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

Hatch Chiles

Last summer my son David was visiting us with his girlfriend Elizabeth.  At one point I looked at her and said
“he can be a challenge” but her immediate response was, “he’s worth it.”  As parents we all want our children to find that person who loves and accepts them for who they are, and if and when that happens it’s pretty wonderful.  A week ago today, my son proposed to Elizabeth and she accepted.  Several days later they arrived in Los Angeles along with Elizabeth’s parents Nancy and Larry, and her sister Irene. My daughter Shira also flew in and together our families celebrated this wonderful occasion. We open our home and our hearts to Elizabeth, Nancy, Larry, Irene and Alexander and welcome them to our family.

They flew in from Houston, Texas, where Elizabeth is from, and arrived bearing gifts.  Salsas, hot sauce and a bag of fresh Hatch Chiles.  I had never seen or heard of a Hatch Chile but I rose to the challenge, did lots of research, and prepared them for Shabbat dinner.  I wasn’t sure if they were mild or hot so I decided to prepare them very simply, wanting to taste the chile without it being overwhelmed by other flavors. I charred them on the grill till the skins were blackened, peeled them, and then sprinkled them with sliced green onions, lemon juice,  fresh diced tomato and salt and pepper.  They were a perfect side to the barbecued chicken but I sat there wondering how they would taste with cheese sprinkled on top or sliced up and mixed into eggs.  I guess this is just the beginning.  Stay tuned or better yet, if you have any Hatch Chile recipes, please share them.

Hatch Chiles

6 Hatch Chiles

3 Tbsp olive oil

2 scallions

1 lemon

1 large tomato

salt and pepper to taste

Rinse chiles and cook whole on grill till completely charred.  Carefully peel skins. Place on platter and sprinkle with thinly sliced scallions. Drizzle with lemon juice, olive oil and a finely diced tomato. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Enjoy,

Irene

Black Beans

One of the ways that I express my interest and desire to travel and see the world is by cooking foods from other countries.  When I think about the books I choose to read, or the movies that I am drawn to see, they are often set outside of the United States.  Each time I learn a little more about a particular culture and, of course, the food.  It is my personal way of having a mini-adventure.  I can get lost in a cookbook from Israel or a food blog from Mexico.  In the course of a weekend I can read about a family struggling in India, go see a romantic movie that takes place in France, and watch a cooking show filmed in Spain.  My older son recently returned from Guatemala, and my daughter will be going to Colombia and Argentina in the next few months.  That may be the source of my inspiration as I sat and planned what to serve for Shabbat Dinner.  I kept going back to Central and South American food, simple and satisfying, flavorful and made with ingredients that are readily available, especially here in Southern California.
A friend who I work with, Alba, is originally from Guatemala.  We are always talking about food, love, and life.  She calls me “her Jewish Mom” and that is only one of the many reasons that I am crazy about her.  Another is her Black Beans.

Alba’s Black Beans

1 lb black beans

2 large onions

4 cloves garlic

4 Tbsp. olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Place beans in a large pot to soak overnight.  Add a large onion, cut in half, two cloves of garlic, and enough water to cover beans by at least one inch. The next day cook the beans in the same pot of water for several hours over a low flame, until the beans are tender. Beans continue to expand so add water as needed. Remove onion and garlic and discard.

Finely dice  the second large onion and two cloves of minced garlic and sauté in olive oil till golden.  Strain the beans (reserve liquid) and add to onions.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  At this point add as much of the reserved liquid until you have the desired consistency. Cook for another twenty minutes for flavors to blend.

Serve with rice and some fresh chopped cilantro.

Enjoy,

Irene

Corn Cakes

Summer and fresh corn on the cob are one of those perfect pairings, like peanut butter and jelly, or chocolate cake and milk.  As a child I only remember eating yellow corn which we always bought with the husk on, thinking they were fresher that way.  (I still can’t bring myself to husk the corn at the market even though it would mean less mess in the kitchen) My mother boiled that corn forever, not knowing that it only needed a few minutes to cook.  It certainly never occurred to us that we could eat it raw.  She always told my sister and I that in Poland corn and tomatoes were food for cows, not humans.

When our children were little, we often went to Toronto during the summer to visit their paternal grandparents.  One of the places we enjoyed visiting was Puck’s Farm outside of Toronto.  It was a wonderful old-fashioned farm with a barn,  a few farm animals, bales of hay to jump in, an area where you could pick your own vegetables, and incredible corn that had just been harvested.  The variety they grew was called peaches and cream, alternating white and yellow kernels, and I had never seen anything like it.  The corn was for sale but it was also available to eat right there, steaming hot ears of corn ready to dip into a huge vat of melted butter.  So simple and so good. Boiling is only one of the ways I now prepare corn, and when I do boil it, it is for no more than five minutes.  I often grill it, constantly turning the ears till they get slightly charred.  Sometimes I cut the kernels off the cob and add them to a salad, raw.  Other times, I throw the raw kernels into a hot cast iron pan with olive oil,  salt and pepper, and some shredded basil.  It’s all good but, truth be told, none of it is as sweet as it was on those summer days when we watched our children eating corn on the cob with melted butter dripping down the sides of their smiling faces.

