Oven-Roasted Herb Tomatoes

photo-2 copy 2It was the summer of 1972,  I was 16 years old and I was going to Israel for the first time. The trip was organized by Hadassah, six weeks long, we were to spend a week on kibbutz, a week on Gadna (pre-army training camp) at Sde Boker, and the remaining month touring.  After we arrived, we drove to Jerusalem and were taken to our residence, Beit Riklis on Mt Scopus.  There was a brief orientation after which we were sent to our rooms and told ” lights out.”   But we were 16 year olds, naïve and foolish, and it didn’t take long before we decided to sneak out.  We began walking down the road  but our adventure soon ended when a Volkswagen pulled over and the driver, a middle-aged man, asked who we were, what we were doing, and where we were going.  He yelled at us, and made us pile into the car so he could return us to the safety of the dorm.  That was the first, but not the last, time that we got into trouble that summer, a summer filled with adventure and new experiences, exactly as it should have been.

Of course, I remember the food as well, my first taste of Falafel, of ice-cold Choco, of perfectly diced Israeli salads made with ripe red tomatoes and crunchy cucumbers, the centerpiece of those incredibly lavish Israeli breakfasts (my normal breakfast of Frosted Flakes and milk was no match).

For weeks now, Israel is never far from our thoughts.  We worry, listen to the news on an hourly basis, and check in with family and friends who live there.  I spend time reminiscing, thinking about that summer, and the year that I later spent on Kibbutz Usha.  I think about how lucky I was to have those experiences, as were my husband and children during the time they spent in Israel.  I think about how different this summer is, and hope that very soon, Israeli teenagers will once again be living in peace, and American teenagers will once again be taking their first trips to Israel, getting into trouble, and having a summer filled with adventure and new experiences, exactly as it should be.

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Sde Boker 1972

 

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Oven-Roasted Herb Tomatoes

When I spent time with our family friends on Kfar Meishar, a Moshav outside of Gedera,  I was always amazed at how quickly delicious salads would appear on the table, with what appeared to be little effort.  With a surplus of tomatoes in the garden,  many of which I used for Israeli salad, I decided to roast some.  I sliced them, placed them in a glass dish (avoid using metal that could react with the tomatoes) sprinkled them with a small handful of chopped herbs, also from the garden ( I used sage, oregano, rosemary and tarragon),  added 6 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced, a little sea salt and  drizzled Israeli olive oil over the top. They were a great addition to a breakfast of fried eggs, feta cheese and olives.

Bake at 325 for about 1 1/2 hours.

Enjoy,

Irene

Asparagus in Bell Pepper Coulis

IMG_1413Sitting in my backyard for hours on Shabbat morning is one of my greatest pleasures.  I usually have a magazine or book in my hand, cookbooks and crossword puzzles stacked next to me on the table, and a hot cup of French Press.  But when Spring arrives, it’s hard to sit still and I find myself getting up and down from my chair to look at something in the garden more closely.  A rose on the bush that one week ago was practically bare.  The first apple on a tree given to me on Mother’s Day by my friends Michael and Jenny, just two years ago.  The tulip that came up from the bulbs given to me a few months ago by Elin, after her first trip to the Netherlands.  I look at the blood orange tree and see that it’s covered in hundreds of fragrant tiny white flowers.  I wait to get a glimpse of the hummingbird that visits every Shabbat morning and watch it draw nectar at the same time that I drink my coffee.  I always smile and wonder who is watching who.  Eventually I return to my book but yesterday my mind wandered to Pesach and vegetables, not the muted color of winter vegetables, but vegetables whose colors will remind me of my garden and the beauty of Spring.

 

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photo-2Asparagus in Bell Pepper Coulis

Depending on the size of the asparagus, blanch to desired tenderness.  My asparagus were very thin so I just cooked them for about 3 minutes in rapidly boiling salted water and then plunged them into a sink filled with ice water to stop the cooking and set the color.

1 orange bell pepper and 1 yellow bell pepper  (red would be beautiful!)

