Schnitzle

6 chicken cutlets

2 eggs, beaten

1 cup Matzoh Meal

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil

Lemon cut in wedges

Place the Schnitzle between sheets of wax paper and pound to a thickness of about 1/4 inch.  Place beaten eggs and matzoh meal in wide bowls.  Season matzoh meal with salt and pepper.  In the meantime heat oil in frying pan.  Dip each cutlet in egg mixture and then in matzoh meal and place on a large plate.  Do not stack.  Test to make sure oil is hot enough.  Dont’ be impatient, this step is really important.  Cook the Schnitzle until golden brown, about  3-4  minutes on each side.  Don’t crowd the pan.  As the cutlets are done, put them on a cookie sheet lined with paper towels.  Serve with lemon wedges.  Serves 3.

Enjoy,

Irene

Moroccan Hamin

It’s been my experience that when my expectations are high, it can sometimes lead to disappointment.  How often have you been seduced by that decadent pastry in the display case only to discover that it was tasteless, or had dinner in a restaurant with a great reputation and left wondering why.  Thankfully, there is also the flip side, the delightful experience of buying food from a street vendor and biting into something truly delicious.  Some of the best dishes I have ever eaten have been from places where the atmosphere may have left something to be desired, but the food did not.  Places where my expectations were low.

Today the range of my dreams is being installed in my kitchen.  This morning Norm asked if I was excited, and although I am, I am also nervous that my expectations are too high.  All I really want is a range that will brown chicken to perfection.  Norm wants a convection oven that will take his baking to the next level.  We will let you know how it all works out but in the meantime I came home last night and thought I had better cook dinner for Shabbat on my old stove, not knowing if there would be a working stove today.  I made a Moroccan version of  Tabit, one of my favorite one-pot meals.  It was in my oven overnight, and this morning when I took it out, I knew it was the last thing that would ever be cooked in that oven.  It was like saying goodbye to a familiar friend who may be cranky, but who you know well and understand.  Shabbat Shalom and a BIG thank you to Anita and Jeff,  for everything, and then some!

Moroccan Hamin

2 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, diced

1 chicken cut into eighths plus an extra 4 thighs

3 cups water

2 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

1 tbsp  paprika

2 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp cinnamon

2 tbsp tomato paste

1 large tomato, diced

2 cups wheat berries, rinsed several times and drained

1 – 14 oz. can garbanzo beans, drained

4 dates, pitted and diced

Saute onion in oil till golden.  Add salt and pepper, spices, and chicken,  and brown well.  Then add freshly diced tomato and tomato paste and sauté for several minutes.  Add wheat berries and garbanzo beans to pot along with diced dates.  Add water,  bring to a boil, cover pot, lower heat and place in a preheated 250 degrees oven overnight.  Serves 4-6

NOTE: If  Hamin looks dry when you take it out, add a little more water, if it has too much liquid, leave pot in the oven without lid for another 30 minutes.

Enjoy,

Irene

Yemenite Chicken Soup

When I was growing up virtually all my parents’ friends were Polish.  I don’t remember meeting any Czechs, Russians or Romanians, no less any Sephardic or Mizrahi Jews.  My parents were determined to hold on to their language, their food and their customs.  They belonged to a Landsmanschaft,  a kind of club whose members came from a common town or region, it was a way to help them feel comfortable in their new home.  This was not uncommon at the time, synagogues were also established around cities of origin, as were burial societies.

You might be able to imagine their reaction when I brought home Isaac. J., a young man I met when I was about 16, whose family had moved from Yemen to Israel and then eventually to the United States. The fact that Isaac came from an observant home and that his brother was the Cantor at a local Orthodox synagogue made no difference.  Fortunately for me his family did not have the same reaction.  Isaac’s mother was short in stature but she had a big heart, and in spite of the fact that we didn’t share a common language she always made me feel welcome in her home.  Her kitchen was nothing like any other kitchen I had ever been in, and her dishes included unusual ingredients like cilantro, turmeric, cumin, and Hawaij, herbs and spices I had never seen or tasted.  I remember two dishes that she seemed to prepare each Shabbat, Jachnun, a bread that baked overnight, served with grated tomatoes and Zhug (a spicy Yemenite version of salsa),  and a traditional Yemenite Soup, fragrant and green.  This was not my mother’s chicken soup and matzoh balls.

