Stuffed Peppers

My first home was an apartment on the corner of 183 St. and The Grand Concourse.  2274 Grand Concourse was a brick pre-war building, a walk-up, with two wings and a center courtyard (perfect for playing handball.)  The apartment had wonderful architectural features that I was too young to appreciate but which clearly made a lasting impression.  There was a dumb-waiter in the kitchen, beautiful French doors that opened into my parents’ bedroom, and parquet floors throughout the house.  The street was lined with Art Deco buildings, one of which was our synagogue,  Concourse Center of Israel.  Others included The Concourse Plaza Hotel, Dollar Savings Bank , and Lowe’s Paradise Theater.   Today, Concourse Center of Israel is the First Union Baptist Church, Dollar Savings Bank is now Emigrant Savings Bank, the Concourse Plaza Hotel is a senior citizen’s residence and Lowe’s Paradise has become a venue for concerts.

The Concourse was modeled after the Champs Elysee but there were no outdoor cafes or brasseries.  It was the Mom and Pop places that dominated the street, and the pizza parlors by far outnumbered the Kosher delis.  If my mother wanted to serve something special, she had to make it herself.  We knew that certain dishes, the ones that were more labor intensive, were only prepared on special occasions or for the holidays.  Dishes like sweet breads, miniature knaidlech with sautéed mushrooms, kreplach, favorkes, gefilte fish (starting with the fish in the bathtub) and stuffed peppers.

Prepared food is readily available in our neighborhood in Los Angeles, but this past Friday, on a quiet summer afternoon, with nobody coming for dinner and no reason to spend time in the kitchen, all I wanted was to leisurely prepare my mother’s Stuffed Peppers while reminiscing about The Bronx.  I must admit that even this recipe has changed.

Stuffed Peppers 

7 assorted red, yellow and orange peppers

2 1/2 pounds ground turkey

2 tsp salt

1 tsp black pepper

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 eggs, beaten

2 Tbs olive oil

3 cloves minced garlic

1 tsp cumin

1/4 cup quinoa

1 1/2 cups Ketchup

Mix ground turkey in a large bowl with all of the other ingredients. Combine well.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add whole peppers. Boil for about 10 minutes.  Remove peppers, allow to cool, then core and seed.

Stuff peppers with ground turkey mixture.

In a pot just big enough to snugly hold peppers, drizzle some olive oil on the bottom of the pot, place peppers in pot upright.  Add water to come half way up the side of the peppers and then add ketchup.  Gently stir ketchup into water and baste peppers.  Bring to boil, lower heat and cover pot.  Simmer for about 1 1/2 hours.  Serves 7.

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

Turkey Meatloaf

There are days when I arrive home wanting to prepare something quick and nourishing for dinner.  Turkey meatloaf fits the bill perfectly.  The inspiration for this recipe came from my colleague Linda, a remarkable woman with an effervescent personality.   Around the “coffee maker” we often discuss our children, husbands, and food, usually in that order.  Almost every night Linda goes home and cooks dinner for herself and her husband.  Not the”light” meal that one might expect of a weeknight, but roasts, ribs or chicken, all accompanied by sides and a homemade dessert.  According to Linda, “It isn’t dinner without dessert.”

Completely devoted to her family, Linda’s weekends are filled with family celebrations and outings, and although her children no longer live at home,  she continues to cook for a crowd.  Last week I had mentioned having 1 lb. of ground turkey in the fridge and Linda suggested that I make meatloaf, “something quick and easy.”  I discovered that Linda was also making meatloaf that night, using 10 pounds of ground beef!!!   That’s precisely what I love about her, embracing life to the fullest, Linda not only inspires me to cook, she inspires me to cook more, because who knows if someone will come by.

Linda’s meatloaf recipe is pretty basic.  What was unusual is that she uses oatmeal as her binder.  I loved the results.

Turkey Meatloaf

1 1/2  lbs. ground turkey

1 tsp kosher salt

Freshly ground pepper to taste

2 eggs

1 large brown onion, finely chopped

1/4 cup ketchup and an additional 1/4 cup for top of meatloaf

1/4 cup oatmeal

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a loaf pan and set aside. In a large bowl, mix ground turkey with remaining ingredients, leaving 1/4 cup of ketchup aside.  Mix well and pour mixture into loaf pan.  Spread remaining ketchup on top.  Bake for one hour.

Note: Try substituting oats with Matzoh Meal for Passover!

Enjoy,

Irene

 

 

Meatballs (turkey) in Tomato Sauce

I must confess that there are many things that I love about Christmas.  I love the carols, the movies, and the wonderful decorations that announce the arrival of the holiday season.  My children had to get used to the fact that after Thanksgiving, my car radio was tuned to the station that played Christmas music, and the more sentimental the song, the louder I sang.

