Chocolate Babka

IMG_2178I wish I knew something about the Purim celebrations that my parents experienced during their childhood.  They were both from observant families so it is hard to imagine that the holiday was not marked in some way.  On top of which my mother’s aunt owned the bakery in Mogielnica.  Did she prepare Hamantaschen or some other local pastry for the holiday?  What was the filling?  Poppy I assume,  but I will never know.  What I do know is that with only one week to go, I am without a plan as I have decided not to make Hamantaschen this year.

Last week I found myself in a situation where I had to come up with a dessert at the last minute.  Without having planned it in advance, I took part of my challah dough and made a chocolate Babka.  It turned out great and since it was my first attempt, I was pleasantly surprised.  One can only hope that inspiration will come to the rescue, but in the meantime chocolate Babka anyone?  Chag Sameach.

 

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Chocolate Babka

Your favorite challah recipe or mine.   I used half the dough to prepare two Challot and half to prepare two Babkas.

Filling for one Babka
1 stick sweet butter or pareve margarine, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 pound semi-sweet chocolate
Pinch of salt
1 Tb cinnamon

Egg wash (optional)
1 egg
2 teaspoons milk, water or soy milk
1 Tb sugar mixed with 1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Coarsely chop bar of chocolate, then finish chopping in food processor till fine.  Add salt, sugar and cinnamon and mix for a few seconds.  Add butter or margarine and mix in by pulsing.

Grease a round pan well.  After dough doubled in size, punch down and roll into a large rectangle.  This takes some time and patience.  Make sure your surface is well floured so dough doesn’t stick.  Make it as thin and long as you can.

Sprinkle the filling evenly over the dough.  Starting from the long side, roll dough as tightly as possible.   Place in pan and let rise for about 30 minutes.   Mix egg with milk or water and brush on top.  Sprinkle with a Tablespoon of sugar mixed with a Tsp of cinnamon.  Bake for about 30 minutes and cool on rack.

Enjoy,

Irene

 

 

 

Roast Chicken with Figs

IMG_2161We grew up eating dried fruit and nuts for dessert.  The nuts were in their shells, and were left out on the dining room table with a nutcracker on top.  I am sure my mother bought them that way because she thought they were fresher, but the unintentional result was that you actually needed to sit around the table to shell them.  Pieces of shell would fly as I tried to crack walnuts, filberts, and almonds on my own. The walnuts were the most challenging, hard to crack because of the uneven shell, and prying out the walnut meat was a delicate and time-consuming task in itself.  I was impatient and my father would take over, proud when he was able to remove a walnut half intact.  The dried fruit was typically dates, or figs imported from Greece, pierced and on a string.
On my first trip to Israel I went to Kfar Meishar to visit family friends.  The Unterstein’s had a pecan orchard and so once again I found myself sitting around a table and shelling nuts.  Tonight is Tu Bishvat and that makes me think of Israel, and because it is also Shabbat, we planned a menu around this New Year of the Trees.  We have chicken with figs, olive oil cake, dried fruit, and  walnuts still in their shell, with my parents’ nutcracker on top.  I can’t wait to see if anyone will even be tempted to use it, other than myself.
Roast Chicken with Figs 
2 chickens cut in eighths
Marinade
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 /2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
6 cloves of garlic
1 cup dry white wine
salt and pepper
Combine in food processor and marinade chicken for several hours or overnight.
1 1/2 cups figs, sliced in half, or dried fruit of your choice.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Remove chicken from marinade and place in roasting pan.  Scatter figs and  pour 1 cup of the marinade over the top.  Bake for 1 1/2 hours, basting and adding marinade as needed.  Serves 8-10
Enjoy,
Irene

