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March 4, 2014
Irene Saiger

9 comments

Dried (and fresh) Mushroom Soup

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Letters would arrive from France, Poland, and Israel, my father carefully removing the stamps before tossing the envelopes.  Once in a while, no more than once or twice a year, a package would arrive as well.  It was always the same, a cardboard box wrapped in brown paper tied with a rope.  It was clear from the handwriting that it was addressed by someone whose native language was not English.  A pungent, earthy smell seeped through the box, revealing the contents before we managed to cut the string.

The box contained dried mushrooms, grzyby.  They were sent to us by a Polish man who had helped my father during the war, a man who in return for his kindness and heroism, received a small check from my father, every month, for as long as I can remember.  They never saw each other again, but the relationship was maintained by this exchange that went back and forth across the ocean, via mail.

In an age where letters are a rare form of communication, and packages often come from Amazon, I miss that feeling of anticipation and excitement that went hand in hand with the approach of a mailman.   We say our hectic lives are to blame, but I think about this Polish farmer, whose life I am sure was challenging in many unimaginable ways, going out to the woods to pick mushrooms after a rainfall,  then drying them, boxing them, and taking them to a post office to mail them to a man in the United States who he had not seen in years.

It has been rainy and cold (for L.A.) and Purim is around the corner.  That means Mishloah Manot will soon be mailed.  I have no doubt that there will be various comments about the contents, but I hope that the packages will stir the same feelings that I think my father experienced when those boxes arrived.  Knowing that someone is thinking of you, year after year, and from miles away.

In the meantime, it is a perfect time of year to make a pot of mushroom soup.

Dried Mushroom Soup

2 oz. dried Polish mushrooms

1 cup hot water

1 lb small brown or white mushrooms

2 Tb olive oil

1 large brown onion

1 small leek, white part only

1 large russet potato

2 Tb butter

3 cups pareve chicken stock plus reserved water that mushrooms were soaked in.

1 1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

1/2 cup whole milk

Soak dried mushrooms in a small bowl of hot water for a few minutes to release any dirt.  Then strain and place mushrooms in about 1 cup of hot water for about 20 minutes till mushrooms soften.  Peel and dice onion, clean and thinly slice leek,  and add both to a large soup pot along with the 2 Tb  of olive oil.   Saute onions and leeks for about 5 minutes over a low flame but do not allow to brown.  Thinly slice fresh mushrooms and add to pot along with dried mushrooms, reserved liquid, and chicken broth.  Add potato that you have peeled and diced and salt and pepper.  Bring  soup to a boil, lower heat and simmer covered, for about one hour.  Allow to cool and then purée using an immersion blender.  Add butter and milk and adjust seasoning to taste.  If you want to reheat, do it over a low flame.  Serves 6 – 8

Enjoy,

Irene

February 18, 2014
Irene Saiger

10 comments

Middle Eastern Flavored Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

topI woke up this morning planning to go to The Shoe Museum, but the snow was coming down and the sidewalks were not inviting.  Instead I sat and listened to a recording of the eulogy that my son David delivered at the funeral of my mother-in-law’s  baby brother who recently passed away,  known by the family as Uncle Gibby.  In it David referred to how much Gibby loved food and music, something we can all relate to.  Instead of venturing out into the snow, we sat around the breakfast table telling stories, eating delicious pletzlach from Grodzinsksi’s Bakery and simultaneously laughing and crying.  It is not surprising that food was a recurring part of the discussion.  As I sat and listened to various ” Gibby stories,”   our conversation turned back to our plans for the day.  We are going to visit my father-in-law this afternoon, but what about lunch and dinner?

The snow is coming down even harder now, but it’s time to head out.  In my head I am humming one of my favorite songs,  Baby It’s Cold Outside and I realize it’s a perfect day for meatballs in tomato sauce.   I think both would make Gibby smile.

Middle Eastern Flavored Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

1 lb. ground turkey

2/3 cup pareve breadcrumbs

1/4 cup water

1 tsp salt

2 eggs

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tsp salt

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp baharat

1/2 tsp ground  black pepper

1/4 tsp  chili flakes

Tomato Sauce

3 tbsp olive oil

1½ tsp ground cumin

½ tsp sharp paprika

1 medium onion, chopped

1 lb. large mushrooms, coarsely chopped

1 cup chicken broth

14 oz can chopped tomatoes

1 small red chili, left whole,

1 garlic clove, crushed

Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large pot and add the chopped onion, garlic and spices.  Saute over low heat till onion is translucent but not brown.  Add mushrooms and cook for several minutes before adding chicken broth, chopped tomatoes, chili,  salt and  pepper.  Simmer for about 5-10 minutes,  and adjust seasoning.

