Hearty Vegetarian Lasagna

When the boys were little, they used to drag chairs into their bedroom, grab sheets from the linen closet, flashlights from the drawers, and spend hours building forts.  They loved creating something out of nothing and the only limitations were the size of their room and the breadth of their imagination.  Each time they did this the configuration of the fort was just a little different but the basics were the same.  Just like our Sukkah.  The size is determined by the space available and the rest is up to us.  In truth building a Sukkah is not so different than building those forts.  Shortly after Rosh Hashana, Norm orders the Schah, (in Los Angeles we use Palm fronds) and then starts pulling the lumber out of the garage.  A few days later the frame goes up but it doesn’t really look like  anything much at this point.  (If anything it looks like he is planning to build a fort)  Then the lights and a few decorations go up.  That lasts about a week, and finally when the schah is delivered and thrown over the top of the frame, the Sukkah takes on a life of its own.

This year my brother-in-law Jeff will be joining us in our Sukkah for the very first time.  Just like when the kids invited a friend to come play in the fort, a guest gives you an opportunity to show off your handiwork.  For years I have encouraged Norm to buy a Sukkah Kit, or have the patio roof re-done so that all he would have to do is add the walls, in other words to find a way of building a Sukkah that would take less effort.  That will never happen because then he wouldn’t be able to tell Jeff, or any other guest, that “he built it all by himself.”  There is something about boys and their forts.  Chag Sameach.

 

 

This is a vegetarian version of Joy Behar’s lasagna as seen on The Chew.  The soy crumbles and soy Italian sausages worked perfectly.

Hearty Vegetarian Lasagna

2 tbsp olive oil

1 small onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 lb soy Italian Sausages, cut into 1/2″ slices

8 oz. soy crumbles

1-28 oz. can crushed tomatoes

1- 6 oz. can tomato paste

1/2 cup basil leaves slicked into slivers

2 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1 tsp oregano

1/2 box lasagna noodles

1 lb. whole milk ricotta

1 cup grated parmesan

1 extra-large egg

1 lb. whole milk fresh mozzarella

1/4 cup parmesan for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Soak noodles in a casserole dish filled with hot tap water.  Heat olive oil in large pan, add chopped onions and sauté for about 5 minutes.  Add minced garlic and sauté for another minute.  Add soy crumbles and Italian sausage and cook for about 10 minutes.  Then add tomatoes, tomato paste, oregano and basil.  Simmer on low, while preparing filling, for about 10 minutes.

In a bowl mix ricotta with beaten egg and 1 cup parmesan.  Season with salt and pepper.  Take a 9 x 12 baking dish and pour 1/3 of the sauce on the bottom.  Then cover sauce with half of the soaked noodles.  Cover noodles with 1/3 sauce, 1/2 of the sliced mozzarella and half the ricotta mixture.  Add second layer of noodles, and repeat. Sprinkle with additional 1/4 cup parmesan.  Bake uncovered for 30 minutes.  Serves 6-8

Enjoy,

Irene

 

 

Long Bean Salad with Creme Fraiche Dressing

As a child having an August birthday was always a little disappointing.  Children who were born during the school year had typical parties that included games and home-made birthday cakes, but in the heat of the summer not too many kids were hanging around the Bronx.  It also stemmed from the fact that my parents were not particularly interested in birthday celebrations.  They never quite understood what all the fuss was about, on top of which they believed that once your birthday arrived, that year was over and you were now entering the next year of your life.  Telling your friends that you are finally sixteen was somewhat hampered by my Mom who was busy reminding me that I was no longer sixteen, but now in my seventeenth year.  We didn’t know my father’s actual birthday till he sent for his Polish birth certificate when he was well into his sixties.  We grew up thinking his birthday was December 2nd, and so you can imagine our surprise when the certificate arrived and we realized he was born on February 12th.  He hadn’t remembered that the day, rather than the month, is listed first on European documents.  My mother often reminded us that birthdays were not marked when she was growing up, but were referred to in proximity to holidays, you were born near Sukkot, or on Passover, and that was the extent to which it was mentioned.

