Asparagus in Bell Pepper Coulis

IMG_1413Sitting in my backyard for hours on Shabbat morning is one of my greatest pleasures.  I usually have a magazine or book in my hand, cookbooks and crossword puzzles stacked next to me on the table, and a hot cup of French Press.  But when Spring arrives, it’s hard to sit still and I find myself getting up and down from my chair to look at something in the garden more closely.  A rose on the bush that one week ago was practically bare.  The first apple on a tree given to me on Mother’s Day by my friends Michael and Jenny, just two years ago.  The tulip that came up from the bulbs given to me a few months ago by Elin, after her first trip to the Netherlands.  I look at the blood orange tree and see that it’s covered in hundreds of fragrant tiny white flowers.  I wait to get a glimpse of the hummingbird that visits every Shabbat morning and watch it draw nectar at the same time that I drink my coffee.  I always smile and wonder who is watching who.  Eventually I return to my book but yesterday my mind wandered to Pesach and vegetables, not the muted color of winter vegetables, but vegetables whose colors will remind me of my garden and the beauty of Spring.

 

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photo-2Asparagus in Bell Pepper Coulis

Depending on the size of the asparagus, blanch to desired tenderness.  My asparagus were very thin so I just cooked them for about 3 minutes in rapidly boiling salted water and then plunged them into a sink filled with ice water to stop the cooking and set the color.

1 orange bell pepper and 1 yellow bell pepper  (red would be beautiful!)

3 cloves garlic

salt

2 Tb olive oil

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Peel the skin of the bell peppers and place them in a pot with garlic cloves and a pinch of salt.  Cover with water, bring to a boil and cook for about 15 -20 minutes.  Drain and allow to cool so they can be handled.  Open up the peppers and remove seeds and stem.  Place one pepper in a food processor with a 1/2 teaspoon of salt and one tablespoon of olive oil.  Puree and place in a bowl.  Repeat with the other pepper.  Take a large serving place and spoon yellow pepper coulis on one side of plate and orange pepper coulis on the other.  Lay asparagus across the top and drizzle with a little more olive oil.

Enjoy,

Irene

Etty’s Chocolate Meringue Cookies (Guest Post)

It wasn’t Passover in our house until we had eaten my mother’s Chocolate Meringue cookies. When I was young we lived in Pittsburg California.  There were only a handful of Jewish families, and the local market didn’t have Passover foods, so my mother came up with this recipe.   I remember after Purim, my mom would drive into San Francisco and do what she called her  “major Passover shopping”.   She would buy the canned macaroons, but they didn’t compare to her special cookies.  Of course in our family, if it wasn’t chocolate it wasn’t dessert.   (What would we do if we couldn’t eat chocolate on Passover?)  Perish the thought!!

Etty’s Chocolate Meringue Cookies

3 egg whites at room temperature
1/2 c sugar
6 oz melted semi sweet chocolate
2/3 chopped walnuts, or any chopped nut of your choice
(almonds are delicious, as are pecans)

Whip the egg whites until they just start to shape into peaks and slowly add the sugar.  Beat until whites are stiff and then gently fold in the melted chocolate and the nuts.  Chocolate and nuts should be well incorporated into the egg white mixture.  Drop by teaspoons onto a cookie sheet that is covered with parchment paper.

Bake at 325 for 10 minutes and then turn the oven off and let them sit in the oven either overnight or for 4-6 hours.  At this point they can be frozen and keep beautifully until served.   Jessica Sacher

Israeli White Bean Soup

photo-9Shabbat dinner always felt different from the rest of the week.  The differences were small, my mother bentched licht covering her head with whatever was nearby, sometimes even grabbing a dish-towel, the table was covered with an embroidered cloth, challah replaced rye bread, roast chicken was served, and my father said Kiddush.  On Saturdays life went back to normal but that feeling of Shabbat lingered in the air.

As the week winds down, after a full work-week, it’s sometimes hard to plan, shop, and prepare for Shabbat.  That’s what makes those hardy one pot meals like Cholent, Tabit, and Hamin, so attractive.  Instead of serving it for lunch, I often make one of those dishes and put it in the oven early Friday morning to serve for dinner instead.