Mix turkey with the other ingredients and form into small meatballs.   Gently drop into simmering pot of tomato sauce and cook, covered, over low heat for about 1 hour.  Delicious over thick chewy noodles!  Serves 4

Enjoy,

Irene

January 31, 2014
Irene Saiger

16 comments

Israeli White Bean Soup

photo-9Shabbat dinner always felt different from the rest of the week.  The differences were small, my mother bentched licht covering her head with whatever was nearby, sometimes even grabbing a dish-towel, the table was covered with an embroidered cloth, challah replaced rye bread, roast chicken was served, and my father said Kiddush.  On Saturdays life went back to normal but that feeling of Shabbat lingered in the air.

As the week winds down, after a full work-week, it’s sometimes hard to plan, shop, and prepare for Shabbat.  That’s what makes those hardy one pot meals like Cholent, Tabit, and Hamin, so attractive.  Instead of serving it for lunch, I often make one of those dishes and put it in the oven early Friday morning to serve for dinner instead.

Tonight we are having some of our children’s Ramah friends over and my plan was to make a one pot dinner.  I thought I would try something new so I chose to make Sofrito from the Jerusalem cookbook, a one-pot chicken and potato dish, cooked slowly in its own juices on top of the stove.  Then I decided to make a pot of turkey meatballs in a cumin-scented tomato sauce.  When I left for the market there was a chill in the air, and so I decided to come home and make a family favorite, a pot of Israeli bean soup.

My one pot dinner has turned into three pots, and with all of them simmering slowly on the stove top, it does feel different, and for me, that’s what Shabbat is all about.  Hope yours feels different too.  Shabbat Shalom.

Israeli Bean Soup

1 pound small white beans, rinsed well

1 large brown onion

1 – 8 oz can tomato sauce

2 cloves garlic

2 tsp salt

2 tsp pepper

2 Tb olive oil

8 cups chicken broth or water with 1 Tb chicken bouillon

Chop onions in a small dice.  In a large soup pot, sauté onions in olive oil till translucent, but not browned, for about 5 or 6 minutes.  Mince garlic and add to onions and cook for another minute or two.  Add water/chicken broth and beans and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to a medium simmer and cook for about one hour.  Then add salt, pepper, and tomato sauce and cook till beans are tender about another 1 1/2 hours.  Adjust seasonings and serve.  Serves 6.

Enjoy,
Irene

January 20, 2014
Irene Saiger

10 comments

PB&B Smoothie and Bimbambam – A Special Guest Post

David here. Meaning the middle child. As in, Irene’s. You probably don’t know this, but I’m something of a foodie myself. More of a critic than a chef, but let’s just say that I know what I’m talking about when it comes to food. Like usually when my mom cooks something and I’m not overly enthusiastic about it and she gets mad and says it’s delicious and asks me what I think is wrong and then I tell her, she almost always agrees with my assessment.Image

My opinion in the kitchen is generally respected, but no one likes to admit it. It might be a middle child quirk. Anyway, my moms a fantastic mom, an even better cook (that’s a compliment, right?), but most of all, the best blogger this family has ever produced! I was inspired by my mom and bamitbach to create my own blog, thisistorah.com, which is not at all like bamitbach but my mom says it’s pretty good so I’m happy.

Anyway, enough about me. Let’s talk food.

Even though I’m pretty good at criticizing food, I’m not very good at making it. So my recipes tend to be, let’s say, functional. Here are two of my favorite low-budget low-time high-calorie dishes, the type of thing I like to eat after I’ve been playing squash for an hour and am about to fall down from fatigue but alas need to go to work. So I need protein, carbs, “vegetables,” etc.