All this by way of saying that I love celebrating birthdays, which is no surprise.  It just so happens that there are many August birthdays in our family and one in mid-September, which is close enough.  My youngest son turned 24 today or as my mother would have said, has now entered his 25th year.  Out of bed early this morning, I am spending the day cooking for his birthday celebration, a picnic and concert at the Hollywood Bowl.  Dinner will include slow-roasted tomatoes, cheese (hand delivered from Paris) and a crispy baguette.  Then on to baked salmon, pasta with vine-ripened tomatoes, basil and garlic.  Sides are grilled artichokes, Chinese Long Bean salad, and a green salad with avocado and hearts of palm.  Then champagne grapes, Bing cherries and a home-made two-layer chocolate cake.
Happy birthday Micah,and of course to all of you other August babies, here’s to us!!  Special wishes for my Machatenista who has a big celebration coming up, and to Auntie Clara who is turning 100!!

Micah's Birthday Cake

Chinese Long Bean Salad with Creme Fraiche Dressing

1 pound Chinese Long Beans, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2″ pieces

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil

3-4 cloves minced garlic

2 tablespoons crème fraîche

2 tablespoons honey
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Cook cut long beans in rapidly boiling salted water for 1-2 minutes.  Do not over cook.  Drain and plunge into bowl of ice water and allow to cool.  In a large bowl, combine basil, garlic, honey and crème fraîche.  Add beans and toss.  Taste and adjust seasonings.
Serves 6
Enjoy,
Irene

Gingerbread Cake

When we were growing up, it seemed that someone was always dropping in to visit with my mother.  They would sit at the kitchen table and talk, usually over a cup of coffee.  My mom’s closest friend, Fanny, would nibble on a spoonful of  jam instead of  a cookie.  Our lifestyle is not really conducive to dropping in on friends in such a casual way,  and so I was thrilled when my friend Lori came by last Sunday afternoon with a warm cake,  just out of the oven, and a book that she knew I would love.  We sat and chatted, and I was reminded of what we have lost in the shuffle of our busy schedules.  I miss dropping in on friends and I miss having friends drop in on us, but the sad part of the story occurred to me afterwards,  and that was that I never even offered her a cup of coffee.

Lori sent me the recipe along with a little explanation.

The recipe is called “Gingerybread” and is adapted (by me) from a lovely little breakfast/brunch cookbook from the Grant Corner Inn, a bed and breakfast located in a 106 year old Victorian house in Sante Fe, New Mexico.  It makes a large 10 x 14 inch cake that can easily serve more than 12 people.
Gingerybread
1 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup dark molasses
1 cup honey
1 tsp vanilla
2 TBSP strong coffee
1 3/4 boiling water
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 tsp soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp cinnamon
1/3 cup chopped candied ginger
Preheat oven to 325 and grease a 10 x 14 inch baking pan.
Cream shortening and sugar until fluffy.  Blend in eggs, coffee, vanilla, molasses and honey.  Stir in boiling water and set aside.
In a medium bowl sift together dry ingredients and then mix into liquids, blending well.
Fold in candied ginger. Bake at 325 for about 45 minutes or till top springs back when touched.
PS – The cookbook states that this recipe is similar to the way gingerbread is made in Scotland – dark and substantial.  My adaption was to omit the zest of an orange and substitute vanilla and coffee for 2 TBSP of brandy.
Note: This cake would be perfect for the holidays as an alternative to honey cake.  Lori halved the recipe without a problem and is experimenting with oil to make a pareve version.
Enjoy,
Irene

Blueberry Peach Pie

This is a thank you note.  Last week my middle child got married and during the weekend celebration I kept looking at our guests, realizing that although it was my son standing under the chuppah, there were many people at the wedding who had left their footprints on his path.  Family and friends that nurtured him and helped him grow into the man he now is.  I had exactly the same  impression observing the family and friends of my daughter-in-law,  seeing how close they were to her, how proud they were of the woman she has become, and how much it meant to her to have them there.

After the wedding, the celebration continued with  Sheva Brachot, a Jewish tradition.  I think I can speak for both sets of parents when I say that we feel so fortunate to have friends who wanted to host these “dinner parties” in honor of the bride and groom.  Yes, it was a long week, exhausting and emotional, but this morning as I am sitting by myself, I am so grateful to everyone who participated in this wedding in every imaginable way.  From those who came to Houston from near and far, to others who could not come but who gave unending support, to the friends who cooked for us and opened their homes to us, others who whispered words of encouragement,  family and friends who spent time writing toasts and Divrei Torah,  teaching classes, those who attended Sheva Brachot,  friends who helped with shopping, packing, organizing, transporting and much, much more.  I could not have done it without you and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.  To my sister who had one request that I did not honor, I felt Mommy and Daddy everywhere.