3 cloves garlic

salt

2 Tb olive oil

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Peel the skin of the bell peppers and place them in a pot with garlic cloves and a pinch of salt.  Cover with water, bring to a boil and cook for about 15 -20 minutes.  Drain and allow to cool so they can be handled.  Open up the peppers and remove seeds and stem.  Place one pepper in a food processor with a 1/2 teaspoon of salt and one tablespoon of olive oil.  Puree and place in a bowl.  Repeat with the other pepper.  Take a large serving place and spoon yellow pepper coulis on one side of plate and orange pepper coulis on the other.  Lay asparagus across the top and drizzle with a little more olive oil.

Enjoy,

Irene

Garlic Turkey

At 5:40 this morning we drove our friends to the airport.  They were flying to Boston to be with their “East coast” family for Thanksgiving.  On Wednesday we will return to LAX to pick up my daughter, and on Thursday to pick up my youngest son.  It’s the wonderful pull of Thanksgiving, being with the family and hanging out in kitchens where the smells are familiar.  Today I started baking, and so this morning my kitchen smelled like cinnamon and allspice from the pumpkin breads in the oven.  This afternoon it smelled of apples and dried cherries baking inside puff pastry squares that I folded into individual turnovers.  On Thanksgiving day the kitchen will smell like the mulling spices simmering in the pot of apple cider on the stove top, but as soon as the fridge door is opened,  the predominant smell will be the garlic that was rubbed into the turkey on Wednesday morning.  That specific smell of garlic-covered poultry is embedded in my memory because it is the smell that I most closely associate with my mother’s kitchen.  The smell that signaled it was Shabbat,  Yontif, and yes, Thanksgiving.  On Thursday the kitchen will smell both savory and sweet, depending if you are  standing near the oven or closer to the kitchen table covered with desserts.  I love the old recipes combined with an occasional new one, it sets the mood and gives me the perfect opportunity to remember and be thankful for what we had, what we have, and what we look forward to.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Garlic Turkey

Mixture for a 15 pound turkey

1 Tb kosher salt
1 Tb. paprika
2 tsp. pepper
1/3 cup  olive oil
2 whole heads garlic, peeled and minced

Mix all ingredients together until you have a paste-like consistency.  It should be red from the paprika and thick, almost like tomato paste.  Rub the garlic mixture on the inside and outside of the turkey and let marinate in fridge overnight.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Place turkey in a roasting pan, breast down, with about 2 ” of water on the bottom of the pan.  Bake for 30 minutes and then baste with liquid.  Add more water to pan if necessary.  Lower heat to 350 degrees.  Continue to add liquid and baste about every 30 minutes.  When turkey is golden brown, turn breast side up and finish roasting. Total baking time is about 3 hours depending on size of the bird.

Enjoy,

Irene

Moroccan Carrots

 

Photo taken by Elizabeth Saiger

They are almost like characters in a book, these relatives that I have heard so much about but never had the opportunity to meet.  The baker, the grocer, and the tanner.  Yisroel (Isser) Gutman, my maternal grandfather, the one who I know the most about, owned a tannery in Mogielnica.  Is it coincidence or did I purposely seek out the stories of my namesake?  What I do know is that he was observant, davening in Shul three times a day, leaving little time to spend with his family.  My mother told us how he maimed himself to avoid conscription into the Polish army out of fear that he would be forced to eat “treif.

My favorite story was the one of his great adventure.  One night, long before the war, Isser left his home in the middle of the night, while everyone else was asleep,  to rendezvous with an uncle with who had concocted a plan.  They had hired a driver with a horse and wagon to meet them at a certain hour and take them to the port where they boarded a ship bound for the United States.  Apparently when my grandmother woke up that morning and heard the news, she went to the port to stop him, but it was too late.  Yes, my grandfather left his family without any discussion, but I prefer to think about the great lengths that he undertook to improve their lot.  Isser stayed in New York for about a year, but we don’t know anything about his life there.  Did he work as a tanner, did he live on the Lower East side, where I imagine him living, was he happy, lonely, prosperous?  We know that my grandmother refused to join him in this “heathen” land and eventually Isser returned to Poland and neither she nor he survived

I think of Isser more often during this time of year because of two stories that connect him to the holidays.  One was that he would insist on eating all of his meals in the sukkah no matter how bad the weather was, forcing my grandmother to carry his food out to him while the rest of the family ate inside.  The other story is that the head of the fish, which was considered not only a delicacy but also a symbol of good fortune, was always saved for my grandfather on Rosh Hashana, out of deference and respect.