Tomato Soup

IMG_2156My sister told me that despite her repeated requests for a colored television, my parents refused to buy one until I (the baby in the family) wanted one, and then one was bought right away.  That television changed our lives in many ways.  Ed Sullivan, The Micky Mouse Club, and Captain Kangaroo became weekly guests in our home.  We were just as attentive during the commercial breaks and the ads were so convincing, that even a child as young as I was then, I advocated for whatever they happened to be selling.  I am ashamed to admit that I begged my mother to buy Chef Boyardee products, T.V. Dinners, and Campbell Soups.  I couldn’t understand why she insisted on spending her time carefully dicing and chopping vegetables when I was sure that her homemade soups could not possibly compare to the gelatinous, cylindrical mass of soup that came out of a can.  My mother kept preparing her wonderful chicken soup, made with chicken feet that we loved to chew on, vegetable soups cooked with delicious marrow bones which could only be scooped out with the smallest of spoons, white bean soups that were hearty and peppery, and a “milchig” tomato soup, the one soup I wouldn’t eat.  I can’t tell you why.  Maybe it was because my mother told me that she never ate tomatoes when she was a child.  Maybe it was the tartness of the tomatoes, or the acidity of the soup.  I have no memory of what that particular soup tasted like, and sadly I have no idea how she prepared it.

What I do know is that my mother refused to listen to those ad campaigns and successfully ignored my nagging.  She continued  making homemade soups her entire life.  Without any lecturing, in her own gentle way, and by example, she taught me a valuable lesson about life and soup, that fast is not always better and that tomato soup is delicious after all.

Tomato Soup adapted from a recipe by Ina Garten

I-28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes

2 large red onions, chopped

3 medium carrots, diced

4 cloves garlic

1 tsp sugar

2 Tb tomato paste

3 Tb olive oil

4 cups pareve chicken stock

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup whole milk

Heat the olive oil in a large pot.  Add chopped onions and carrots, and sauté for about 20 minutes.  Add garlic, can of tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar, chicken stock, salt and pepper. Bring the soup to a boil, stir, lower the heat, cover and simmer for about 45 minutes.  Puree, stir in milk, and adjust seasoning.  Garnish with diced avocado and tortilla chips.  Serves 4-6

Enjoy,

Irene

Chicken Taquitos

IMG_2145Some family patterns are repeated from generation to generation.  When I was growing up it wasn’t unusual for my mother to make three different entrees for the four of us.  My parents would share one main course, but in addition, my mother often prepared whatever it was that my sister and I each craved.  I now see that it was just a “crazy” thing to do, but it is a pattern that I repeated with my own children.  Food was love and nobody was ever expected to eat something they didn’t care for.  Meals were about enjoyment, pleasure, and indulgence.

Last week all four of my adult children were coming to town to attend the wedding of family friends.  Two were arriving in time for Shabbat and not knowing exactly what each one would want for dinner, I covered all the bases.  I prepared enough food for ten, completely unable to cook for four.  I made Matboucha (a Moroccan tomato salad) to start with, followed by chicken soup with matzoh balls.  The main course included shredded brisket that was braised for ten hours, baked honey garlic chicken, roast potatoes, sautéed Bok Choy with shiitake mushrooms, and a green salad.  Dessert was fruit, and brownies covered with a layer of caramel and sea salt, an Ina Garten recipe.  I guess I went overboard, but as a result we had lots of leftovers.  On top of it all, I still had to do something with that soup chicken.  My mother used to serve the soup chicken as a main course (one reason that she was forced to make something different for my sister and me,) and my mother-in-law used it as filling for knishes or shepard’s pie.  I decided to make Chicken Taquitos.

During the course of the weekend, as the kids devoured the Taquitos, they shared some “constructive criticism.”  One son suggested that next time I might consider adding some diced potatoes or chunks of avocado, and another said the Taquitos could   have used more seasoning and cilantro.

On Wednesday morning we woke up to a much quieter household and I decided to get up and clean out the fridge before I left for work.  The leftovers were gone as were three of the four children, and there wasn’t a Taquito in sight.

Chicken Taquitos

4 large cooked chicken breasts

4 green onions, thinly sliced

½ cup chicken broth

24 corn tortillas.  4 1/2 inch size

2 tbsp canola oil plus oil for frying

1 tsp salt and ½ tsp pepper
In a large bowl, skin, bone, and shred cooked chicken, and set aside.  In 2 tbsp oil, sauté sliced green onions for about 3-4 minutes and add to shredded chicken along with salt and pepper to taste.  At this point you might want to add some diced pre-cooked potatoes, taco seasoning, chopped fresh cilantro, or some avocado chunks.  Add chicken broth to moisten the mixture.  Warm tortillas in microwave, wrapped in a slightly damp paper towel or in a tortilla warmer, till soft enough to roll.  Place about 2 tbsp of chicken mixture at the bottom part of the tortilla and roll tightly.  Place tooth pick through the flap to hold Taquito together.  Add enough oil to a large frying pan so that it is about 2 inches deep.   Place pan over med-high heat till hot, and fry Taquitos till golden brown on one side and then turn.  Cook about 3 minutes per side.  Serve hot with salsa and guacamole.  Serve 2 to 3 Taquitos per person.
Enjoy,