This past Shabbat, both families would be spending our last day together.  We would share five meals over the course of the day, one of which was afternoon tea.  As cooking is one way that I express my love and appreciation, I spent most of Friday afternoon preparing the food, including baking a Blueberry Peach Pie.

Blueberry Peach Pie

Basic Pie Crust  (this is enough for one crust, I doubled recipe to made a double crusted pie)

1 1/2 sticks butter ( cold and cut into small pieces)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 Tbs sugar

2 -2 Tbs ice water

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Place butter, flour and sugar in food processor.  Pulse and add ice water, slowly, till dough forms into ball.  Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.  Roll dough out on floured board and place in greased pie pan.  Place a sheet of wax paper over dough and add dried beans to prevent pastry from puffing up.  Bake crust at 400 degrees for 1o minutes, reduce heat to 375, and bake an additional ten minutes.  Crust is now ready for filling.

Blueberry Peach Filling

2 pounds of large peaches, peeled, pitted and thickly sliced

1 pint blueberries

1 cup sugar

2 Tbs quick cooking Tapioca

2 Tbs fresh lemon juice

2 Tbs sweet butter, cut in small pieces

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp mace (optional)

In a large bowl, combine peaches, blueberries, sugar and tapioca. Add lemon juice, butter, cinnamon, mace,  Fill pie crust.  Place second crust on top, and brush with an egg wash (one egg and 1 tsp water combined), make slits in top crust and bake at 375 for about an hour.  Tip: Place a cookie sheet on the bottom of oven to catch any drippings.

Enjoy,

Irene

Brie en Croute

When I was growing up, Sunday was my father’s day to cook.  The menu never varied, it was always broiled steaks and lamb chops, a salad, and home-made french fries.  My father prided himself on knowing his way around a kitchen.  He would peel and cut the fries in a particular way, preferring a thick cut fry.  He used a stainless steel pan filled with oil and would fry the potatoes in batches until they were golden brown.  My father was unusual in that European men of that generation didn’t typically spend time in the kitchen cooking.  I didn’t realize it at the time but he was modeling a behavior that my children noticed.  They grew up around a grandfather and a father who both devoted lots of time in the kitchen, cooking for their families.  What a nice legacy to have inherited.  My children all know how to cook but I hope that my sons continue this particular tradition and one day cook for their own wives and children.  In the meantime, to all the fathers and grandfathers, and especially to my father-in-law, wishing you a Happy Father’s Day!!

Norm loves to bake so after making this French  Boule, we used it to make a family favorite, Brie En Croute.  We prefer this version as opposed to using puff pastry.

Brie en Croute

1 small French Bread

1 stick sweet butter, melted

3 0r 4 cloves of garlic, minced

16 oz. of Brie

Carefully hollow out center of bread, making a well.  Melt butter, add minced garlic and brush mixture on the inside of the hollowed out bread.  Cut Brie into large pieces and place inside bread.  Take the bread that you had cut out, slice into bite size pieces and brush with remaining garlic butter.  Bake Brie en Croute and croutons on a lined tray in a 375 degree oven till Brie is melted and oozing.  Serves 4-6

Enjoy,

Irene

Baked Ricotta Pie

How do you keep traditions alive, and at the same time stay creative and flexible?  Every year, during Passover, our family talks about incorporating Kitniyot into our diet.  My reaction is always the same, how will future generations know about our family’s Ashkenazi traditions, if we all end up eating rice and legumes.  Without preserving some of our differences, it seems that we have more to lose than we have to gain.

Food is a way for me to preserve memories of my mother and pass on her traditions.  One memory is that she always made blintzes for Shavuot.  Tonight I decided to try something new in preparation of the holiday.  I made a layered cheese pie filled with ricotta and mascarpone, a far cry from the traditional farmer cheese filling of  the blintzes that my mother lovingly prepared.  I am sure it will be delicious (it is an Ina Garten recipe) but I already  feel a pang of guilt, as if I chipped away at a family tradition and one small memory of my mother.  Chag Sameach, enjoy the layered Ricotta pie, but next year I am serving blintzes.

Baked Ricotta Pie  (adapted from a recipe by Ina Garten)

1 1/4 cups milk

2 Tbs sour cream

1/2 stick melted butter

1/3 cup sugar

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

4 eggs

1 1/3 cup flour

Beat ingredients together in large bowl and pour half the batter into a greased 9 x 13 Pyrex dish.  Bake for about 10 minutes in a pre-heated 350 degree oven.

