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

Nopal Salad

Several months ago I had the pleasure of spending the morning at the SLS Hotel in Los Angeles listening to several innovative chefs and speakers discuss food.  One of the speakers was  Michael Stern, the author of  Roadfood, who shared humorous stories about his search for great meals while “on the road.”  He reflected on the difference between fine dining and dining on local fare,  and encouraged the audience to embrace all the small diners, stands, and dives where the ambiance may be lacking, but the food more than makes up for it.  Don’t trade taste for a tablecloth.  Michael Stern urged us to look for “regional experiences” when travelling, and to try dishes that the city or town is known for.  Lobster in Maine, Deep Dish Pizza in Chicago, Mexican Food in Los Angeles, and BBQ in Texas.  For some of us that may mean kosher Fried Chicken in Atlanta, vegetarian Dim Sum in NY’s Chinatown,  and…. BBQ in Texas…. (where I am spending this weekend.)

In order to do that, you have to be willing to expand your horizons and be open to experience food prepared by people who have been eating and serving those dishes for generations.  Food that may be unfamiliar, strange, and different from what you are used to.  Allow yourself to have a gastronomic adventure and, who knows, you may just discover that you love cilantro after all.

Here were some of Michael Stern’s tips for hunting out places on the road where you may end up having a memorable meal.  Look for police cars or truckers parked outside a restaurant.  Use your nose and follow something that smells good till you get to the source.  (A close friend of my father’s, who lived in Paris, once told me the same thing) Think about where you are!  Do you really want to eat Mexican food in Connecticut??  Be open, leave your judgement and your prejudices at the door, and enjoy!

Grace’s Nopal Salad  (Cactus Paddle Salad)

1 pound Nopales (cactus) cooked and sliced  (these can be bought pre-prepared in Los Angeles)

1 whole fresh tomato, chopped

2 green onions, thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 lime, juiced

1 -2 finely chopped Serrano chilis

1/4 tsp dried oregano

3 Tbs olive oil

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro

salt and pepper to taste

Put nopales in a bowl and add green onion and chopped tomato.  Whisk together remaining ingredients and pour over cactus.   Serves 4-6.

Enjoy,

Irene

Succotash

Here are some of my memories of the 1960s.  Standing on a line that curved around the block as I waited to see West Side Story.  Watching American Bandstand on T.V. and then looking on as my sister practiced the dance steps using the refrigerator handle as her dance partner.  Seeing the Beatles for the first time on The Ed Sullivan Show, during which my mother remarked that they would “ruin America.”   (I think it had something to do with their long hair)  Watching the coverage of the anti-war rallies on the evening news and listening to my father as he ranted against the protesters.  It was not surprising that he thought his adopted country could no wrong.

Despite a world that was “rapidly changing,”  life in our home moved at a much slower pace.  Fads and trends were not supported in the Graf household and certainly our diets did not vary very much over the years.  (It was at least 20 years later when my Mom met her very first vegetarian, my husband)  With two children and a husband, no car, and few conveniences, my mother was too busy to spend her time worrying whether we needed more vegetables or fewer carbs.  Meals were balanced and colorful, dessert was never offered, but fruit was always available.  Basically as long as our diet included the two foods that my mother felt were critical to good health, she wasn’t overly concerned.  The items were milk and meat, but never served together of course.

Today as I walked through a local Persian market, the summer vegetables were in all their glory.  I couldn’t decide what to make so I picked a few vegetables of various colors and made a version of Succotash, a dish I never had growing up but SO American that my father would surely have approved.

Succotash (without the shell beans and adapted from Bobby Flay)

2 pounds Mexican Squash, cut in chunks

3 Tbs olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

3 cloves minced garlic

1 red bell pepper, diced

4 ears of corn

3 Tbs lime or lemon juice

1 tsp cumin

2 Tbs cilantro

salt and pepper to taste

Saute onion in  olive oil till translucent.  Add minced garlic and cook for several minutes and then add diced red pepper, turning heat to high, allowing pepper to caramelize.  After about 5 minutes add the Mexican squash and cook for an additional 10 minutes on medium heat.  Cut kernels off husks and add to pan along with salt, pepper, and cumin.  Allow flavors to combine for several minutes and remove from heat.  Add lemon juice and chopped cilantro.  Serves 4-6