Irene

Estelle’s Thai Chicken Tacos with Cabbage Slaw

IMG_1290As 2012 comes to an end, I want to thank all of you who have continued to give me support and encouragement over the past year.  Some of you send me private e-mails, some of you post comments on the blog, some “like” me on Facebook, and some of you subscribe but never say a word, and that too is appreciated.

My friend Estelle sent me and our friend Susan this e-mail about a Shabbat dinner that she prepared for her family, and because she is an incredible cook I am sure these chicken tacos are as good as she said they were.  More importantly, you will see that she left her comfort zone, not an easy thing to do, whether it be in the kitchen or elsewhere.  May 2013 be filled with health,  happiness, good food, and just enough courage to try something new.

 

” Dear Friends,
Over the past years I have admired many of my friends.  I have been lucky to have been surrounded by women that have given me advice, names of painters, doctors, and recipes that have turned a meal into a memory.  I have forwarded many of those recipes to you, but today I thought I would write a little story along with an incredible recipe, that I served on Shabbat.
 
I have two wonderful friends by the names of Irene and Susie.  I look forward to their blog posts, not only for the delicious recipes, but truly for their stories, and the memories they  share with all of us.  After reading many of Irene’s stories and recipes, I wonder if we are related.   Often times when I make something truly delicious, I always wonder what Irene and Susie would have said about this dish.  
 
Recently I had a lovely lunch with a new friend.  We talked for a long time and then swapped  Shabbat recipes.  I told her I was going to make Thai Chicken Tacos but was not going to serve them with corn tortillas, as the recipe called for.  I explained that I  could hear my dad’s voice saying, ” What is a tortilla?”   But my friend told me that she had done a Mexican themed Shabbat dinner and it was fine.  She gave me “permission” to veer from the norm.  When I came home,  I was still not convinced but then I fondly remembered many Mexican Shabbat dinners at Susie’s house.  Most of them had tortillas that complemented  her delicious menu.  Could I have the courage to do that?   I did it, and our dinner felt both familiar and like an adventure, but most importantly, it still felt like Shabbat.  
Warmest wishes to all, Estelle. “
Thai Chicken Tacos
1 lime, halved
l lb skinless boneless chicken breasts, thighs, or tenders, cut into strips, 1/2″ thick.
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 shallot, sliced
3 cloves garlic minced
2 tsp  soy sauce
1/2 to 1 tsp chili flakes
1/2 to 1 tsp hot sauce
2 Tb vegetable oil
16 corn tortillas heated
1 recipe Cabbage Slaw
Juice one half of a lime.  Cut remaining half in wedges (oops forgot to serve them) and set aside.  In a bowl combine chicken strips, cilantro, shallot, garlic,  lime juice, soy sauce, chili flakes, and hot sauce.  Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour ( I did it overnight.)  In a large skillet cook chicken in hot oil over medium high till cooked, about 1o minutes, stirring occasionally.  To serve, layer 2 tortillas (we used only one) top with chicken and cabbage slaw.  Serve remaining cabbage slaw and lime wedges on side.
 
CABBAGE SLAW
in a bowl toss 2 cups shredded Napa cabbage, 1/2 cup shredded carrot, 1/2 cup sliced green onion, 1/2 cup sliced radishes (did not use as I forgot to buy them) 1/4 cup chopped cilantro,  and 1/4 cup coarsely chopped peanuts (did not use as my mom is allergic.) Although think it would be better with sliced or slivered almonds.   Add 1/4 cup rice vinegar and toss.
Enjoy,
Irene

Chicken Cacciatore

2012-12-14 17.26.20It is a testament to my parents’ confidence in their ability to transmit their values to my sister and me that they were not threatened by Christmas.  I was allowed to attend Christmas dinner at the Bartolinis, listen to holiday music on the radio, help my neighbor Rosemary decorate her Christmas tree, and go to the Lorenzano brothers home on Christmas Eve for a very small glass of Creme de Menthe.   Maybe they knew it was unavoidable since we attended public school, but their liberal attitudes gave me the freedom to learn about Christmas, see how it was observed, and discover that in the homes of our Italian neighbors and friends, food played a central role at their family gatherings as well. 

