French Roast

Growing up in the sixties, food was not analyzed in the same way as it is today.  As long as the meals were fresh and varied, it was considered healthy.  My mother didn’t serve soup or vegetables from a can, and the only food that ever came from a freezer was the result of my mother’s indulgence in response to accusations that she was unfairly depriving me of  T.V. dinners.  Supper always included cooked vegetables, potatoes or rice, some kind of protein, and a salad.  My mother insisted that we needed two things in our diet, milk and meat, not together of course.

I am on information overload and I am not sure how to reverse the trend.  I remember my friend Susan, a native Californian, turning up her nose when being served “fleish” and other heavy European dishes.  She referred to kugels as “brown food”, introduced our family to sprouts, and was my first friend who analyzed what she served in terms of nutritional value.  At the time we just chalked it up to the fact that she was born in L.A.

Today, every meal is fraught with questions and weighty considerations.  Are the carbohydrates whole grain, the vegetables organic, how many carbon footprints are used to raise cattle, is the chicken free-range, etc. .  How can one possibly enjoy a meal that has been dissected to death.  One friend is always assuring us that the recipe is low-calorie, another no longer serves beef, and this morning I was instructed to “go light” on the cheese as I was preparing a cheese omelette.  What is the point of eating a cheese omelette with barely any cheese?

What I miss is the sense of freedom that went hand in hand with being less informed.  I remember the days when we sat down to dinner, digging into a delicious, perfectly done rib steak, served with mashed potatoes and a salad (made with iceberg lettuce), all enjoyed with abandon and guilt-free.  I am not suggesting that we were healthier, or better off as a society,  it’s  just that sometimes all I want is my meat and potatoes, without a side of commentary.

I made this French Roast last week and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

French Roast

3-4 lb. French Roast

3  Tbs of a Brisket rub of your choice ( I used one I bought in Texas)

Flour

5 Tbs Olive Oil

1 large Onion

1 Parsnip

1 Sprig Thyme

1 Bay Leaf

3/4 cup Dry Red Wine

1 Tbs Tomato Paste

Rub French Roast with spice rub, cover with saran, and refrigerate over night.  The next day coat the roast with a small amount of flour.  Pour olive oil into cast iron pan and heat till VERY HOT.  Sear roast on every side till brown.

Place red wine, bay leaf,  thickly sliced onion,  parsnip cut into chunks, Thyme and tomato paste in roasting pan and mix well.  Add French Roast and place, uncovered, in 325 degree oven for about 1 1/2 hours.  Remove and thinly slice meat. Return to roasting pan, cover and cook an additional 2 hours or until meat is very tender.  Add more wine, or water if necessary.

Enjoy,

Irene

Potatonik

It was 1965 and suddenly all the lights went out.  We were experiencing what eventually was called the  Northeast Blackout.  My sister and I were home from school but my father had not yet returned from work.  The single most significant memory that I have of that evening is watching the women come out of their apartments in our pre-war, five story walk-up, and converge on the landing and the stairwells leading to the 4th floor, our floor.  The women seemed to find comfort just by being in each other’s presence.  We held candles and listened to transistor radios waiting to hear the explanation for the darkness that swept over New York City.  Did we share food?  My sister said we didn’t.  According to the accounts I read, the blackout took place at 5:27 so it was definitely dinner time.  How many hours did we spend sitting together on the cold tile floor?  What time did my father finally return home?  I will never know the answers to some of my questions but what I do know is that I learned a valuable and powerful lesson that night.  I learned how women of different backgrounds and cultures can join together and become a community, even in the midst of a blackout.
Fanny, one of the women there that evening, was my mother’s closest friend and confidant.  She and her husband Morris, along with her daughters Sara and Liba, lived on the first floor of our building.  Fanny and my mother often spent their days together, marketing and strolling arm in arm down the Grand Concourse.  She was from Vilna, and her food and Yiddish was different than my Mom’s. They both had hearts of gold, daughters who adored them, and made potato kugel.  I think their recipes were similar but of course my mother called it potatonik and Fanny called it potato teighetz.  Either way, it was delicious.