Enjoy,

Irene

Vegetarian Chili

What can I say,  I have been missing in action for a few weeks but I do have a good excuse.  We are heading to Texas where our eldest son is getting married.  Too busy to do much cooking but not too busy to contemplate the importance of sharing food with the people you love.  Good food elevates the spirit, just think about how you feel when you bite into something special and delicious, made for you with loving care. This has been a week when many of us have been preparing food for all the wonderful celebrations that are coming up.  Two of my friends prepared 8 lbs. of sweet and sour meatballs for a Shabbat dinner that they and other close friends are hosting in honor of the newlyweds.  Norm and I did spend some time baking, and everything we baked was made with someone else in mind.  I prepared three pumpkin chocolate chip breads at the request of the bride’s sister and Norm made two Challot at the request of the bride’s brother.  The bride asked for cholent which I will make for Shabbat lunch after they all arrive in town next week.  My daughter asked for a fruit crisp and I am considering blueberries and peaches (now that summer fruit is here.)  The bottom line is, it doesn’t have to be fancy, difficult, or complicated but the simple act of feeding someone is so nurturing and loving.  For those of you with children, my advice is to get started right away because in the blink of an eye they will be standing under the Chuppah.

My daughter has become a great hostess and I love knowing that she too has a passion for good food and feeding her friends.  She made this chili at one of her parties and apparently it was a big hit.

Shira’s Vegetarian Chili

2 Tbs olive oil

1 med onion, chopped

1 red pepper chopped

1 yellow pepper, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 cup beer

1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes

1 15 oz. can red kidney beans

1 15 oz. can black beans

1 Tbs cumin

2 Tbs chili powder

1 tsp kosher salt

1 15 oz can vegetarian refried beans

1 pkg frozen vegetarian crumbles (meat substitute)

Saute peppers and onion in olive oil for several minutes.  Add remaining ingredients and simmer for about two hours.  Serve with tortilla chips, sharp Cheddar cheese and diced green onions.

NOTE: If you like your chili spicy I would add 1 Tbs. Tabasco and/or 1 Tbs. chili powder.

Serves 4-6

Enjoy,

Irene

Sweet and Sour Turkey Meatballs

I have always found graduations moving.  Just hearing that first note of Pomp and Circumstance makes my eyes well up with tears, but listening to a young group of male and female rabbinic students, including my older son, walking in to their ordination ceremony singing Ozi v’Zimrat Yah was stirring.  We were watching a new generation of rabbis marching down the aisle, stepping forward to carry on the traditions.  As wonderful as it was, having family and friends join us to witness the occasion, made it even more special.

Being in New York City was great, even during a week when the sun rarely shined.  Taking long walks each day, exploring the city and, of course, eating.  Here were some of the highlights.  An exhibit at the New York Public library celebrating the 100th anniversary,  going to the High Line in Chelsea, breakfast at Clinton Street Baking Co. , a wonderful brunch at my daughter’s new apartment in Williamsburg, and dinner at Pulino’s.  The post-graduation dinner was a success, catered by The Kosher Marketplace ,  it included Sweet and Sour Turkey Meatballs, one of David’s favorite dishes.

When it came time to return home, I found it incredibly hard to say goodbye.   The gloomy weather reflected my mood.  Just after arriving at the airport in Newark we bumped into Stephanie S. whom I had met in Houston earlier this year, close family friends of my soon to be machatunim.   Travelling with her family, she had one child asleep in the stroller, another child in tow, and was overloaded with bags, toys and drinks.  We chatted while standing in the security line, and as I watched her I was flooded with memories of travelling with my own children at that age.  I wanted to tell Stephanie to cherish the moment because I know something that she doesn’t, that in the blink of an eye she will be attending her children’s graduations.

David’s Favorite Meatballs

2 lbs. ground turkey

1/2 cup bread crumbs

3 large eggs, beaten

2 cloves minced garlic

salt and pepper to taste

Mix ingredients and make golf ball sized meatballs.

Sauce

1 can whole cranberry sauce

1 jar chili sauce (about 1 1/2 cups) or ketchup

2-3 Tbs dark brown sugar

2 Tbs fresh lemon juice

Combine sauce ingredients and cook for about 10 minutes.  Add meatballs and cook over low flame for about one hour.

Serves 6-8.

Enjoy,

Irene

Fried Green Tomatoes

During the Seder I shared an article written by Rabbi Debora Gordon in which she writes about “leaving Passover behind”.   We are coming to the last days of the Chag and I too am sad to know that the end of the holiday is approaching.  It  isn’t just the departure of two of my children, and it isn’t just the daunting task of putting things back in order.  It is in part the passage of time, knowing that another holiday season is now behind us and I am faced with the uncertainty of what next year will bring.  Rabbi Gordon wrote that the end of Passover means that “Life stops being so simple”.   We have spent our holiday in simplicity, being at home, in the kitchen, eating all of our meals together, making few excursions out of the house.  With the religious limitations and restrictions comes an ease that occurs when fewer choices means fewer decisions.  That too is something that I will miss.  I will relish these last days of  Yontif and wish all of you a Chag Sameach.