Last week I went to the home of a friend sitting Shiva and I peered into a pot sitting in the kitchen.  It smelled and looked just like the Yemenite chicken soup that Mrs. J. used to make.  (in fact it was not, but that will have to wait for another post)  Later in the week I came home and made a version of Yemenite soup.  If my parent’s had only tried it, I think they would have liked it.

Yemenite Chicken Soup
6 chicken thighs
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tbsp hawaij
1 heaping tsp ground turmeric
8 cups water
Salt, to taste
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 large russet potato, cut into chunks
1 14 oz. can chickpeas, drained
1 bunch fresh spinach washed and chopped OR 1 bag frozen spinach, defrosted and
excess water squeezed out
1 bunch of cilantro, stemmed and chopped
In a large pot, sauté the onions, carrots, and celery in the olive oil over medium heat for about five minutes.  Add the minced garlic, cumin, turmeric and hawaij, and sauté for a minute or two before adding water, salt, and pepper.  Bring to a boil and add chickpeas, chicken and potatoes. Reduce the heat to a simmer,  add the spinach and cover the pan.  Cook for about one hour.  Add chopped cilantro just before serving.  Serves 6
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

Stuffed Peppers

My first home was an apartment on the corner of 183 St. and The Grand Concourse.  2274 Grand Concourse was a brick pre-war building, a walk-up, with two wings and a center courtyard (perfect for playing handball.)  The apartment had wonderful architectural features that I was too young to appreciate but which clearly made a lasting impression.  There was a dumb-waiter in the kitchen, beautiful French doors that opened into my parents’ bedroom, and parquet floors throughout the house.  The street was lined with Art Deco buildings, one of which was our synagogue,  Concourse Center of Israel.  Others included The Concourse Plaza Hotel, Dollar Savings Bank , and Lowe’s Paradise Theater.   Today, Concourse Center of Israel is the First Union Baptist Church, Dollar Savings Bank is now Emigrant Savings Bank, the Concourse Plaza Hotel is a senior citizen’s residence and Lowe’s Paradise has become a venue for concerts.

The Concourse was modeled after the Champs Elysee but there were no outdoor cafes or brasseries.  It was the Mom and Pop places that dominated the street, and the pizza parlors by far outnumbered the Kosher delis.  If my mother wanted to serve something special, she had to make it herself.  We knew that certain dishes, the ones that were more labor intensive, were only prepared on special occasions or for the holidays.  Dishes like sweet breads, miniature knaidlech with sautéed mushrooms, kreplach, favorkes, gefilte fish (starting with the fish in the bathtub) and stuffed peppers.

Prepared food is readily available in our neighborhood in Los Angeles, but this past Friday, on a quiet summer afternoon, with nobody coming for dinner and no reason to spend time in the kitchen, all I wanted was to leisurely prepare my mother’s Stuffed Peppers while reminiscing about The Bronx.  I must admit that even this recipe has changed.

Stuffed Peppers 

7 assorted red, yellow and orange peppers

2 1/2 pounds ground turkey

2 tsp salt

1 tsp black pepper

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 eggs, beaten

2 Tbs olive oil

3 cloves minced garlic

1 tsp cumin

1/4 cup quinoa

1 1/2 cups Ketchup

Mix ground turkey in a large bowl with all of the other ingredients. Combine well.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add whole peppers. Boil for about 10 minutes.  Remove peppers, allow to cool, then core and seed.

Stuff peppers with ground turkey mixture.

