Curried Zucchini Soup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Curried Zucchini Soup

2 Tb butter

1 Tb olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

1 small clove garlic, minced

1 small carrot, chopped

2 Tb butter

4 medium zucchini, coarsely chopped

4 cups pareve chicken broth

2 1/2 teaspoons curry powder, or to taste

salt and pepper to taste

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

Irene

Cheesy Grits

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

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

Cheesy Grits

1 cup Falls Mill White Corn Grits.

1 Tb sweet butter

dash of salt

8 oz. sharp grated sharp cheddar cheese

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

Irene

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

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

 

Corn and Poblano Lasagne

My father had a standard response to a certain type of question, and that response was “only the best.”  That’s a tall order, and of course the idea of what’s best is very subjective.  The statement taught me not to settle for mediocrity.   At work I meet with families and often tell them to manage their expectations when it comes to their mentors, not because of the quality of the volunteers, but because I don’t want anyone disappointed.  Still even as I utter those words, I know I am not being true to myself or my father’s words.

When my father first arrived in NYC, he worked as a tailor for Davidow Suits. a women’s suit company whose ads I remember seeing in Vogue Magazine when I was a teen.  After coming home from a long day he would have dinner and head to night school to learn English.  Years later he decided to follow his passion and become a Stock Broker, not an easy thing for a man in his 40s who had to pass the grueling exam in English, by then his fourth language.  He studied night after night and when he passed away I found all the exams, almost perfect scores on each one.  It didn’t surprise me.

Shavuot is  holiday about relationships.  It is also the one holiday where dairy reigns.  One of my favorite cooking shows is called  “The Best Thing I Ever Made.”  The program features various chefs who talk about that one dish that they make at home for their loved ones and closest friends, the people who you want to serve your best.  Last week a female Mexican chef featured a lasagna that she makes with a Mexican twist.  The best of two great culinary worlds come together in perfect harmony.

May your relationships, your holiday, and your food come from the desire for it to be the best, even if it isn’t always achievable.  Chag Saneach.

 

 

 

Corn and Poblano Lasagna adapted from Marcela Valladolid

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups fresh corn kernels (from about 2 ears)

2 cups heavy cream

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 Poblano chiles, charred, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch strips

2 large zucchini, thinly sliced lengthwise

Twelve no-boil lasagna sheets

2 cups shredded Monterey Jack

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a saucepan over medium heat.  Add two cloves of minced garlic and the corn and sauté for 5 minutes.  Stir in the cream.  Cook over low heat for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let cool, and purée until smooth.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a small, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the remaining garlic clove along with the Poblano and zucchini and cook for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Spread about one-quarter of the corn mixture over the bottom of an 9 x 12 inch baking dish. Cover with a layer of 3 lasagna sheets. Spread 1/4 of the vegetable mixture and 1/4 of the cheese over the pasta.  Repeat the layering three more times. Cover with foil.

Bake covered for about 50 minutes. Remove the foil and turn up the oven temperature to brown, about 8 to 10 minutes.  Serves 6-8

Enjoy,

Irene

Judy’s Salmon with Creamy Dill Sauce

I had forgotten how beautiful Spring is on the East Coast.  Tulips and Daffodils are everywhere, poking their heads through even the most unwelcoming strips of land, and Golden Forsythia, White Dogwood, and Pink Redbud are all in full bloom.  After having spent hours in the kitchen preparing for Seder, the next day was sunny and warm and we were able to eat lunch outside.  I even managed to fall asleep on the grass, something I had not done in years.  Weather and family aside, we had the pleasure of sharing the holidays with the offspring of our children’s contemporaries.  There were three couples with babies under the age of one, the mothers women who I knew long before they were contemplating motherhood.  One of the babies spent all of Yontif  with us, Raviv, who everyone wanted to hold, each of us vying for his attention and affection.  There was no question that this Passover was different, and Zis, just as we had hoped.

In between the cooking and eating, there were several times when something brought me back to my childhood.  Today as I was walking down the streets of Williamsburg, I suddenly heard people speaking both Yiddish and Polish.  And this afternoon as I sat down to eat my lunch on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I realized that I packed the very same lunch that my mother used to make me, matzoh and salami (my mother’s favorite) a Dr. Brown’s Cream soda and a Passover Rainbow Cookie ( the ones with the almond flavoring and raspberry jam separating the yellow, green, and red layers of cake covered in dark chocolate.)  I thought about the fact that all my daughter wanted for lunch was my friend Judy’s Salmon, and so we prepared it last night.  Maybe she was reminiscing as well.  I hope that your last days of Yontif are filled with good food and the time to reminisce.