P.S. My mother never served a kugel without the corner missing, (always tasting it in the kitchen first), a tradition I have carried on.

Potatonik

4 large Russet potatoes

2 large onions

3 eggs

3/4 cup matzoh meal

6 Tbsp canola oil

2 tsp salt and 2 tsp pepper

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.  Chop onions and sauté in  3 Tbs canola oil until onions are caramelized and golden. Put in large mixing bowl.  Cut potatoes in sixths and add to food processor.  Process till potatoes are finely minced and add to onions.  Mix in 3 eggs, salt and pepper, matzoh meal and 1 Tbs oil.  Place 2 Tbs oil in a 9 by 13 pan and put in oven for about five minutes.  Pour potato mixture into hot pan, smoothing the top with whatever oil rises to the corners of the pan.  Bake till dark golden brown, about one hour.  Don’t forget to taste the corner before serving!  Note:  I prefer a thin kugel to a thick one.  It’s all about the crust.  When you pour the kugel into the pan make sure it is not TOO thick unless you prefer it that way.  Place extra mixture in an extra pan.  OR adjust cooking time to make sure kugel is brown and crusty.  ALSO, the mixture should be thick like oatmeal so if it is too loose, add extra matzoh meal.

Enjoy,
Irene

Tabit (Iraqi Chicken and Rice)

It is Sunday morning and Norm is making bagels in the kitchen and my daughter Shira is on her way to the Bronx Zoo, both part of the Sunday rituals that I grew up with. Plus it is my sister’s birthday. Happy Birthday Anita!

Last week I went to synagogue to say Yizkor, the prayer service for the departed, and afterwards heard a sermon about a poem written by the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai.  The poem was about faith, God, and the Jewish experience, and the rabbi who delivered the sermon referred to the contents of the poem as “a stew of memories.”  I have been thinking of that sentence ever since.  Naama, my supervisor, once told me that she can remember every outfit she wore from the time she was a child. I cannot say that I remember every meal but I can say that, for me, food evokes memories.  The Bronx of the 1950s and 1960s was truly a melting pot.  You could walk down the Grand Concourse and stop and have a kosher hot dog at the deli owned by two brothers from Poland, pizza from Mario’s, Italian ices from a cart on the street, and the two foods that we considered very American, lemon meringue pie from Sutter’s Bakery and ice cream at Krum’s. The apartment building we lived in was filled with people who spoke foreign languages, had heavy accents in English, and cooked the way they had in their homeland. We lived on the 4th floor and there was no elevator. I remember walking down each flight of stairs and registering the smells that would permeate those halls. People did not have much to share, so they sat around and shared their food and their recipes. My mother learned how to make Fanny’s recipe for tzimmis, Esther’s recipe for sweet potatoes, Ruth’s recipe for pineapple kugel, and Suralayeh’s recipe for baked spaghetti.  As children, my sister and I sometimes complained because we preferred my mothers own recipes and were resistant to change.  I didn’t understand why she would try new dishes when we were perfectly happy with the dishes that we knew and loved.  As an adult and a mom I finally understand.  She had lost her entire family in the war and this was my mother’s way of building new relationships, a way to find a common bond and draw others into her life so that she could create a “stew of memories” for my sister and me.  What a wonderful legacy.

Here is a “stew” that I learned how to make from an Iraqi Jewish family that I met many years ago in Los Angeles.  Place tabit in the oven before Shabbat begins on Friday evening and serve for lunch, a Sephardic alternative to cholent.

Tabit

2 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, diced

1 chicken cut into eighths

3 cups water

1 1/2  tsps salt

1 tsp pepper

1 tsp paprika

2 tbsp tomato paste

1 large tomato, diced

2 cups rice, rinsed several times

1 can garbanzo beans

Saute onion in oil till golden.  Add chicken and brown.  Then add freshly diced tomato and sauté for several minutes.  Place rice around chicken and add water, salt, pepper, paprika, garbanzo beans, and tomato paste.  Stir gently.  Bring to a boil, cover and lower heat and cook for abut 15 minutes.  Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Place Tabit in oven overnight.