This Friday night as the last days of Chanukkah were approaching, and Norm and I had Shabbat dinner by ourselves, all I wanted was Chicken Cacciatore,  the kind of hearty dish that Mrs. Bartolini might have made for Christmas Dinner.  I felt lucky that I had those wonderful memories to call on and as I placed freshly made, piping hot latkes on my husband’s plate, and with no apple sauce in sight, he used the latkes to soak up the sauce of the Chicken Cacciatore.  The next night our friends joined us for a Christmas Concert where Norm was singing in the choir, and afterwards we went to one of our local kosher dairy restaurants for “Toastim.”   Without giving it much thought my parents instilled a love of Judaism that doesn’t prevent me from being able to appreciate the beauty of Christmas. 

Chicken Cacciatore

6 Chicken Thighs, legs attached

1 1/2 tsp salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup all-purpose flour, for dredging

4 tablespoons olive oil

2 large red bell peppers, chopped

1 large brown onion, chopped

1 lb. white mushrooms, halved

4 garlic cloves, finely sliced

3/4 cup dry red wine

1 – 28-oz can crushed tomatoes

3/4 cup chicken stock

1 tsp chili flakes

1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano

Sprinkle the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and then dredge the chicken pieces in the flour, shaking off excess.  In a large pot, heat the oil, add the chicken pieces to the pan and brown over high heat, about 5 minutes per side.  Avoid crowding, browning in two batches if necessary.  Transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside.  Add the chopped bell peppers, onion, and garlic to the same pan and sauté over medium heat for about 5 minutes.  Add the wine, crushed tomatoes, chicken stock, garlic, chili flakes, and oregano.  Add the chicken pieces back to the pot, and the mushrooms,  making sure the sauce covers everything.  Bring the pot to a simmer and cook, covered,  over low heat for about 1 1/2 hours.  Taste and adjust seasoning.  Serves 4 generously.

Enjoy,

Irene

 

 

Roasted Winter Vegetables

IMG_2049There was a mist covering Los Angeles this past weekend, and it does feel like winter.  Living in the West, people assume that the seasons just blend together without any noticeable changes but that isn’t so, the changes are just less dramatic.  The flower beds are not quite as full,  some of the trees lose their leaves, and the jewel-toned winter vegetables in the markets are completely in sync with the holiday season.  The reds and purples of fingerlings, the rust colored yams, the beautiful deep green of the acorn squashes that at once bring to mind acorns and the forest beds where they fall.  My favorite are the turban squashes, each one so different that they look as if an artist painted these unusual gourds by hand, some splattered with yellow and green, others like our winters, less showy but no less beautiful.

 

Roasted Winter Vegetables 

What makes this dish so beautiful are the skins.  Do not bother peeling the squashes, just roast them for a long time in small wedges and they will soften.

Acorn squash

Turban squash

Butternut squash

Assorted Fingerling potatoes, sliced in half lengthwise (purples and reds)

Yams, peeled and cut in large chunks

Turnips, peeled and cut in large chunks

1 large red onion, cut in wedges

2/3 cup olive oil

10 peeled cloves of garlic

salt and pepper

2 Tb. maple syrup

2 Tb white balsamic vinegar

Carefully cut all the squash into small wedges, leaving the skin on.  Toss in a large bowl with 1/3 cup olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper and roast on a cookie sheet in a preheated oven at 425 degrees till skin is easily pierced.  Toss occasionally so all the squash cooks evenly.  Roast for  about one hour.

Take remaining vegetables and red onion, and toss in a bowl with 1/3 cup olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, and maple syrup.  Place on cookie sheet at the same temperature for about 30 minutes or until done.

Combine both sheets of vegetables and adjust seasoning.

Enjoy,

Irene