In a pot just big enough to snugly hold peppers, drizzle some olive oil on the bottom of the pot, place peppers in pot upright.  Add water to come half way up the side of the peppers and then add ketchup.  Gently stir ketchup into water and baste peppers.  Bring to boil, lower heat and cover pot.  Simmer for about 1 1/2 hours.  Serves 7.

Enjoy,

Irene

Greek Lemon Chicken

I met Maria P. at the Shoah Foundation about 15 years ago, when she was hired to catalogue  the testimonies of Greek Jews.  A petite woman, with dark, medium length hair and olive skin, my mother would have described her as being made of “fire and flame.” Maria was from Saloniki and had a Mediterranean temperament.  Warm, passionate, and full of life, she had many of the qualities that I admire.  We once invited Maria to join us for dinner during Sukkot and, when she arrived, she walked into my kitchen and took charge.  I remember her taking off her shoes, donning an apron, and then… she began to cook.  She had the ability to make herself at home in such a way that you never wanted her to leave.  I lost touch with Maria but the dish that she made that night was memorable.  Maria didn’t bother measuring anything, she placed peeled and quartered potatoes around whole chickens  and poured fresh lemon juice and olive oil (half a bottle) over the entire thing.  An hour and a half later we had a delicious Greek dish in a Sukkah in Los Angeles, and tonight, I am serving it for Shabbat.

 

Greek Lemon Chicken

2 whole chickens

juice of 3 large lemons

1/2 cup olive oil

2 Tbs dried oregano

salt and pepper to taste

Place whole chickens in roasting pan (breast side down)  and rub salt, pepper and oregano into skin.  Pour lemon juice over both chickens and then drizzle olive oil over top. Refrigerate overnight or for at least several hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and roast chickens for about 1 1/2 hours.  Turn chickens breast side up after about 45 minutes.

Serves 6-8

Enjoy,

Irene

Shredded Chicken Tacos

Last week, in the middle of an ordinary Tuesday afternoon I received a call from my close friend Susan S. who said, ” you are going to be jealous. ”  Why?  Susan was just sitting down to have lunch, a warm blue corn tortilla, (that her mother-in-law had brought from Mexico City) filled with shredded chicken and topped with homemade guacamole.  I shrugged off her comment but guess what, I could not get the image of that blue corn tortilla with the green Haas avocado and the soft well seasoned shredded chicken out of my mind for the next two days.   Is it the power of suggestion or am I still the same little girl who craves what everyone else has for lunch.  I wanted to eat exactly what Susan was eating, but my mother is not here to complain to, and she wouldn’t know how to make chicken tacos anyway.  So I made them myself, but I did have to substitute the pretty blue tortilla for a white one.

Shredded Chicken Tacos  (adapted from the New York Times)

1 whole chicken

1 large white onion, peeled and quartered

5 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 bunch cilantro

Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a soup pot and add water to cover.  Turn heat to high, bring to a boil, and skim off foam that rises to the surface.  Partially cover and lower heat to a simmer.  Cook until chicken is done, about 30 minutes.  Remove chicken from soup and cool.  Take the chicken meat off the bones and remove skin.  Shred chicken with fingers. Add about  2 Tbs of chicken stock to shredded chicken and season to taste.  Serve with guacamole and salsa.  Serves 4-6

Enjoy,

Irene

Mushroom Stuffed Chicken Breasts

New Year is approaching and during the course of the week we will greet both friends and strangers with wishes for a Happy New Year.  It is the time of year when we are filled with goodwill, and we extend the hope that a better year lies ahead for all of us.  It is the time of year when everyone is planning celebrations, large and small, simple or lavish, an opportunity to spend an evening with people you care about.