Corn Cakes

3 ears fresh corn

3 eggs

1/2 cup matzoh meal

2 scallions

1/4 cup cilantro

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1/4 cup canola oil

Cut corn off cob and put in mixing bowl. Add eggs, slightly beaten, and matzoh meal to bowl. Mix well. Thinly slice scallions and add to mixture along with coarsely chopped cilantro. Season with salt and pepper. In a cast iron pan heat oil till hot. Drop large tablespoons of corn mixture into hot oil. Let cook till golden brown then turn over.

Warning: Corn pops in the frying pan so be careful!!!

Makes 12 corn cakes.

Enjoy,

Irene

Potato Sides

My sister, brother-in-law, and older son came to town this week for my father’s unveiling.  Yes, it was sad and emotional, but it was also a celebration of a life lived to the fullest.  Well they have all gone home and, tonight, when I sat down to write this post, all I could think of was potatoes.  They are the ultimate comfort food for those of us who come from Eastern European Jewish stock. How can anyone resist a steamy, buttery bowl of mashed potatoes at the end of a challenging day?  Potatoes have always been a staple in our house.  Occasionally we had noodles, Kasha or rice, but potatoes reigned.  My mother served them mashed, roasted, fried, and boiled and used them to create dishes like potatonik, chremslech, kartoffel knaidlech and latkes.  One of my favorite preparations was a dish she learned while living in Paris, called Pomme de Terre Sauté.  Potato knishes are another favorite, and although we did not make them at home, we enjoyed eating them in the delis and on the streets of New York.  In Israel I discovered Burekas, a crisp flaky dough filled with tender mashed potatoes, similar to the knish but a little lighter with a more tender crust.

This is a verse from an old Yiddish folksong about potatoes, a reminder that this delicious tuber was eaten daily!

Zuntik bulbes, montik bulbes,
Dinstik uhn mitvoch bulbes,
Donershtik uhn fraytik bulbes.
Ober shabbes in a noveneh a bulbeh kuggele
Zuntik vayter bulbes

Ober shabbes in a noveneh a bulbeh kuggele
Zuntik vayter bulbes

Pomme de Terre Saute

2 Idaho potatoes

1/4 cup butter

4 eggs

salt and pepper to taste

Peel potatoes and slice as thin as possible.  Saute them in a frying pan with butter, over low heat, until they are transparent and starting to form a golden crust. Beat eggs, and season with salt and pepper.  Pour eggs into the frying pan over the potatoes and gently stir. When the potatoes can be easily pierced with a fork, they are ready.

Potato Burekas

1 Pkg pre-cut puff pastry  (this is readily available in most middle-eastern markets and are already cut into squares)

4 Idaho potatoes

2 large onions, diced

1/4 cup oil

black sesame seeds

Egg Wash

1 egg beaten with 1 Tbs water

Peel and quarter potatoes and boil till tender. Drain and mash.  Dice and sauté onions in oil until they are golden brown. Add to mashed potatoes and season with salt and pepper.  In the center of each square of puff pastry place a heaping tablespoon of potato filling. Fold into a triangle and press firmly down along edge. Brush the top of the Bureka with egg wash and sprinkle with black sesame seeds.

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees and bake burekas till golden. About 30 minutes.

Enjoy,

Irene

Baladi Eggplant

My youngest son, Micah, just moved into a Moishe House in Los Angeles and Norm and I were thrilled to be invited for Shabbat dinner.  It was potluck and I decided to bring an appetizer, main course, and dessert.  I had just purchased three eggplants and Micah suggested that I make them Baladi style, a dish he ate in Israel.  Having never heard of it, I did a little bit of research and decided it was worth trying.  I can’t say how authentic this version is, but it was easy to make and delicious.  The eggplant was soft, with a great smoky flavor, and the addition of Tehina gave a creamy texture to the dish.

It is a perfect appetizer for a Memorial Day BBQ.

We wish the newest residents of the Los Angeles Moishe House great success!!

Baladi Eggplant

2 Eggplants

1/4 cup Tehina

1 lemon

3 cloves garlic

Wrap whole eggplants in foil and grill for about 15 minutes, turning every 5 minutes. Eggplant will collapse when tender.