Filling

22 oz. fresh ricotta cheese

8 oz. mascarpone cheese

2 eggs

1/3 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp salt

Mix all ingredients and pour over baked layer of batter.  Spoon remaining batter on top and bake an additional 30-40 minutes. Serives  6

Enjoy,

Irene

 

 

Crepes

Last night I went to meet a jeweler who is doing some work for our family.  Although I had spoken on the phone with Sol several times, I had not had the pleasure of meeting him.  From his accent, I could tell that Sol had grown up in a country where he had spoken French so I was already curious.  As I pulled up in front of his home, Sol was waiting for me outside, tending to some flowers in the garden.  He greeted me as if I were an old friend and put me completely at ease.  Once inside, he introduced me to his wife but before we discussed the reason for my visit we spent some time getting to know each other.  Sol told me that he and his wife were from Egypt and showed me a newspaper article which featured a photograph of the synagogue his family belonged to outside of Cairo.  We talked about his family, his home, his synagogue and his community.  Although Sol’s wife did not say much, she exuded warmth, had great presence and was a gracious hostess.

When I left, I felt fortunate to have met this lovely couple, not only because he was able to do what I came to ask of him, but because I was able to observe the loving and adoring glances that he gave his wife.  She was the mother of his children and he spoke to her in the same gentle manner that he used when speaking with me.  I left with a smile on my face for two reasons. Knowing that our son and soon to be daughter-in-law would have the bands that they wanted,  but being a true romantic,  I was also smiling at the thought of Sol who clearly celebrates Mother’s Day every day, even on an ordinary Tuesday afternoon.

Wishing you all a very Happy Mother’s Day.

Crepes are a perfect food for Mother’s Day Breakfast.  The trick is to make sure your pan is hot before you add the batter.

Crepes

2/3 cup flour

2 eggs

1/2 tsp sugar

3/4 cup low-fat milk

1 Tbs oil

Combine all ingredients in a  large bowl. Whisk until batter is smooth.  If batter is too thick, thin with small amounts of additional milk.  I pour a little bit of oil on a small plate and dip a paper towel in the oil.  I grease a small skillet with the paper towel, and heat pan over high heat.  Take a large spoon and add batter, tilting pan so batter covers bottom of pan.  Cook for about one minute and then turn over and cook on the other side.  I like them with lemon juice and powdered sugar but the possibilities are endless.

Serves 4.

Enjoy,

Irene


Ruthie’s Matzoh Lasagne

Matzoh is often used as a base to make all kinds of pies, both savory and sweet.  This recipe was given to me by my close friend Ruthie. We met at an engagement party about 6 years ago when she marched up to me, introduced herself and called me two days later to join her for dinner.  Talk about determination!  Although her permanent home is in New Jersey,  Ruthie spends several months a year in Los Angeles.  She is one of those women who lights up a room with her sparkling eyes and bright smile.  Ruthie, Chag Sameach, and hang in there kid!!  We love you!

Inside the Streit’s Matzoh Factory

Ruthie’s Matzoh Lasagna

2 lbs. sliced mozzarella cheese

3 lbs. cottage cheese

3 eggs

1 Quart Marinara sauce

salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 9 x 13 baking dish with olive oil.  Mix cottage cheese with beaten eggs, and season well with salt and cracked pepper.  Spoon marinara on the bottom of the baking dish and then cover with a layer of matzoh, a layer of mozzarella and a layer of the cottage cheese mixture.  Continue layering till all ingredients are used. Top with mozzarella. Bake for 1 1/2 hours. Serves 12.

Tip: To increase the nutritional value, add a layer of sautéed spinach, or kale.  This is an easy recipe to experiment with.

Enjoy,

Irene

Austrian Cream Veloute Soup

Having a chef come to your home with the intention of helping you cook can be an intimidating experience.  I knew for several weeks that newlyweds from our synagogue had accepted an invitation to join us for Shabbat and were planning to come early and help prepare the meal.  Michael (the chef) and I were in charge of the soup and pasta.  Emily and Norm were going to bake Challot.  My older son was going to keep us entertained.

At 3:00 Michael and Emily arrived and the five of us spent the afternoon in our favorite place, the kitchen.  The counter, in my narrow galley kitchen, was divided into two stations. There was the baking corner and the soup/pasta corner.  Michael, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, had worked in a high-end New York restaurant for several years.  I would love to say that we were a team, dissecting the recipes and discussing the pluses and minuses of fresh tomatoes versus canned.  It was nothing like that.  Michael and I started making the pasta sauce together but he had such command of the kitchen that after a few bottles of wine, I decided to take complete advantage of my guest and let the pro do his magic, and magic it was.