1) I don’t always drink smoothies, but when I do, I prefer a Green Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie. I drink lots of these when it’s hot outside, especially after a bike ride or a game of tennis. Hits the spot. The “Green” refers to the color (as opposed to environmental impact) which is due to the vegetable/protein powder I use. There are literally lots of protein and vegetable powders out there, so if you’re enhancing your smoothie with these I recommend going to the store and asking someone to help you figure out which one best fits your needs. I don’t like to eat vegetables, so I go for a green one that makes me feel better about my diet. My father-in-law introduced me to Amazing Grass (no, this product does not contain marijuana) which is working pretty well for me right now. Slight seaweedy aroma, but nbd. Also, I can’t stress enough how important the ripeness of the bananas is. If you think you can just throw a banana in any state of ripeness into the blender and come out with a great smoothie, you are sorely mistaken. I use bananas that are brownish, just before they turn soft and squishy.   

2) The second is a new creation that I’m finding very useful; I like to call it Bimbambam (my version of the Korean dish bibimbap). Very quick, filling, and relatively healthy. Basically an egg and couscous dish. Fits my meat-reductionist lifestyle quite well.

So, here are the recipes! Thanks Mom, for letting me write whatever I want on your blog!

Green Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie Recipe

2 Bananas, perfectly ripe!

1 heaping spoonful (or more) of peanut butter (I use PB&Co Smooth Operator, because it’s smooth and sweet)

4 ice cubes

A bit of honey (or maple syrup)

Some cinnamon

Milk (cow or soy or almond)

Amazing Grass powder (as much as you can tolerate, I guess. I put about 3/4 of a scoop)

Variations:

1) Sometimes I add a full cup of yogurt, if I’m feeling extra hungry. When I do this I reduce the amount of milk and adjust quantities appropriately. I like using coconut Greek yogurt.

2) Turn the smoothie into a milkshake by adding ice cream. Delicious. If you do this, I recommend leaving out the vegetable powder. You sort of have to decide what type of smoothie you’re going for…

3) of course you can add berries, like fresh or frozen blueberries.

 So basically put all the ingredients into a blender and liquefy. Cleaning the blender is a pain, so I throw it into the dishwasher or put some soap and water into it and blend that until it’s clean. The other thing I’ve noticed is that when I put in the peanut butter I try to get it right in the middle, after I’ve put it the bananas and ice, so that it isn’t resting against the side while I add the other ingredients. This prevents a significant amount of your pb from ending up smeared on the side of the blender (as opposed to in your smoothie).

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Bimbambam Recipe

Near East Roasted Garlic Couscous (or whatever you want)

3 eggs

Fresh Salsa (I like Whole Foods)

Hot Sauce (lately I’ve been using Cholula)

Variation: you can sauteed vegetables to add to the mix, like spinach or something.

Make the couscous according to the box’s instructions. Put about half of it in a bowl. Fry the three eggs and put them on top of the couscous. Add salsa and hot sauce. Enjoy.

 

January 12, 2014
Irene Saiger

10 comments

Sweet and Savory Hot Wings

photo-6Christopher Columbus High School was considered one of the top performing schools in The Bronx, but to be perfectly honest that was not why I chose to go there (although I’d like to think that I wouldn’t have considered it if it had a poor reputation.)   The real reason was that I had just spent three years in an all girls middle school, and had no desire to go on to an all girls high school. Enough was enough.

Looking back I realize that the co-ed aspect of my high school experience wasn’t significant.  The most important lessons I learned had little to do with boys or academics, and everything to do with the people I met and their approach to life.  For the first time I found myself among students and teachers who were passionate, engaged, and involved.  There was Mr. Dubow, whose love of the French language was contagious.  Miss Silberstang, the art teacher who inspired and pushed me to do better on a daily basis, Miss Pakula, an English teacher who also taught drama, and whose encouragement and good nature appeared to be endless, and Mr. Tannenbaum, who taught me Hebrew in a way that I had never experienced in all  my years of Hebrew school.

I had a friend who suddenly and secretly flew to Moscow to participate in a protest on behalf of  Soviet Jewry.  I met students who were active in Zionist organizations and were strongly committed to living in Israel, some who were Betarniks and others from Hashomer Hatzair.  For the first time in my life I met drama students, and art students ,who like myself, spent hours working on portfolios.  I met students who cared about the world, and teachers who cared about us.  Both inside and outside of the classroom, I learned that passion was a great motivator.  It’s the lesson that I still try to remember each day.

Recently I found out that Christopher Columbus is closing its doors, the result of  poor academic performance and low graduation rates.   I am sad that other students won’t experience what I experienced during my years in a great high school, in a great neighborhood, in a great borough.  Goodbye, Columbus.