Cool and drain off any liquid that has collected at the bottom of the eggplant.  Slit eggplants down the center with a sharp knife and spread open. Rake pulp with a fork to separate from skin.

Mix Tehina with minced garlic and lemon juice to taste.  Thin with a little bit of water if needed.  Drizzle over eggplants and serve with pita.

Serves 6-8 as an appetizer.

Enjoy,

Irene


Blintzes

I was 16 years old, it was my first trip away from home, and I was going abroad.  Although my parents had never been to Israel, they decided to send me on a summer program.  I was nervous and excited and had no idea what to expect.  I didn’t know anybody else in my group but I was confident that I was going to a place where I would feel comfortable.  My mother had two friends that she had known in Poland before the war but had not seen since 1945. Manya and Sonia both lived with their families on a moshav outside of Gedera called Meishar.  My mother asked me to go see them, she said they were like family.  I had to hitchhike into the moshav, another first, and when I was dropped off at Manya’s home, (same name as my mother) she looked at me as if she were looking at my mother, with recognition in her eyes.  Manya K. and Sonia U. were neighbors and their homes were  no more than 100 feet apart.  On that first of many visits they opened their homes and hearts to me. They fussed over me and told me stories and cooked and cooked and cooked.  I literally went back and forth between their homes all day long, each one beckoning for me to come over and have something to eat. Sonia U. would make blintzes for Aruchat Arba, afternoon tea, in such an effortless way that it made an impression on me that lasted till today.  It was hospitality at its best. Warm, inviting, and gracious.

Both women have passed away but their families are still on the Moshav,  and I still see Aaron and Rosie and their children whenever I go to Israel. We sit and tell stories and cook and eat.  They are like family.




Blintzes

Bletlech (Leaves)

3 eggs

1 3/4 cups milk

2 tbsp sour cream

pinch salt

1 cup flour

Beat eggs and add milk and sour cream. Slowly whisk in flour and pinch of salt and beat till batter is smooth.

Filling

1 lb. farmer’s cheese ( I prefer Friendship brand)

8 oz. small curd cottage cheese

1 tbsp sour cream

1/2 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup sugar

1 egg yolk (gives filling a buttery color)

dash cinnamon and salt

Combine all ingredients and mix well.

Heat an 8″ omelette pan and grease with vegetable oil. (I like to put the oil on a paper towel which I use to grease the pan in between making each leaf) Heat pan and add slightly less than 1/4 cup batter, swirling pan so that  batter covers the bottom.  Fry for about 2 minutes or till there are bubbles forming and batter looks dry.  Turn leaf onto plate. Continue until batter is finished, stacking leaves. This should yield 15 leaves.

Spread leaves on dish towels and evenly divide filling among them. Fold and lightly saute blintzes in butter.

Enjoy,

Irene

Spring Salads

I am not sure when salads graduated from their humble beginnings to the gourmet status they have today, but I no longer dread eating them.  Growing up in the Bronx of the 1950s, salads were tolerated and eaten because iceberg lettuce filled the need for a vegetable.  No one worried about carbon footprints because there were no tomatoes from Mexico or peppers from Israel to purchase.  The produce that was available was limited and seasonal.

Today’s salads defy their dictionary definition, ” raw greens often combined with other vegetables and served with a dressing.” The combinations of ingredients are only limited by our imagination.  For example the salad I had for lunch today used shredded iceberg lettuce but it was tossed with raw corn, garbanzo beans, chunks of avocado, thin strips of fried tortillas and a lemony cilantro dressing. Yum!

Here are three very different type of salads that I hope you will try, and enjoy.

My mother used to serve a very simple salad of crisp cucumbers, ripe beefsteak tomatoes, mild white onions and hard-boiled eggs, all thinly sliced and tossed together with lemon juice, a bit of oil, salt, and crushed black pepper. Once the salad was mixed, the egg yolks would blend with the lemon juice and oil, creating a yellow hued dressing that was tart and refreshing.  After we finished eating the salad, my sister and I would take fresh rye bread and soak up the remaining dressing from the bottom of the bowl. That’s how good it was.

Tomato Salad

3 large ripe tomatoes

5 Persian cucumbers

5 hard-boiled eggs

1 white onion

2 lemons, juiced

1/4 cup olive oil

salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Thinly slice all ingredients, toss with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper and serve cold.

Serves 4 as a side dish.

Wanda P. shared this recipe for her Thai Curry Coleslaw a while ago but I finally had the opportunity to make it.  The salad was bursting with flavor, color, and texture  (like Wanda) and would be a perfect side with grilled fish or chicken. This is an edited and slightly altered version of the recipe, so to get the original version and to read Wanda’s tips look on  The Rendezvous.