Some of my best memories of New Year’s Eve are of simple dinner parties, like those that my parents hosted when I was growing up in The Bronx.  The silver chafing dishes were polished and shined, the dining room table was beautifully set, and my mother would prepare some of my favorite dishes.  Tender sweetbreads in a mushroom sauce, miniature matzoh balls in mushroom gravy, and farfel with caramalized onions and mushrooms. (it was not till I began writing this post that I realized how many of the dishes included mushrooms)  One wonderful New Year’s Eve was spent in Philadelphia with my cousin Micheline and her family.  Even though there were just a few of us, Micheline wore a full length gown and a tiara on her head. We sat on the carpet in the living room around the coffee table, and dined on cheese, baguettes and champagne.  No matter where I was, we always watched the ball fall in Times Square and listened to Guy Lombardo’s rendition of  Auld Lang Syne, .  That melody speaks volumes.

To all of you, and to my family (old and new) and my friends, I wish you all a very Happy New Year.

Mushroom Stuffed Chicken

There is no recipe for this, but it is simple to make. No exact measurements are required.

Pounded chicken breasts

Shiitake mushrooms

Garlic

Italian Parsley

3-4 Tbs Olive Oil

Eggs

Bread Crumbs

salt and pepper to taste.

Slice Shiitake mushrooms and sauté in olive oil along with minced garlic and chopped parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste and cook till mushrooms are tender. Remove from heat.  Fill each flattened chicken breast with some of the mixture and roll up. Dip in beaten egg and then seasoned bread crumbs.  Return to hot frying pan to which you have added some extra olive oil. Fry till golden on both sides.  Place frying pan in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes till chicken is cooked through. Slice on the diagonal and serve.

Enjoy,

Irene

Turkey Potpie

Thanksgiving is over.  In the past three days I have served a total of 41 guests at various times.  Now, my husband is on the way to the airport with two of my children who are heading back East, where they live.  My future daughter-in-law will be leaving tomorrow and I am already experiencing the ache that always fills the space they leave behind.  Still, I continue to be grateful, even days after Thanksgiving, that they still come home.

When I wasn’t entertaining, I was thinking about change.  In my last post, I wrote about having asked my mother to make Thanksgiving dinner.  This weekend, I sat and wondered how she felt about that request.  It never occurred to me that perhaps she felt hurt, sad, or worried that her child was going to grow up and become too American, rejecting the things she stood for.  Did she wonder why I wanted American food rather than her Eastern European fare?  Did she understand my wish to belong? Although I will never know how she truly felt, I must admit that she would have been right to worry.  The reason having American food was so important to me was the naïve belief of a child that it would define who I was, or at least who I wanted to be.

I have a “day after Thanksgiving” tradition.  I take all the leftover meat from the turkey and turn it into potpie.  Nothing in my family’s culinary background could have led me to this dish.  Potpie was just another step into an American life, a dish that is creamy, definitely not kosher (although I have adapted the recipe), and about as far away from a kugel as one could get.  Chopped bits of poultry swimming in sauce covered by a layer of pastry?  As an adult, I am much more comfortable with my background, embracing my history along with the food that goes with it.  Still there is a place inside me that just wants a piece of potpie.  I think my mother would approve, seeing that we can have it all.

Turkey Potpie

Use as much leftover turkey as you like, white and dark meat, diced

1 large brown onion, diced

2 stalks of celery, diced

1 carrot, diced

2 Tbsp oil

1 stick parve margarine

1/2 cup flour

6 cups chicken broth

salt and pepper to taste

Crust

1 sheet of Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry, rolled out to 9 x 13 rectangle

In a large pot sauté chopped onion in oil for several minutes until onion is translucent.  Add celery and carrot and sauté an additional 5 minutes.  Remove vegetables from pot and set aside.  In the same pot, melt the margarine.  Add the flour and blend together over a low flame for 2-3 minutes.  Gradually add 6 cups of chicken broth, stirring constantly.  Season with salt and pepper. Add diced turkey and vegetables and cook for about 5 minutes.  Pour into a shallow 9 x 13 baking pan.  Cover with dough and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes or until crust is golden brown.  Serve hot.

Enjoy,

Irene