Goodbye Columbus (a poem in the Anchor Yearbook of 1973 )
“…. May every season…winter, spring, summer or fall….add new phases to your life, when you will more vividly remember saying hello rather than goodbye….”
The foods I craved most during my high school years were pizza, hot dogs with sauerkraut, and black and white cookies.  I  still eat those same foods on almost every trip back East, but in recent years we have been introduced to hot wings, and they have become a family favorite.
Sweet and Savory Hot Wings
2 dozen wings cut in half or the same number of winnetz, which is just the little drumstick part of the wing.
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
5 Tb pareve margarine
Preheat oven to 475 degrees.  Season wings with salt and pepper and place on cookie sheets in a single layer. Bake at 475 till crisp on one side and then turn over and continue baking.  Total baking time is about one hour.  In the meantime, melt margarine over low flame and mix in large bowl with sriracha and brown sugar.  When wings are done toss them in the  bowl of sauce till well coated.  Reheat before serving for about 10-15 minutes.  Serve with a pareve ranch dressing.
Enjoy,
Irene

January 1, 2014
Irene Saiger

5 comments

2013 In Review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Thank you for following me this past year.  Hope to try new things in the “new” year.  I promise to keep you posted.

Here is an excerpt from Word Press.  The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 14,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

December 25, 2013
Irene Saiger

8 comments

Rolled Biscuits

biscuit 2Having grown up in New York, I couldn’t imagine a childhood free of snow, so each year, around  Christmas time, we piled our kids into the car and drove them to the mountains surrounding Los Angeles.  There were day trips to Angeles Crest, the trunk of the Volvo Wagon holding plastic saucers and black garbage bags, perfect for sliding down the snow-covered hills.  Some winter vacations were spent visiting Bubbie and Zaidie in Toronto, there we would walk our children to Cedarvale Park so they could sled in the very same spot where Norm and his sisters had gone sledding as children.  There were occasional December trips to NYC, making sure that we took the time to show the kids the Christmas windows,  an annual ritual from my childhood, made all the better if the day involved gently falling snowflakes while strolling down 5th Avenue.

When they were slightly older, we discovered Mammoth, an easy five-hour drive from home.  We put pillows and blankets in the car and on the way we listened to Burl Ives,  and sang civil war songs from our collection of worn and tattered song books.  Arriving in the town of Bishop always meant a stop at Schat’s Bakkery to buy delicious Sheepherder’s bread for sandwiches, and cinnamon bread for breakfast toast.

There were ski lessons and snow boarding lessons.  While Norm and the kids were on the slopes, I spent the days seated by the large glass window in the ski lodge, with my magazines and books piled on my table, and a mug of cocoa as my only companion.  I passed the time quietly, my only other activity was my frequent  glances through the window, hoping that I would see them coming down the mountain,  still in one piece.  We would always have lunch together, and then they would head back out.  One year, my friend Fredda and I made Cholent for lunch, and actually transported it to the ski area, ladling out hot steaming portions to our grateful skiers, who may have been embarrassed by their mothers, but still ate with relish.

There were specific restaurants we went to each year.  One was Blondie’s Kitchen and Waffle Shop, a small breakfast place with checkered tablecloths, and a down home atmosphere, the kind of place I still love.  The breakfast was always good, and the portions generous.  Eggs came with a side of biscuits, my first introduction to what blossomed into my ongoing love affair with those small and simple quick breads.

We haven’t been to Mammoth in years.  One of my children still actively skis, and all the kids live on the East Coast where they have plenty of snow.  Norm and I are still  in warm and sunny Los Angeles, where today, I am remembering it all and making biscuits for breakfast.  Happy Holidays!!!

biscuit 1

Rolled Biscuits 

2 cups all-purpose flour 

1 tsp sugar

2 1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

6 Tb cold butter, cut into pieces

3/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  In a large bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.  Using a pastry knife or two forks, cut butter into mixture until it begins to look like cornmeal.  Make a well in flour mixture and  add milk.  Place mixture on lightly floured board and  knead  for a minute or two, just enough for dough to hold together.   Gently pat dough  down and out, using your finger tips, till you have a 1/2 ” thick rectangle.  Cut rounds out with a medium-sized glass by pressing down, not twisting.  Bake biscuits on an ungreased cookie sheet for about 10-12 minutes.   Makes about 10 biscuits.

Enjoy,

Irene

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