Micheline’s Creme Caramel

We are standing in the kitchen together again, as we have for more than 50 years, but this time we weren’t in her kitchen.  The location doesn’t seem to matter, we have an easy rhythm that two people share when they are just happy to be together.  Like a duet, effortless, even though we hadn’t practiced in a long time.  We shop, cook, eat, drink, and talk, and after resting we start all over again.  I learned that our Uncle David was going to be a rabbi, she learned that my favorite wine is Vouvray.   We have history, both genetic and the kind that comes from having lived in close proximity to each other, and despite our mature ages, she is still my role model.  I am astonished that she arrives to cook with perfectly done hair and make-up, wearing a twin sweater-set she could just as easily have been dressed for an afternoon at the museum.

On Friday afternoon Micheline took center stage, no recipe in hand to guide her, just years of practice and the experience of having prepared this dish hundreds of times.  I stood and watched, still learning from my cousin who has already taught me so much about food, family, and life.

After the first day of Yontif,  Micheline went home, and we discovered a brown bag with her custard pan, the slightly larger pan which she uses for a Bain-marie , along with the small Corningware pot that she uses to make her caramel.  I called her to see if we should ship them to her, but she said to keep them.  Now those pans belong to my son and daughter-in-law.  May they use them in good health, and have them as a reminder of the wonderful Rosh Hashana that they created for the family.  Maybe one day they too will make crème caramel.

I called  Micheline this morning and she asked me to share this part of the story.  That afternoon, she trustingly left me to watch over the crème caramel while she ran to the market.  I over-baked it and “ruined it.”   I hope she will forgive me, but it was a lesson well learned and one I don’t think I will ever forget.  There is still so much to learn.  Chag Sameach.

Photo taken by Glenda Amit

Micheline’s Creme Caramel
(original recipe from Mireille)

Custard

8 egg yolks and 4 whole eggs

1/4 cup sugar

1 quart whole milk

dash of salt

2 tsp vanilla

In a large mixing bowl, mix eggs with sugar, then add milk and salt, ending with vanilla.  Set aside.

 

Caramel

1 cup sugar

water to cover

To make the caramel, place sugar in a small saucepan and add just enough water to cover the sugar, no more than that.  Place pan on stove over medium heat.  Do not stir.  Allow syrup to boil until it starts to turn dark brown.  Then quickly remove from the heat and immediately pour into baking dish, tilting pan till bottom is covered with caramel.

 

Pour custard over caramel.  Place larger pan in the oven and put custard-filled pan inside of it.  Carefully add cold water in between the two pans, 2/3 up the side.  Not too much!  We don’t want it to flow over into the crème caramel.

Set oven temperature to 350° F.  and bake for about 30 minutes. The water should not boil during baking. The custard is done when it has set, which you can test by inserting a  knife which should come out clean.  DO NOT OVERBAKE. Allow the custard to cool completely, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate till serving time.  To serve, run a knife along the outside and turn over onto a dessert plate.  Serves 10-12

Enjoy,

Irene

Chicken Schnitzle

 My colleague at work calls them her Divas In Training, the young women who cook with her every Sunday, learning to make the family recipes by her side.  I had a similar experience this Passover when we were joined by young women for almost every holiday meal.  The kitchen was filled with chitchat along with the sound of stainless steel spoons hitting metal pots, of salad dressing being whisked, and of chicken Schnitzle sizzling in hot oil.  My favorite kind of noise, the noise of a busy kitchen.
Once upon a time I too was a young and inexperienced cook and stood in the kitchens of women whose food I enjoyed, so I could learn from them.  It just so happens that this Passover, Schnitzle was served at least 3 or 4 times over the course of the week (some from Fresh Foods Catering in Houston, Texas.)  At one point I was asked to post my recipe for Schnitzle (you can also try the non-Passover version of Schnitzle and see which you prefer) and so this is for “the girls.”
I love the idea that a new generation of women, all busy with their careers, and some with families, still want to take the time to prepare Schnitzle.  It’s like keeping a little part of Passover alive all year long, until it rolls around again.  Just remember to listen for the sizzle.
Chicken Schnitzle

6 chicken cutlets

2 eggs, beaten

1 cup Matzoh Meal

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil

Lemon cut in wedges

Place the Schnitzle between sheets of wax paper and pound to a thickness of about 1/4 inch.  Place beaten eggs and matzoh meal in wide bowls.  Season matzoh meal with salt and pepper.  In the meantime heat oil in frying pan.  Dip each cutlet in egg mixture and then in matzoh meal and place on a large plate.  Do not stack.  Test to make sure oil is hot enough.  Dont’ be impatient, this step is really important.  Cook the Schnitzle until golden brown, about  3-4  minutes on each side.  Don’t crowd the pan.  As the cutlets are done, put them on a cookie sheet lined with paper towels.  Serve with lemon wedges.  Serves 3.