Judy’s Salmon with Creamy Dill Sauce
I  2-3 lb. salmon fillet
1 stick of butter  (melted)
1 cup mayonnaise
1 Tbsp Honey
1 Tbsp White Vinegar
1 tsp Dill (dried)
1 Tbsp Lemon Juice
Salt and Pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Melt the butter and allow to cool.  Mix with the other ingredients and add salt and pepper to taste.  Place the salmon fillet on parchment paper.  Spread about half of the sauce mixture on the salmon.  Place in oven for about 20 minutes, checking the thickest part to test if done.  Top of fish will be lightly browned.  Serve fish either hot or at room temperature with the rest of the sauce.  Serves 4-6
Enjoy,
Irene

My Favorite Passover Recipes

Image

Heading to NYC to be with our family but not before sharing a few of my favorite Passover recipes.  If you have a favorite family recipe, please send it in so we can all enjoy.  Family stories welcomed and encouraged!

Marinated Eggplant

Bubelach (Passover Pancakes)

Brownie Meringues

Coconut Macaroons

Imberlach

Matzoh Balls

Matzoh Lasagna

Mushroom Kugel

Passover Pogos

Persian Charoset

Sally’s Moussaka

Chag Sameach and Enjoy,

Irene

Poppy Seed Crisps

When this Judy Zeidler recipe appeared in this week’s Jewish Journal, the photo of one of the cookies featured reminded me of something my mother used to make.  Pletzlach were large, flat, sugar-topped crackers that we ate right out of the oven, when she let me. These turned out to be more of the traditional poppy-seed cookie, thin, light and not too sweet, really good, they just are not my mother’s pletzlach.

Earlier this week Norm sent me an article about forgotten foods, and the very next day my sister called and, out of the blue, suggested that I make Helzel, a chicken neck stuffed with flour, fat and spices, (similar to kishke) that my mother often made. I still remember my mother sitting at the kitchen table and patiently sewing up the neck with a needle and thread.

Now there are two recipes of my mother’s that are missing, but not forgotten. Just like my mother.

Judy Zeidler’s Poppy Seed Crisps

1 cup oil
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
6 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups milk
2 ounces poppy seeds
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Add oil and 1 1/2 cups sugar to the bowl of an electric mixer and blend together until fluffy. Beat in the eggs until smooth. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Gradually add the milk alternately with the sifted dry ingredients to the oil mixture, beating after each addition. Blend in the poppy seeds. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 4 days and stored in the freezer for 3 weeks.)

Remove the dough a heaping teaspoon at a time on to a generously floured board or a sheet of wax paper. Roll out the dough into a thin rectangle, about 8 by 11 inches. With a sharp knife, cut the dough into diamond shapes and place them on a greased baking sheet or silicone baking mat. Mix together the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over the cookies.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer the cookies to racks to cool.

Enjoy,

Irene

Portobello Mushroom Frittata

Last week we went to see an Israeli documentary called The Breakfast Parliament about the privatization of Kibbutz Ein Tsurim and the impact on its’ members.  The film focused on a group of Kibbutznikim who, for decades, had breakfast together in the dining hall until a vote decides that it is no longer economically feasible.  In one of the last scenes of the film, you glimpse each of these men eating in their homes, separately and alone.

One of the highlights of the year I spent working on Kibbutz Usha, milking 300 cows a day, was walking into the communal dining hall after the morning milking, knowing that there would be a room full of people talking about anything and everything, over breakfast.  Being part of a setting where meals were always communal had a great impact on me, and to this day breakfast is a meal that I prefer to have in the company of others.

I was fortunate enough to continue this tradition over the past several years.  Sharing an office with two colleagues, who became friends, we begin each morning with breakfast, each of us at eating at our own desk, but in each other’s presence.  It has been a ritual that has nourished our stomachs and our souls  as we catch up, chat, confer and prepare for the day.  Last week I was told that I will be moving into the office next door, and yesterday I packed up my desk.  Barbie sat with me and we reminisced, Susan handed me a card on which she wrote that I should knock on the wall three times when I need her.  Friday was the last day of our own breakfast parliament.  I am ready to knock.

Portobello Mushroom Frittata

8 oz. small Portobello mushrooms, sliced

1 large shallot, sliced

4 eggs

3/4 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded

2 Tb olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Put olive oil in frying pan and heat.  Add sliced shallots and mushrooms and sauté on high heat for about 5 minutes.  Allow mixture to cool.  Beat 4 eggs in a large bowl and add mushroom mixture.  Season with salt and pepper.   Add 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese and mix well.  Butter a pie dish and pour in egg mixture.  Cover with remaining mozzarella cheese.  Place in oven till golden brown, about 40 minutes.  Serves 4-6 for breakfast.

Enjoy,

Irene