Tonight we are having some of our children’s Ramah friends over and my plan was to make a one pot dinner.  I thought I would try something new so I chose to make Sofrito from the Jerusalem cookbook, a one-pot chicken and potato dish, cooked slowly in its own juices on top of the stove.  Then I decided to make a pot of turkey meatballs in a cumin-scented tomato sauce.  When I left for the market there was a chill in the air, and so I decided to come home and make a family favorite, a pot of Israeli bean soup.

My one pot dinner has turned into three pots, and with all of them simmering slowly on the stove top, it does feel different, and for me, that’s what Shabbat is all about.  Hope yours feels different too.  Shabbat Shalom.

Israeli Bean Soup

1 pound small white beans, rinsed well

1 large brown onion

1 – 8 oz can tomato sauce

2 cloves garlic

2 tsp salt

2 tsp pepper

2 Tb olive oil

8 cups chicken broth or water with 1 Tb chicken bouillon

Chop onions in a small dice.  In a large soup pot, sauté onions in olive oil till translucent, but not browned, for about 5 or 6 minutes.  Mince garlic and add to onions and cook for another minute or two.  Add water/chicken broth and beans and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to a medium simmer and cook for about one hour.  Then add salt, pepper, and tomato sauce and cook till beans are tender about another 1 1/2 hours.  Adjust seasonings and serve.  Serves 6.

Enjoy,
Irene

 

 

 

 

 

Linda’s Sweet Potato Pie

photo-24Norm said that the freezer is full, no room to fit another thing.  We are one week away, my Chanukah shopping is finished, the gifts are wrapped, the menus planned for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday night.  All that’s left is the turkey, the sides and two more desserts, a chocolate ginger cake and pumpkin chocolate chip bread.  Desserts are key on Thanksgiving, less so on Chanukah.  What’s not to like about a jelly doughnut?

Our traditional Thanksgiving dessert is pumpkin chocolate chip bread but we always have a pie, or two, as well.  My personal favorite is pecan pie, but since my kids never developed a taste for it, it fell off the menu years ago.  My daughter prefers fruit pies, I like pumpkin.  There is one pie that I have wanted to try for years and that’s Sweet Potato pie (Have you noticed that I love Southern food? Strange for a kid from the Bronx.)  Last week my friend Linda and I were discussing Thanksgiving menus when she told me she was preparing 60 sweet potato pies, using ready-made crusts.  We figured out how to cut her recipe down to enough filling for two pies and armed and ready, I went home and made them.

I brought one to a friend who had invited us for Shabbat dinner, and put the other in the freezer.  The pie was a hit, although the ready-made crust was not, a good lesson to have learned in advance of the holidays. When Linda asked how the pies turned out, I was happy to give her a glowing report.  The filling wasn’t overly sweet, the texture was perfect (Linda told me that she doesn’t like runny pies) and the flavor….Fall was in every bite.

Did I mention that Norm said there is no more room in the freezer?  There will be in about an hour.

Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Chanukah to all of you.  It’s been great getting all of your comments.  Can’t wait to hear how it all turns out.

Sweet Potato Pie

Filling for two pies.

7 small red fleshed sweet potatoes

1 stick margarine

2 tsp vanilla

2 heaping tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp salt

1 1/2 tsp allspice

1/3 cup sugar

3/4 cup brown sugar

1 Tb flour

3 eggs

1/2 cup unflavored soy milk

Preheat oven to 375.  Boil sweet potatoes in their skins till soft.  Then remove from water, wait till they are cool enough to handle and peel. Linda said to then place the peeled potatoes on a dish in the oven for about 10 minutes, removing excess moisture.   Place sweet potatoes in bowl and mash, then add melted butter,  spices, vanilla, flour, sugars, beaten eggs, and soy milk.  Place mixture in food processor for a minute or two just to smooth out.  Pour into pie shells and bake for about 45 minutes.  I have included a basic pastry crust below.

Enjoy,

Irene

Pastry

1 1/2 sticks butter (or pareve margarine)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 Tb sugar

2-3 Tb ice water  (VERY IMPORTANT)

Cut cold butter or margarine into cubes and place in bowl of food processor.  Add flour and sugar.  Start processor, pouring ice water through feeder tube but only enough for dough to gather into a ball.  Remove dough, wrap in Saran and refrigeration for two hours or up to two days.  Try to handle dough as little as possible.  Roll out on lightly floured board and place in pie dish.