Growing up in The Bronx, my neighborhood was filled with Jewish and Italian immigrants, two groups that had a lot in common.  One of my closest friends was Donna Bartolini whose parents had come to New York from Sicily.  Donna and I were classmates and lived around the corner from each other.  If I stopped by after school and she wasn’t there, her mother thought nothing of giving me a shopping list and sending me off to the local Italian butcher to pick up ingredients she needed for dinner. (years later I realized that the random numbers listed on the back of the list was Mrs. B’s way of placing illegal bets)  There was always something wonderful cooking in Mrs. Bartolini’s kitchen, but what I remember most is the rich, thick tomato sauce that simmered for hours.  It was a kitchen you never wanted to leave, a kitchen so inviting that even Donna had a hard time coaxing me to her room.  I remember being invited for Christmas dinner, when the dining table was covered with pasta dishes, platters of sausage and peppers, cheesy lasagnas, and freshly baked breads to mop up the sauce on the bottom of the plates.  There was always a large bowl of meatballs in tomato sauce, the sauce that had cooked for hours.

To this day, when meatballs are cooking in my kitchen, the smell conjures up memories of my Italian neighbors in The Bronx.  On this December night,  my youngest son came home for dinner and was served meatballs and freshly baked bread that Norm made.  As we lovingly put away the Hannukiah, candles and dreidles, Christmas carols are playing on the radio in the background, and I smile at the memories.

Traditionally these meatballs were made with beef but I now often make a lighter version using ground turkey.

Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

3 lbs. ground turkey  (or beef)

2 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

1 pinch red chili flakes

1 pinch dried oregano

1/2 cup fresh parsley, coarsely chopped

4 eggs, beaten

1/2 cup bread crumbs

Combine all ingredients in large bowl and mix well.  Make golf size meatballs and sauté in olive oil, browning both sides.

Tomato Sauce

1 large onion, diced

4 tbs olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes

1 15 oz. can tomato sauce

2 tbs tomato paste

1 tsp salt

1 sprig basil

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup dry red wine

Saute onion and garlic in olive oil till translucent. Add diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste and sauté for several minutes. Add seasonings, water and wine and bring sauce to a simmer.  Gently place browned meatballs in sauce, cover pot and allow to cook for about 1 1/2 hours on a low flame.

Enjoy,

Irene

 

 

 

Turkey Potpie

Thanksgiving is over.  In the past three days I have served a total of 41 guests at various times.  Now, my husband is on the way to the airport with two of my children who are heading back East, where they live.  My future daughter-in-law will be leaving tomorrow and I am already experiencing the ache that always fills the space they leave behind.  Still, I continue to be grateful, even days after Thanksgiving, that they still come home.

When I wasn’t entertaining, I was thinking about change.  In my last post, I wrote about having asked my mother to make Thanksgiving dinner.  This weekend, I sat and wondered how she felt about that request.  It never occurred to me that perhaps she felt hurt, sad, or worried that her child was going to grow up and become too American, rejecting the things she stood for.  Did she wonder why I wanted American food rather than her Eastern European fare?  Did she understand my wish to belong? Although I will never know how she truly felt, I must admit that she would have been right to worry.  The reason having American food was so important to me was the naïve belief of a child that it would define who I was, or at least who I wanted to be.

I have a “day after Thanksgiving” tradition.  I take all the leftover meat from the turkey and turn it into potpie.  Nothing in my family’s culinary background could have led me to this dish.  Potpie was just another step into an American life, a dish that is creamy, definitely not kosher (although I have adapted the recipe), and about as far away from a kugel as one could get.  Chopped bits of poultry swimming in sauce covered by a layer of pastry?  As an adult, I am much more comfortable with my background, embracing my history along with the food that goes with it.  Still there is a place inside me that just wants a piece of potpie.  I think my mother would approve, seeing that we can have it all.

Turkey Potpie

Use as much leftover turkey as you like, white and dark meat, diced

1 large brown onion, diced

2 stalks of celery, diced

1 carrot, diced

2 Tbsp oil

1 stick parve margarine

1/2 cup flour

6 cups chicken broth

salt and pepper to taste

Crust

1 sheet of Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry, rolled out to 9 x 13 rectangle

In a large pot sauté chopped onion in oil for several minutes until onion is translucent.  Add celery and carrot and sauté an additional 5 minutes.  Remove vegetables from pot and set aside.  In the same pot, melt the margarine.  Add the flour and blend together over a low flame for 2-3 minutes.  Gradually add 6 cups of chicken broth, stirring constantly.  Season with salt and pepper. Add diced turkey and vegetables and cook for about 5 minutes.  Pour into a shallow 9 x 13 baking pan.  Cover with dough and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes or until crust is golden brown.  Serve hot.