Enjoy,

Irene

Portobello Mushroom Frittata

Last week we went to see an Israeli documentary called The Breakfast Parliament about the privatization of Kibbutz Ein Tsurim and the impact on its’ members.  The film focused on a group of Kibbutznikim who, for decades, had breakfast together in the dining hall until a vote decides that it is no longer economically feasible.  In one of the last scenes of the film, you glimpse each of these men eating in their homes, separately and alone.

One of the highlights of the year I spent working on Kibbutz Usha, milking 300 cows a day, was walking into the communal dining hall after the morning milking, knowing that there would be a room full of people talking about anything and everything, over breakfast.  Being part of a setting where meals were always communal had a great impact on me, and to this day breakfast is a meal that I prefer to have in the company of others.

I was fortunate enough to continue this tradition over the past several years.  Sharing an office with two colleagues, who became friends, we begin each morning with breakfast, each of us at eating at our own desk, but in each other’s presence.  It has been a ritual that has nourished our stomachs and our souls  as we catch up, chat, confer and prepare for the day.  Last week I was told that I will be moving into the office next door, and yesterday I packed up my desk.  Barbie sat with me and we reminisced, Susan handed me a card on which she wrote that I should knock on the wall three times when I need her.  Friday was the last day of our own breakfast parliament.  I am ready to knock.

Portobello Mushroom Frittata

8 oz. small Portobello mushrooms, sliced

1 large shallot, sliced

4 eggs

3/4 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded

2 Tb olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Put olive oil in frying pan and heat.  Add sliced shallots and mushrooms and sauté on high heat for about 5 minutes.  Allow mixture to cool.  Beat 4 eggs in a large bowl and add mushroom mixture.  Season with salt and pepper.   Add 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese and mix well.  Butter a pie dish and pour in egg mixture.  Cover with remaining mozzarella cheese.  Place in oven till golden brown, about 40 minutes.  Serves 4-6 for breakfast.

Enjoy,

Irene

Crepes

Last night I went to meet a jeweler who is doing some work for our family.  Although I had spoken on the phone with Sol several times, I had not had the pleasure of meeting him.  From his accent, I could tell that Sol had grown up in a country where he had spoken French so I was already curious.  As I pulled up in front of his home, Sol was waiting for me outside, tending to some flowers in the garden.  He greeted me as if I were an old friend and put me completely at ease.  Once inside, he introduced me to his wife but before we discussed the reason for my visit we spent some time getting to know each other.  Sol told me that he and his wife were from Egypt and showed me a newspaper article which featured a photograph of the synagogue his family belonged to outside of Cairo.  We talked about his family, his home, his synagogue and his community.  Although Sol’s wife did not say much, she exuded warmth, had great presence and was a gracious hostess.

When I left, I felt fortunate to have met this lovely couple, not only because he was able to do what I came to ask of him, but because I was able to observe the loving and adoring glances that he gave his wife.  She was the mother of his children and he spoke to her in the same gentle manner that he used when speaking with me.  I left with a smile on my face for two reasons. Knowing that our son and soon to be daughter-in-law would have the bands that they wanted,  but being a true romantic,  I was also smiling at the thought of Sol who clearly celebrates Mother’s Day every day, even on an ordinary Tuesday afternoon.

Wishing you all a very Happy Mother’s Day.

Crepes are a perfect food for Mother’s Day Breakfast.  The trick is to make sure your pan is hot before you add the batter.

Crepes

2/3 cup flour

2 eggs

1/2 tsp sugar

3/4 cup low-fat milk

1 Tbs oil

Combine all ingredients in a  large bowl. Whisk until batter is smooth.  If batter is too thick, thin with small amounts of additional milk.  I pour a little bit of oil on a small plate and dip a paper towel in the oil.  I grease a small skillet with the paper towel, and heat pan over high heat.  Take a large spoon and add batter, tilting pan so batter covers bottom of pan.  Cook for about one minute and then turn over and cook on the other side.  I like them with lemon juice and powdered sugar but the possibilities are endless.

Serves 4.

Enjoy,

Irene


Latkes

The Chanukah of my childhood bears little resemblance to how we now celebrate the holiday.  Growing up there were three ways that a visitor to our home would recognize that it was Chanukah.  Latkes were being fried in the kitchen, a Hanukkiah was prominently placed on the dining room table, and a dreidel or two were lying around the living room.  There were no decorations strung in the apartment, and no wrapped presents to open.  Before the candles were lit, we said the brachot and sang a song or two.  We were then given gelt, money to spend as we wished, (I still remember the white go-go boots that I bought at Alexander’s on Fordham Road) and that was our gift.

