My 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
Some 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.
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.
As 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.
It 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.
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.
There 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.
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.
I often think of my mother, but as Chanukah approaches her memory burns bright. She would stand at the kitchen counter with her box grater, and one by one grate the potatoes on the side with the finest holes. Grated, not shredded. No food processor in sight, just hard work that often resulted in raw knuckles. The same pan was used to fry them each year, the one pan that produced a golden disc, not dark brown and not soft, but thin and crisp. Since they were served as the main course, there were always plenty of Latkes to go around, and I would alternate between topping them with sour cream, apple sauce, or my personal favorite, just plain sugar.
For some reason my mother chose tuna salad as the side dish, and everyone was given hot tea which she served in drinking glasses. The golden color of the Laktes was echoed in the color of the tea, my mother’s holiday china, and in the lights of the Menorah. She loved the melodies of the Chanukah songs, and so each year we sing the Yiddish variation of Chanukah Oy Chanukah, a tradition we have carried on in tribute to this diminutive, brave, woman who made our home shine so bright.
Chanukah, Oy Chanukah
A yontev a sheyner
A lustiger, a freylecher
Nito noch azayner
Alle nacht in dreydl
zudik heyse latkes
Di Chanukah lichtelach ahn
Lomir alle singen
Und lomir ale Shpringen
Und lomir ale tantzen in kon
Lomir alle singen
Und lomir ale Shpringen
Und lomir ale tantzen in kon
I think hot soup goes better with latkes, especially one that serves as another venue for sour cream.
Curried Zucchini Soup
2 Tb butter
1 Tb olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 small carrot, chopped
2 Tb butter
4 medium zucchini, coarsely chopped
4 cups pareve chicken broth
2 1/2 teaspoons curry powder, or to taste
salt and pepper to taste