Note: Norm is allergic to carrots so I used purple cabbage as a substitute.


Thai Curry Coleslaw

1 bunch cilantro

1 bunch mint

1 bunch basil

Remove stems and place herbs in food processor, coarsely chop, and empty into large mixing bowl.

1 large green cabbage

6-7 good size fresh organic carrots

Shred carrots and cabbage in processor and add to bowl.

1 1/2 cups whole Spanish peanuts or cashews, added to bowl.

DRESSING

In processor blend:

3/4  cup olive oil

1/2 cup Raw Apple Cider Vinegar

1/2  cup fresh-squeezed organic lemon juice

4-5 cloves minced garlic

1″ minced fresh ginger

1/2  cup Nama Shoyu* (raw soy sauce)

1/2  cup  raw organic agave nectar

1 tsp chili powder

2 heaping tablespoons curry powder

Thoroughly blend above ingredients until emulsified and dress salad.

Garnish with basil or mint leaves.

A couple of weeks ago a few of us took a cooking class and the cookbook author used Pomegranate Molasses in one of her recipes.  I had bought a bottle several months ago at a Persian Market but after the class I finally used it in a vinaigrette.


Spring Salad with Pomegranate Dressing

1 lb. assorted baby lettuces

1 avocado, diced

1 can hearts of palm, sliced

1 –  11 oz. can mandarin oranges

1 tbsp black sesame seeds

1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds, lightly toasted

Wash lettuce and place in bowl with diced avocado, sliced hearts of palm, black sesame seeds, slivered almonds, mandarin oranges and dress.

Dressing

4 tbsp. Balsamic Vinegar

2 tbsp. Pomegranate Molasses

1/4 cup olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

serves 4

Enjoy,

Irene

Roasted Artichokes

What a glorious week it has been in Los Angeles!  The sun is shining, the sky is a beautiful shade of blue, the wind is blowing and you can see the Santa Monica and San Gabriel mountains in the distance.  It feels like Spring, even in Southern California.

I have been taking walks during lunch and often stop at Joan’s on Third (one of my favorite places to eat and shop)  where I pick up half a grilled artichoke, a perfect spring vegetable.  They are full, luscious, multi-layered, delicate and incredibly versatile.  Last week we had dinner with our friends and Steve made a wonderful puree of artichoke soup.  I may be able to get him to share the recipe!

Eating artichokes, unlike any other vegetable, requires patience.  Peeling one leaf at a time, dipping it into your favorite sauce and savoring each small edible part of the petal, you are then rewarded with the heart.  My sons would fight over the heart, and I always understood why.

My mother always boiled her artichokes and served them with vinaigrette.  I now prefer this two-step process.

Roasted Artichokes

4 large globe artichokes

Wash artichokes and trim each leaf, cutting off the sharp tips as well as the stem. Place in a basin of water with a sliced lemon. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add artichokes and cook for about  30- 40 minutes or until leaves can be pulled off fairly easily.  Remove and turn artichokes upside down so water drains out.  Allow to cool.

Cut the artichokes in half and using a small paring knife, remove fuzzy choke and any purple tipped petals.

Combine 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar with 4 tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper to taste and spread on rimmed cookie sheet.  Place cut side of artichokes on top of vinaigrette and press down, slightly flattening artichoke.  Roast at 475 degrees for about 30 minutes or until artichokes are slightly charred.  You can also grill them if you prefer.

My two favorite dipping sauces.

Honey Balsamic Dip

2 tbsp honey

2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1/2 cup olive oil

salt and pepper to taste.

Garlic-Basil Mayonnaise

1 cup mayonnaise mixed with 2 large minced cloves of garlic and 2 large basil leaves. Salt and pepper to taste. Blend in food processor.

Enjoy,

Irene

Roasted Asparagus

Each year we get so caught up in the newest Passover products on the market that it is easy to forget that we can enjoy the holiday without sacrificing our health.  We are just a few days into Spring and here in Los Angeles the farmers’ markets are filled with all of the wonderful produce that the season has to offer;  California artichokes, rainbow chard, French radishes, fresh rhubarb, and of course, the ultimate Spring vegetable, asparagus.  This recipe is not new or innovative, it is a reminder that we can all have a healthy and delicious Passover, filled with fresh fruits and vegetables.

Roasted Asparagus

2 bunches asparagus

3 Tbs olive oil

1 Tsp salt

2 cloves garlic, minced

On a flat baking sheet, mix oil with salt, pepper and garlic. Roll asparagus in mixture and spread in a single layer. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and roast asparagus for about 15 minutes.

Enjoy,

Irene