Looking back, I don’t feel that the significance of the holiday was in any way diminished, despite the modest way in which it was celebrated. I loved Chanukah and anticipated its arrival each year.  I would come home from school and run to choose the candles, carefully selecting colors and creating patterns.  Alternating blue and white candles one night, assorted colors on another, and my favorite, an entire Hanukkiah filled with white candles.  Chanukah had no religious meaning or overtones in our home.  We knew about the miracle associated with the oil but my parents always emphasized the military victory.

When we were raising our children, Chanukah celebrations became much more elaborate, and the religious significance was emphasized rather than the military history.  There were always parties to host or attend, lots of gifts and decorations, lots of singing and lots of food.  I look forward to seeing the traditions that my children will embrace in their own homes, but for now I am happy to know that all of my children are either hosting Chanukah parties or participating in the celebration. That is the greatest gift.

No matter how we celebrated the holiday one thing always remained the same, the way we make latkes.  I make them exactly as my mother did during those early celebrations, sweet and simple, with a little sugar sprinkled on top.

Happy Chanukah to you and your families!


Latkes

4 large Russet potatoes, peeled, cut into chunks and placed in bowl of cold water.

1 large onion, peeled and cut into chunks

5 eggs, beaten

1/2 cup matzoh meal

salt to taste

Vegetable Oil
Pour enough oil into a large frying pan until it reaches halfway up the sides of the pan.  In the meantime, place coarsely chopped potatoes and onion in food processor,  a few at a time, and process till fine.  (we do not use grated potatoes)  Pour into bowl and add beaten eggs, salt, and enough matzoh meal to bind mixture.  When oil is hot, place large spoonfuls of mixture in pan but do not crowd.  Fry about 4-5 latkes at a time.  Fry till golden and flip over. Serve straight from pan.

Enjoy,

Irene

Corn Cakes

Summer and fresh corn on the cob are one of those perfect pairings, like peanut butter and jelly, or chocolate cake and milk.  As a child I only remember eating yellow corn which we always bought with the husk on, thinking they were fresher that way.  (I still can’t bring myself to husk the corn at the market even though it would mean less mess in the kitchen) My mother boiled that corn forever, not knowing that it only needed a few minutes to cook.  It certainly never occurred to us that we could eat it raw.  She always told my sister and I that in Poland corn and tomatoes were food for cows, not humans.

When our children were little, we often went to Toronto during the summer to visit their paternal grandparents.  One of the places we enjoyed visiting was Puck’s Farm outside of Toronto.  It was a wonderful old-fashioned farm with a barn,  a few farm animals, bales of hay to jump in, an area where you could pick your own vegetables, and incredible corn that had just been harvested.  The variety they grew was called peaches and cream, alternating white and yellow kernels, and I had never seen anything like it.  The corn was for sale but it was also available to eat right there, steaming hot ears of corn ready to dip into a huge vat of melted butter.  So simple and so good. Boiling is only one of the ways I now prepare corn, and when I do boil it, it is for no more than five minutes.  I often grill it, constantly turning the ears till they get slightly charred.  Sometimes I cut the kernels off the cob and add them to a salad, raw.  Other times, I throw the raw kernels into a hot cast iron pan with olive oil,  salt and pepper, and some shredded basil.  It’s all good but, truth be told, none of it is as sweet as it was on those summer days when we watched our children eating corn on the cob with melted butter dripping down the sides of their smiling faces.

Corn Cakes

3 ears fresh corn

3 eggs

1/2 cup matzoh meal

2 scallions

1/4 cup cilantro

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1/4 cup canola oil

Cut corn off cob and put in mixing bowl. Add eggs, slightly beaten, and matzoh meal to bowl. Mix well. Thinly slice scallions and add to mixture along with coarsely chopped cilantro. Season with salt and pepper. In a cast iron pan heat oil till hot. Drop large tablespoons of corn mixture into hot oil. Let cook till golden brown then turn over.

Warning: Corn pops in the frying pan so be careful!!!

Makes 12 corn cakes.

Enjoy,

Irene

Blintzes

I was 16 years old, it was my first trip away from home, and I was going abroad.  Although my parents had never been to Israel, they decided to send me on a summer program.  I was nervous and excited and had no idea what to expect.  I didn’t know anybody else in my group but I was confident that I was going to a place where I would feel comfortable.  My mother had two friends that she had known in Poland before the war but had not seen since 1945. Manya and Sonia both lived with their families on a moshav outside of Gedera called Meishar.  My mother asked me to go see them, she said they were like family.  I had to hitchhike into the moshav, another first, and when I was dropped off at Manya’s home, (same name as my mother) she looked at me as if she were looking at my mother, with recognition in her eyes.  Manya K. and Sonia U. were neighbors and their homes were  no more than 100 feet apart.  On that first of many visits they opened their homes and hearts to me. They fussed over me and told me stories and cooked and cooked and cooked.  I literally went back and forth between their homes all day long, each one beckoning for me to come over and have something to eat. Sonia U. would make blintzes for Aruchat Arba, afternoon tea, in such an effortless way that it made an impression on me that lasted till today.  It was hospitality at its best. Warm, inviting, and gracious.