Enjoy,

Irene

Note: If you are interested in seeing some old photos of the Bronx and the Grand Concourse go to http://www.nostalgictimewarp.com/bronx.html

Cholent

Travelling to New York City in February may not be ideal but there is this internal “tug” that draws us to visit “the children” no matter where they are.  Of course, my children are no longer children, but adults.  Yet, they still have birthdays and that is as good a reason as any to visit.  Two of my children now live in NYC, the city of my birth.  My youngest is in Israel and though I have not yet visited him, I spend many hours contemplating that trip.  So, what do you do when you go see your children in the dead of winter and know that your visit will span Shabbat?  You plan to make cholent.  I am a traditionalist when it comes to cholent.  In other words my oven has never seen a veggie cholent, chicken cholent, tofu cholent or any of the other variations that are currently in vogue.  As a daughter of Polish Jewish immigrants I remember the stories that my mother told me of what Shabbat was like in Mogielnica, a small town outside of Warsaw.  Her aunt owned the local bakery and apparently each household would bring their cholent to the bakery before Shabbat and place their pots in the commercial oven from which they were retrieved the next day for lunch.  I have often wondered how people recognized which cholent pot belonged to their family.  So, I am off to NYC and in my “carry on” luggage there will be 5 Lbs. of frozen short ribs for the cholent, from Doheny Kosher,  3 packages of Jeff’s Sausages and two frozen layers of carrot cake, ready to assemble for my son’s birthday. Here is the basic recipe for my mother’s cholent.

Manya’s Cholent
Pre-heat oven to 250 degrees
I large onion, left whole
1 1/2 cups small white beans
1/2 cup pearl barley
4-5 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut in eighths
4 or 5 strips of short ribs, cut up
salt and pepper to taste

Place onion, beans, barley and potatoes in the bottom of a heavy pot.  Add short ribs and enough water JUST to cover.  Season with salt and pepper. Bring cholent to a boil, cover with lid and then place in a 250 degree oven overnight.  I normally cook this for 12-14 hours.  DO NOT STIR.

Enjoy,
Irene

Challah

The scent of dough rising in the kitchen can create so many associations.  It can bring us back to the bakeries we frequented as children, holding on to our mothers’ hands, and eating the sprinkle cookie given to us by the woman behind the counter.  It can remind us of a flour covered apron worn by a grandmother making Challah.  My own mother would make blueberry buns from blueberries that I was sent out to collect with my sister near my aunt’s house in Lakewood, New Jersey.  There is something special about working with yeast, it has that distinctive lifelike quality and scent, always recognizable, like an old friend in the kitchen.  My husband has recently started making home-made bagels, hazelnut flutes and artisanal French breads.  They are wonderful, wheaty, warm and yeasty.
January, even in California, is a perfect time to bake.  A warm kitchen is so inviting so go ahead and create a memory that your children will cherish. The scent of yeast.

Here is my tried and true recipe for challah.  Be creative and add some dried cranberries, some chocolate chips, some dried figs or dates and most of all, have fun.

Challah
½ cup oil
3 tsp salt
¾ cup sugar
1 cup boiling water
½ cup cold water
2 pkgs dried yeast
1/3 cup warm water
3 eggs
7-8 cups all purpose flour

Put oil, salt and sugar in large bowl, add 1 cup boiling water and stir till sugar is dissolved.  Then add ½ cup cold water and stir.  Dissolve yeast in 1/3 cup warm water along with a pinch of sugar and proof for several minutes till bubbly.  In a small bowl beat 3 eggs and add to cooled oil mixture. Then add yeast and stir.  Add 7 cups of flour, one at a time, and stir after each cup.  Put dough on floured board and knead for about 10 – 15 minutes.
Put in oiled bowl and let rise until double, about two hours.  Punch down and knead gently for several minutes.  Divide and make 2 large challahs or four medium sized.  Let stand 45 minutes.

Bake in 375 degree oven for 30 minutes or until brown.

Enjoy,

Irene