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

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

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

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

Tomato Basil Salad

Despite the fact that we lived in the city, The Bronx had enough natural beauty for my father to enjoy.  There was Mosholu Parkway, Pelham Parkway, Poe Park, and Van Cortlandt Park, just to name a few of the places where one could escape to.  On Sundays my father and I would walk to St. James Park with a brown paper bag filled with leftover Challah, and feed the birds.  We could spend hours there, not saying much, just sitting and watching the pigeons that flocked around the crumbs at my father’s feet.  Some Sundays were spent at The Bronx Zoo or at Orchard Beach.  My father loved being outdoors and he loved animals.  As an extension of that connection to nature, he was conscious of the things he ate and where they came from.  He always preferred eating food in its most natural state, feeling that fruits and vegetables were created in the way they were intended to be eaten, perfect in their simplicity.  It has taken me a long time to reach the same conclusion.

Here is a very simple tomato salad.  It is really best when you use ripe, locally grown, plum tomatoes.

Tomato Basil Salad

1 dozen Roma Tomatoes,

One bunch fresh Basil

4-5 cloves garlic

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Slice Roma tomatoes in half, lengthwise, and gently squeeze out pulp.  Dice into 1/2 ” cubes and place in large bowl.  Remove basil leaves from stem, then stack and roll.  With a sharp knife cut into thin slices.  Add to tomatoes.  Mince garlic and add to bowl, along with salt and pepper to taste.  Add olive oil, cover and allow to sit for flavors to blend before serving.

Enjoy,

Irene

Note: This is great on Matzoh!


Roasted Sweet Potato Wedges with Black Sesame Seeds

When I was growing up, the sense of community among apartment dwellers was clear.  The building that I lived in on the Grand Concourse functioned as a vertical village, with neighbors pitching in and helping one another.  People watched over each other’s children, helped out with errands, and some even divided their poultry order, as my mother and her closest friend Fanny did (the Pruzans took the dark meat while the Graf family preferred the white) for many years.

Last week I took my first trip to Houston, Texas, and felt that same sense of community.  Although the trip was short, the impressions were long-lasting.

As for the food, I had dinner at a Tex-Mex restaurant where I was introduced to queso, a warm, slightly spicy, cheese dip.  I tasted a pecan pie that may have been the best I have ever eaten, and a jalapeño cheese bread that was equally good.  Other Texas treats included candied pecans tossed in a salad, roasted sweet potato wedges topped with black sesame seeds, a warm pasta dish served in a poblano sauce, a King’s Cake, and an amazing version of strawberry shortcake served on a biscuit and smothered in Creme Anglaise.

In New York the feeling of community went along with a desire to be a “good neighbor.”  In Texas, there is the tradition of Southern hospitality.  My future daughter-in-law, along with her sister and parents, as well as their family friends, made us feel at home in a BIG way, Texas style.

Roasted Sweet Potato Wedges

4 medium sweet potatoes

2 Tbs water
2 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs brown sugar
2 Tbs rice vinegar
1 Tbs sesame oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  In a cup combine the olive oil, brown sugar, rice vinegar, and water.  Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Cut off ends of sweet potatoes.  Slice sweet potatoes in half lengthwise, then cut each half on the diagonal into slices about an inch thick.

Pour brown sugar mixture over sweet potatoes, stirring so that they are all coated.  Place sweet potatoes on cookie sheet and roast till tender, about one hour.

Garnish with black sesame seeds.

Enjoy,

Irene

Austrian Cream Veloute Soup

Having a chef come to your home with the intention of helping you cook can be an intimidating experience.  I knew for several weeks that newlyweds from our synagogue had accepted an invitation to join us for Shabbat and were planning to come early and help prepare the meal.  Michael (the chef) and I were in charge of the soup and pasta.  Emily and Norm were going to bake Challot.  My older son was going to keep us entertained.

At 3:00 Michael and Emily arrived and the five of us spent the afternoon in our favorite place, the kitchen.  The counter, in my narrow galley kitchen, was divided into two stations. There was the baking corner and the soup/pasta corner.  Michael, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, had worked in a high-end New York restaurant for several years.  I would love to say that we were a team, dissecting the recipes and discussing the pluses and minuses of fresh tomatoes versus canned.  It was nothing like that.  Michael and I started making the pasta sauce together but he had such command of the kitchen that after a few bottles of wine, I decided to take complete advantage of my guest and let the pro do his magic, and magic it was.


Here is the soup that Michael prepared. Incredibly rich and delicious, the texture of this soup is like velvet.

Austrian Cream Veloute Soup

This soup requires a few steps, but it’s worth it.

Vegetable Stock

1 lb. each of carrots, leeks, Spanish onion,

1 fennel bulb

2 sprigs Thyme

2 Bay Leaves

1 bunch Italian parsley

4 1/2 quarts water

2-3 Tbs vegetable oil

Grind all raw vegetables in food grinder or Cuisineart, and place in stock pot with vegetable oil.  Saute vegetables and herbs for several minutes, until they began to give off some liquid.  Add water and simmer for one hour.  Then take your stock along with the vegetables and put through a fine mesh strainer, removing all pulp.

Note: This stock can be used as a base for any soup.

1 1/2 sticks butter

1 1/2 cups flour

salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in a large pot and slowly add flour, whisking together to make a roux.  Cook for several minutes, and slowly add your homemade vegetable stock. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for about 45 minutes. Add juice of half a lemon.  Allow to cool slightly and whisk in sour cream.  When ready to serve, ladle soup into bowls and add some homemade croutons. Garnish with chopped chives.

2- 8 oz. containers sour cream

Garnish with croutons and chives

juice of half a lemon


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

Bean and Barley Soup

Although I have been able to re-create some of my mother’s recipes, recently it occurred to me that there are many more that I won’t ever be able to replicate.  Never having owned a cookbook, my mother cooked and baked by taste and by feel.  Here is a list of things she prepared that I wish I had paid attention to: raspberry cordial, butter cookies (that were hard as rocks but perfect for dipping into a cup of hot coffee), a yeast based cake that she called a pitah (butter) babka, potato dumplings made with raw grated potatoes squeezed dry in a dish towel and boiled, and all of those delicious homemade noodles of every size and shape.

Mollie, my girlfriend’s mother, recently commented on a post, “I wish I had the recipes for all the wonderful foods my Mom made, she never wrote anything down and I married young and was not interested at that time of cooking Jewish foods -my very bad.” So, here is my suggestion to each of you.  Call your mom or your grandmother, ask her for your favorite recipes (don’t forget to get the stories behind them) and write them down.  To the grandmas, bubbies, nanas, savtas and savties, why not do the same.  And if anyone has a recipe for raspberry cordial, please share!

Bean and Barley Soup

1 large brown onion, diced

2 stalks celery including leaves, chopped

3 tbsp olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup parsley, finely chopped

2 Bay leaves

8 cups beef or chicken stock

1/2 cup barley

1/2 cup assorted beans, soaked overnight and drained

salt and pepper to taste

Saute onion in olive oil till soft.  Add garlic, celery (including leaves) and parsley, sautéing for several minutes after adding each ingredient.  Add stock, beans and barley and two bay leaves. Bring soup to a boil, lower to a simmer and cover.  After two hours of cooking, season with salt and pepper and remove bay leaves. Check to see if beans are tender before serving.  Soup should be thick and peppery!

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