Both women have passed away but their families are still on the Moshav,  and I still see Aaron and Rosie and their children whenever I go to Israel. We sit and tell stories and cook and eat.  They are like family.




Blintzes

Bletlech (Leaves)

3 eggs

1 3/4 cups milk

2 tbsp sour cream

pinch salt

1 cup flour

Beat eggs and add milk and sour cream. Slowly whisk in flour and pinch of salt and beat till batter is smooth.

Filling

1 lb. farmer’s cheese ( I prefer Friendship brand)

8 oz. small curd cottage cheese

1 tbsp sour cream

1/2 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup sugar

1 egg yolk (gives filling a buttery color)

dash cinnamon and salt

Combine all ingredients and mix well.

Heat an 8″ omelette pan and grease with vegetable oil. (I like to put the oil on a paper towel which I use to grease the pan in between making each leaf) Heat pan and add slightly less than 1/4 cup batter, swirling pan so that  batter covers the bottom.  Fry for about 2 minutes or till there are bubbles forming and batter looks dry.  Turn leaf onto plate. Continue until batter is finished, stacking leaves. This should yield 15 leaves.

Spread leaves on dish towels and evenly divide filling among them. Fold and lightly saute blintzes in butter.

Enjoy,

Irene

Shakshuka


My parents, Miriam and Harry Graf, were both originally from small towns near Warsaw, Poland, from families who were religious Zionists.  In my father’s hometown of Warka, he and his brothers were active in the Revisionist movement in the 1930s. My mother’s older brother had tickets on a liner to Palestine but the war broke out and he was never able to leave.  After having survived the war, my parents created a home where Israel dominated every topic of conversation.  Their passion and devotion to Israel was contagious and they imparted their love to their daughters and grandchildren.

Last night we were going to a Yom Ha’Atzmaut celebration sponsored by the Israeli Consulate.  Not having much time to prepare dinner and wanting to serve something “Israeli” I made shakshuka.  I don’t remember where I first tasted this dish, but shakshuka is a great way to prepare eggs.

Shakshuka

2 tbsp olive oil

1 clove garlic, sliced

1 jalapeno pepper, thinly sliced

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp paprika

1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes

6 eggs

salt and pepper to taste

Saute garlic and jalapeno in olive oil for a minute or two. Add crushed tomatoes, cumin, paprika, salt and pepper and cook for about five minutes over low heat. Gently crack eggs into simmering sauce, cover and cook for ten minutes till eggs set.

Serves 3

Enjoy,

Irene

Chopped Liver

Nobody eats real chopped liver anymore but it is yontif and my son David is in town and this is one of his favorites.   I have had versions made with lentils, green beans (my personal preference), mushrooms and eggplants usually  blended with walnuts, hard-boiled eggs, and onions and  although they are delicious they just aren’t the same.  The trick to good chopped liver is patience.  The onions need to caramelize for about 30 minutes over a low flame.  If the color of the onions isn’t a deep golden brown, you won’t achieve that flavor that takes chopped liver to a whole different level.  This is the way my mother made it and today I used her wooden bowl and hackmesser (chopping knife) to make it.

Chag Sameach!

Manya’s Chopped Liver

1 pound chicken livers

5 hard-boiled eggs

4 large brown onions

1/2 cup vegetable oil

dash of salt

Broil the livers for about 5 minutes, turning once or twice.  Remove and cool.  Dice onions and saute in oil over a low flame till they are a deep golden brown.  Place all ingredients in wooden bowl and chop till fine or you can do this in the food processor on the pulse cycle but DO NOT over blend.

Enjoy,

Irene

Bubelach (Passover Pancakes)

As a young girl I always thought that “bubela” was a term of endearment.  I am not sure how old I was when I found out that it was also a pancake.  This is a recipe that my Mom made every Passover.  Our friends, the Androns, lived across the alley from my parents and when their kids would run over to visit, my Mom would serve them bubelach.  We always ate it with sugar on top and a cup of hot tea but it is equally good with jam or a fresh fruit topping.

Bubelach
4 eggs, separated
5 Tbsp. matzoh meal
dash salt
3-4 Tbsp. oil

Beat egg whites till stiff. Gently fold in yolks, matzoh meal and salt. Heat oil in large, deep, frying pan till hot. Gently pour mixture into pan and lower heat. When bottom of pancake is golden, slide carefully on to a plate, and invert back into pan. Cook for about five more minutes. Insert a toothpick to make sure center is dry. Cut and serve hot. Serves 2-3

Enjoy,
Irene