Enjoy,

Irene

Moussaka

My mother would hang the wet laundry on clothes lines that were strung across the rooftop of our building.  She carried it up the stairs in a laundry basket with her wooden clothespins resting on top.  On her way up she would pass the apartment of an Italian family with a daughter named Rosemary, who was a friend of mine.  Her grandmother, Rose, lived next door to them, and sometimes my mother would stop in to see her and share a small glass of wine.  Rose spoke very little English so I have no idea how she and my mother communicated but it didn’t seem to matter.  With people living in such close proximity language barriers didn’t stand in the way of relationships.

This past week we were invited to friends for Shabbat dinner and I was seated next to a lovely woman in her eighties.  Intrigued by her accent, I asked about her background.  We spent the next three hours talking, and during that time I learned a lot about her life.  An Egyptian Jew, she spoke of her experiences in Israel and the struggles of  Sephardic immigrants in a country governed by Ashkenazim.  She spoke of her husband and children and the ups and downs one has during a lifetime.  Throughout her story, she kept stating that no matter what challenges you are dealt in life, “somehow you adjust.”  As I stood up to leave, she took both of my hands in hers and asked me to please come and visit her.  On our way home, I told Norm all about this woman and then I realized that we never even learned each other’s names.

That interaction made me wonder about my mother and Rose, who I am sure learned less about each other’s lives in the thirteen years that they were neighbors than this woman revealed in the three hours we spent together.  It made me think of friendships and how we define them.  The glass of wine that Rose and my mother shared, was no less significant for them than friendships based on a more intimate knowledge of each other’s lives.  Sometimes, a glass of wine or a dish of Moussaka is enough.

This is the recipe for the Moussaka that we all shared on Shabbat.

Moussaka

4 globe eggplants

olive oil

4 onions, diced

2 pounds ground chicken or turkey

1 tsp each of ginger, turmeric, cumin and paprika

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 14 oz. can of tomato sauce

1 small can of tomato paste

1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped

6 eggs, beaten

Drizzle about 3 Tbs  of olive oil on a cookie sheet and pre-heat sheet in a 350 degree oven. Peel and slice eggplant,  1/2″  thick, sprinkle with salt, and bake in a single layer on cookie sheet till soft. Turn eggplant slices over and bake other side.  (you can fry the eggplant if you prefer but this is a much lighter version)  Heat 3 Tbs olive oil in a large heavy pot and add 4 finely diced onions. Saute till golden. Add ground chicken, ginger, garlic, turmeric, cumin, paprika, and salt and pepper.  With a wooden spoon, continue breaking up ground chicken till seasonings are incorporated and meat is lightly browned.  Add tomato sauce, tomato paste, and cilantro to chicken mixture and cook for about 20 minutes over a low flame, stirring frequently.

Grease a 9 x 13 dish and cover the bottom of the dish with half the meat sauce and add a layer of eggplant. Repeat this so that you end with the eggplant on top.  Beat 6 eggs and pour over dish.  Bake about one hour, uncovered, in a 350 degree oven.

Enjoy,

Irene

Stuffed Cabbage

Gefilte Kraut, Gelupsie, Holishskes, Stuffed Cabbage. This is not fast food, in fact I think making stuffed cabbage requires a kind of Zen approach to cooking.  I started making the rolls at 8:00 a.m. on Monday morning.  The cabbage has to be cooked and cooled and the meat mixture prepared.  I carefully peeled the cabbage leaves and placed them on dish towels that covered the breakfast room table to be sure that I had enough filling for each leaf. The stuffed cabbage rolls simmered on the stove top for an hour and then in the oven for several more hours until they were golden and tender.  My mother always served them over mashed potatoes with the cabbage perched on top and some of the juices poured over the dish.  For me the appeal of this dish is that you cannot rush the preparation, there are no shortcuts.  So when you want to make something warm and filling and are in the mood to spend some time in the kitchen, try making some gelupsie for your family.

Stuffed Cabbage

1 head cabbage, cored

Filling

1 lb. ground turkey OR 1 lb. ground beef

1 large brown onion, diced

2 eggs

2 Tbs ketchup

salt and pepper to taste

1/3 cup cooked quinoa (this is instead of rice and I found that the meat mixture was more tender)

Sauce

1 large brown onion, diced

2 Tbs oil

leftover parts of cabbage

1 lemon, juiced

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 cup ketchup

2 cups water

2 large carrots, sliced

salt and pepper to taste

Boil cored cabbage in large pot till  leaves are very tender.  Allow to cool and gently separate leaves and lay on work surface. Prepare meat mixture and place a heaping tablespoon of meat in center of each leaf.  Fold by pulling bottom of leaf up over meat, then fold sides in and roll up.  Repeat with all the leaves.

Place diced onion and any bits of unused cabbage in large pot.  Place stuffed cabbage rolls, seam down, close together in pot. Add sauce, sliced carrots, cover and bring to a boil.  Lower heat and simmer for one hour.  Then place in 300 degree oven for an additional 1 1/2 hours, covered.  Uncover and bake an 30 extra minutes to brown. Serves 4-6

Enjoy,

Irene