When I was growing up the meals my mother prepared during Passover were really not that different from the rest of the year.  Dinner consisted of soup, chicken or beef, salad and potatoes. A box of Matzoh was placed on the table instead of the loaf of freshly baked rye bread.  The pressure to be innovative is self-imposed and I know that nobody would complain if I made garlic chicken every night.  This year  I have made a conscious effort to incorporate more vegetables into our diet.  We have had Kale chips, trays of various roasted vegetables including artichokes and asparagus,  Greek salads, pickled vegetables, and last night I served a Passover version of Fried Green Tomatoes with a side of tomato basil salad.  Very simple.

Fried Green Tomatoes

3 large green tomatoes

1 cup matzoh meal

3 eggs, beaten

salt and pepper to taste

Safflower oil

Core and slice tomatoes.  Each tomato should yield 4 slices, about 1/2 inch in thickness.  Dip in beaten egg, and then in seasoned matzoh meal.  Heat oil in frying pan till very hot and add tomatoes.  Do not crowd pan.  Fry till brown and crispy on both sides, about 3 minutes per side.  Cast iron pan is best.  Serve hot with a side of tomato basil salad.

Serves 12

Enjoy,

Irene

Vegetable Tagine

Not in my wildest imagination did I ever think I would fall in love with Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  Feeling somewhat disloyal to my Bronx roots I tried to hold back, and although it wasn’t love at first sight, there is something special going on in the “other B Borough.”  The combination of old buildings and store fronts, converted into cozy bakeries and restaurants, run and patronized by hipsters (no idea what they stand for but they do have a certain look) all converge to create a sum that is better than the parts.  Brooklynites eat local and are proud of it.  Everywhere you look, there are food products that are baked, cultured, grown and created in Brooklyn and the labels clearly state that.

We started the morning with coffee and a buttery, raspberry pistachio muffin at Bakeri, a small bakery that has paid as much attention to the decor as it has to the baked goods.  You feel as if  you have been transported to another time and place, with a staff of young women looking freshly scrubbed and who enthusiastically describe every baked good in their display case.  Off to the side one employee is kneading bread dough on a large wooden board, old style, not one piece of marble in sight.   The next day we stopped at the small local farmers market.  There was an interesting combination of older immigrants (this used to be a Polish neighborhood)  and young New Yorkers, all coming out despite the cold weather to buy milk, cheese, eggs and poultry from New York State farms.  My daughter informed me that you had to ” know” that the dairy stand sold eggs, there was no sign indicating it.

The next day we had brunch at Diner, an old dining car that has not been renovated, but has been lovingly allowed to remain in its  glorious original state.

Here is what we ate.

Lemon poppy-seed scone to start.

Market salad of mustard greens, black olives, cranberry beans, croutons, creamy garlic dressing w/shaved parmesan.

Country breakfast: two scrambled eggs, biscuit w/ honey butter and grilled escarole and dandelion greens.

Omelette w/ kale and ricotta pesto and served w/ potatoes.

We forced ourselves to stop there but it wasn’t easy.

Of course, no weekend in New York would be complete without pizza so that same night we ordered in from Best Pizza. Even 40 minutes after it came out of the oven, the crust charred and crisp, the pizza thin, and the garlic knots chewy on the outside and tender on the inside.

So the next time you take a trip to NYC, do something different and take a trip to Brooklyn.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised to see the transformation. From garden to table, this generation of “foodies” have put their stamp on fresh ingredients lovingly offered up to those who are lucky enough to visit.

After having numerous vegetable dishes in New York, I was inspired to try this Vegetable Tagine.

Vegetable Tagine

1 large brown onion, diced

3 Tbs olive oil

2 small fingerling potatoes, peeled and cut in chunks

3 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in chunks

3 oz. dried cherries

1 can garbanzo beans

2 Tbs pomegranate molasses

salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup water

Saute onion in olive oil till golden.  Add both sweet and white potatoes, stir and allow to cook for several more minutes.  Add drained garbanzo beans, and dried cherries to pot. Mix well.  Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and add water and pomegranate molasses and stir. Gently pour into Tagine and add one cinnamon stick.  Cover and place in 275 degree oven for about 1 1/2 hours.

Enjoy,

Irene