Here is the soup that Michael prepared. Incredibly rich and delicious, the texture of this soup is like velvet.

Austrian Cream Veloute Soup

This soup requires a few steps, but it’s worth it.

Vegetable Stock

1 lb. each of carrots, leeks, Spanish onion,

1 fennel bulb

2 sprigs Thyme

2 Bay Leaves

1 bunch Italian parsley

4 1/2 quarts water

2-3 Tbs vegetable oil

Grind all raw vegetables in food grinder or Cuisineart, and place in stock pot with vegetable oil.  Saute vegetables and herbs for several minutes, until they began to give off some liquid.  Add water and simmer for one hour.  Then take your stock along with the vegetables and put through a fine mesh strainer, removing all pulp.

Note: This stock can be used as a base for any soup.

1 1/2 sticks butter

1 1/2 cups flour

salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in a large pot and slowly add flour, whisking together to make a roux.  Cook for several minutes, and slowly add your homemade vegetable stock. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for about 45 minutes. Add juice of half a lemon.  Allow to cool slightly and whisk in sour cream.  When ready to serve, ladle soup into bowls and add some homemade croutons. Garnish with chopped chives.

2- 8 oz. containers sour cream

Garnish with croutons and chives

juice of half a lemon


Enjoy,

Irene



White Bean Soup (Arbas un Kliskelach)

I just began reading a book about five immigrant families who lived in a tenement on the Lower East Side of New York at the turn of the century.   97 Orchard details the hardships that each group faced upon their arrival to the New World, and goes on to talk about the culinary influences that they had on the New York food scene.

The Lower East Side was one of the places that my mother took us shopping.  The streets were teeming with people going through tables piled high with merchandise, strategically placed outside of the merchants’ storefronts.  You could buy anything and everything in this relatively small area.  There were stores selling undergarments and socks, bags and luggage, silver stores filled with Kiddush cups and candelabras, and, of course, food vendors and restaurants.  Many of the signs were in Yiddish, the language of the Eastern European Jews who frequented the area around Orchard Street.  I remember having an occasional meal at Ratners, a large dairy restaurant known for their onion rolls and Kasha Varnishkes.  There was Yonah Schimmel, the tiny shop that offered a variety of knishes, beyond potato and cheese.  The Streit’s Matzoh Factory (still working on a pulley system) was on the Lower East Side as were several pickle vendors that also offered delicious pickled green tomatoes.  Of course, Russ and Sons (now Russ and Daughters) offered all kinds of dairy and smoked fish. We called it an appetizing store.  What an exciting and colorful way to spend the day.

In 97 Orchard, there is the recurring theme of assimilation, something every immigrant family faced at some point.  For me, the differences were magnified by what was waiting inside my brown lunch bag.  My lunch looked nothing like those of the “American” kids.  There it was, the unsightly wax paper folded over a substantial sandwich made with hearty rye bread, filled with sliced salami, bologna, tuna or egg salad.  The Americans would open their lunch bags and the difference was startling.  Delicate white bread sandwiches filled with just one slice of meat or cheese, maybe peanut butter and jelly, cut on a diagonal and wrapped in plastic wrap.  No strong smells, and no mess.  It is hard to believe that I could have possibly preferred eating Wonder Bread, that generic loaf that formed a doughy mass and stuck to the roof of your mouth.  It stems from the need to belong, to be accepted and welcomed in to the larger society.  At some point I realized that rye bread was earthy and hearty and delicious and that garlicky salami is superior in every way to a square slice of orange cheese.

Next month I will be in New York City and my sister and I plan to go to 97 Orchard Street, now The Tenement Museum.  We may walk over to Yonah Schimmel and have a knish with mustard, stop by the Pickle man, go to Russ and Daughters, and embrace the wonderful foods of our childhood.

This simple soup was a staple in our home.

White Bean Soup

1 lb small lima beans, soaked overnight

2 quarts water or pareve chicken stock

1 brown onion, left whole

1/2 stick butter

salt and pepper to taste (should be very peppery)

1 package small square noodles, cooked according to directions on package.

Place beans,  onion and water in large pot.  Add salt and pepper.  Cover pot, bring to a boil and then lower heat.  Cook soup for about an hour and a half or till beans are tender.  Taste and adjust seasoning.  Remove onion, and add butter and noodles to soup.  Serve hot.  Serves 6

Enjoy,

Irene