Savory Zucchini Mushroom Muffins

photo-22They came to America on the S.S. Argentina, sailing out of Genoa, Italy, in 1952,  my parents and sister, five-year old Anie.  My sister said our mother spent the entire trip in their cabin below deck, fighting seasickness.  Anie spent the days running around having fun, following our father who apparently spent most of the trip in the company of an Italian man.  Once they docked, they went to Ellis Island for medical examinations,  after which my sister and my mother were placed in quarantine for a day or two.

Anie soon became Anita, Henri became Harry, and Marie became Miriam.

Harry found work as a tailor, Anita was enrolled in Kindergarten, and Miriam stayed home and took care of her family.  By the time I was born three years later, they had settled in, for the most part.  Harry was back to Hersch, Miriam was Manya and Anita was Anita.  They had all learned to speak English, my sister had shed her Parisian roots, my mother had a drawer filled with slim, decorated boxes, that when opened, revealed various shades of delicate silk stockings, and my father’s shirts were sent to the dry cleaners.  Just like everyone else, we watched Ed Sullivan.

They were participants in the melting pot.  Eventually, my father left the world of tailoring and became a stock broker, my mother wore pencil skirts and even tried smoking for a brief time.  Anita straightened her hair and dated boys who smoked pipes.  Despite all of their efforts, I knew that we weren’t “real” Americans.

This year, Thanksgiving and Chanukkah are coinciding and I couldn’t imagine a more suitable pairing.  One holiday celebrating freedom and the other, victory.   I am sure that when our small family of three reached the shores of New York, they felt that they had achieved both freedom and victory in a way that they had never dreamed possible just a few years earlier.  They navigated this new world, and somehow managed to find the perfect balance.  They were Americans on the outside, in ways they found palatable, like how they dressed, or attending Thanksgiving dinners, but we were Jews first and foremost.

This Thanksgiving, we will serve latkes instead of stuffing, and apple sauce alongside cranberry sauce.  Turkey will still be the main  but I am considering adding a pot roast or brisket.  Sufganiyot will be paired with mulled cider, and little kugels might be served as well, disguised as muffins.  Hopefully we will strike the right balance, and be richer for it.

Savory Zucchini-Mushroom Muffins

6 medium zucchini, shredded or coarsely chopped in food processor.

6 large mushrooms, chopped

3 large brown onions, finely chopped, in processor

5 eggs

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

3/4 cup olive oil

2 tsp salt

1 Tb finely ground black pepper  (or less depending on preference)

Canola oil

Preheat oven to 350.  In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well. Make sure there are no dry spots left in the mixture.  Grease your muffin tins with canola oil and place them in the oven to heat for several minutes.  Remove from oven and  spoon mixture into tins.  Bake for about an hour or until  muffins are golden brown.  Or bake in large roasting pans for a more traditional looking kugel.  This made one large round kugel and 12 muffins.  Serves 10 -12

Note:  I think you can substitute almost any vegetable and this would work. Chopped broccoli, small diced eggplant, shredded carrots, etc. 

Enjoy,

Irene  

Whitefish Salad

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

Beet, Fennel, and Mango Salad

photo-17My sister is in town, and it isn’t surprising that the conversation often turns to our mother, hers and mine.  The discussion typically begins with Anita recalling how, “our mother used to say…” ,”used to prepare…”,  “used to pronounce…” or “used to like…”, and ends when I respond by saying, “not my mother.”   There are eight years between us and in some ways we did have different mothers.  Anita was born and spent her early years in post-war Paris, while I was a child of the 1950s, born in The Bronx.  With each of us, our mother was busy adjusting to a new country, culture, language, and cuisine.   As the younger sister I must admit that I thoroughly enjoy this verbal sparring  but I’m not sure my sister feels the same way.

Preparing for Rosh Hashana, I feel an obligation to make some of the dishes that we both remember, and agree, that our mother served every Yontif.  I will make her Chicken Soup with kreplach, garlic chicken with roast potatoes, and make sure to include carrots for a sweet year.  The gefilte fish has been eliminated from the menu, as has the honey cake.  Instead of Tzimmis, I will prepare a fresh raw salad, colorful and slightly sweet, still using some ingredients that were often found in my mother’s kitchen, but with a new twist.

I remember my mother wishing that the New Year would be at least as good as the last, and no worse.  I called my sister to confirm this, and of course, she said  that her mother never said that.  Luckily, some things never change.  Wishing you all a Zisn Yontif, on that we can all agree.

Note: This recipe was adapted from a salad prepared in my home several weeks ago by the chefs from Puzzle Israel.

Beet, Fennel and Mango Salad
1/2 head of red cabbage thinly sliced
2 large red beets, peeled and Julienned
2 firm mangoes peeled and Julienned
3 or 4 large carrots, peeled and shredded
1 fennel bulb, cored, and slivered
1/2 red onion, peeled and thinly sliced

Dressing

1/2 cup olive oil

1/ 4 cup lemon or lime  juice

1 Tb sesame oil

1 tsp salt

I would add a few drops of honey for some extra sweetness

Enjoy,

Irene

Dottie’s Cowboy Caviar

photo-12As a little boy he dreamed of being a cowboy, raised in the era of Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and The Cisco Kid.  All Norm wanted was a pony and a six-gun, but the closest he came was horse-back riding, living on Kibbutz and wearing a cowboy hat  He even named his bike Trigger.  Over the years, there have been  purchases of Western attire, showing that deep down the dream still exists.  His love of all things Western included the many Cowboy ballads that we spent hours either listening to or singing during the long car trips with our children.  Even my mother knew all of the lyrics to The Streets of Laredo and it never failed to bring a tear to her eyes.

Today in honor of Father’s Day, Norm was able to relive a bit of that dream.  An afternoon spent at the Gene Autry Museum which included a concert featuring some of the members of the Western Music Association.  So here is to fathers everywhere who had to hang up their hat and raise their kids instead.  He would never have traded being a Dad for anything, but just to let him dream for a few more hours, I am serving him a bowl of Cowboy Caviar for dinner.

 

Happy Father’s Day and Happy Trails to you.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XcYsO890YJY

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Cowboy Caviar

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 can black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed

1/2  cup garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

1 can yellow corn, drained and rinsed  or fresh raw corn

1/2  sweet Vidalia onion, diced

2 celery stalks, thinly sliced

1/2  each of an orange and red bell pepper, diced

1/2 cup chopped cilantro or parsley, depending on your crowd

Marinade

1/2 cup of canola oil

1 cup of apple cider vinegar

1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp salt

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/2 tsp red chili flakes

1 tsp cumin

Combine prepared vegetables and place in a large bowl.  Combine ingredients for marinade in a pot and heat  over low flame for about 10 minutes.  Let cool completely and pour over vegetables.  Allow to marinade for several hours before serving.

Enjoy,

Irene

Almond Stacks

IMG_2361She would fold a towel and place it on the window sill, pull over a chair and then peer out the window. High above the Grand Concourse, she looked down and watched what was happening on the streets below. That was how my mother spent her afternoons once her chores were completed and before we sat down to dinner.  She looked peaceful and happy in that position and looking back, I now realize that it allowed her to be alone without feeling lonely.  After a while, she would end up in the kitchen, making dinner and baking cookies.

Our family is very good at enjoying periods of quiet and inactivity, although some of us prefer company even in our quiet moments.  This past Friday after attending an early morning Bris, followed by a day of work,  I came home to an afternoon where I was completely free to do as I please.  It was a beautiful day and in spite of a week where the news was filled with tragedies, nothing is more life affirming than being around a newborn.  With another Bris to look forward to, plus a graduation, two wedding showers, five weddings, and two Sheva Brachot, life is sweet.  So, after sitting in my yard and looking out at my garden, now in full bloom, I went into my kitchen and baked cookies.  Almond cookies, crunchy and sweet, my mother would have loved them.

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This recipe was given to me by a friend with very little instruction.  It took no time to make, nice when you are in rush and even nicer when you have the time to enjoy one freshly baked, in your yard with a cup of coffee.

Almond Stacks

3 cups sliced almonds

3 egg whites

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place parchment paper on two cookie sheets.  Mix ingredients well, it is a loose batter, and spoon onto the cookie sheet.  You need to keep mixing the mixture in between spooning.  Bake till golden brown, about thirty minutes.  Allow to cool completely.  Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

Enjoy,

Irene

Beet and Blood Orange Salad

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

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

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

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

Beet and Blood Orange Salad

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

Dressing

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 cup orange juice

1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses

1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar

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

5 blood oranges, peeled, and segmented

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