We didn’t make fish for Rosh Hashana but we did serve other symbolic foods.  Dates and pomegranates, beets and kreplach, (kreplach represent our concealed fate for the coming year.)  In Yiddish the word for carrots is mehren, a word that also means multiply or increase, so they too were included.  I like to slice them and drizzle them with olive oil so that they look like a bowl of glistening golden coins, a reminder of the riches we hope for in the New Year.  Riches that come in the form of enjoying good health, from spending time with family, and from remembering and sharing the stories that have enriched my life.   These carrots, although not an Ashkenazi dish, remind me of Isser who wanted more from life and tried his best to achieve it.  G’mar Hatimah Tovah.

Moroccan Carrots

2 pounds large carrots, peeled and sliced into coin size thickness

1/3 cup olive oil

juice of two lemons

5 garlic cloves, minced

2 tsp ground cumin

salt and pepper to taste

Boil sliced carrots in a large pot of water for about 8 minutes.  Drain under cold water.  Place carrots in bowl and toss with remaining ingredients.  Adjust seasoning.  Sprinkle with chopped cilantro if desired.  Serves 6-8 as a side dish.

Enjoy,

Irene

 

Baby Eggplants with Plum Tomatoes

As the summer comes to an end, my thoughts are beginning to turn to Rosh Hashana.  These long, lazy days will soon be replaced with an onslaught of holidays and the frenzy of preparation.  I wonder if my Mother compiled lists in her head as I have already begun to do.  In some ways, even without the modern conveniences of food processors and dishwashers, things were simpler.  The menus were standard,  Yontif meals were at home or with family that lived close by, and although everything  was hand-made, her days were orderly and divided into tasks.  There was shopping, baking, cooking, and dealing with that carp in the bathtub.  Baking day meant the large wooden board and rolling-pin were placed on the dining room table where she would prepare homemade noodles, challahs, and roll out the thin dough for favorkes (something like wonton skins,  fried and served in the soup.)  The next day the Gefilte Fish, Kreplach, and Chicken Soup were prepared.   Just hours before Erev Rosh Hashana, the last details were given her fullest attention.  Garlic chicken and potatoes were roasted in the oven along with a sweet bread pudding.  On top of the stove was a pot of simmering sweet carrots with a knaidle in the middle.  A green salad was easily assembled and there was always an apple cake for dessert.

My life seems far less predictable in some ways.  As each holiday approaches, I now wonder if I will be at home in Los Angeles, or on the East Coast with my children.  The menus change from year to year, incorporating whatever the new food rage is, quinoa, kale chips, freekah, etc.  The number of vegetable dishes increase, and the brisket has lost its place as the centerpiece of the holiday meal.

As I step into my yard,  I see the changes that are taking place there as well.  My summer garden is coming to an end which means we are harvesting the last of the tomatoes and eggplants.  That leads me to think about fall, wondering which vegetables to plant in spite of the nagging uncertainty of how they will grow.  As I contemplate both the past and the future,  it is 25 years ago today that my youngest son was born.  A quarter of a century has passed and our hope is that his future be filled with love, health, and happiness, on his birthday and in the New Year.  For him,  for us, and for all of you.

The last of the garden tomatoes and eggplants

Sautéed Baby Eggplants ad Plum Tomatoes

12 baby eggplants, firm and unblemished, peeled and sliced into 1″ pieces

1 large onion, diced

12 plum or Roma tomatoes, diced

1 tsp Piment d’Espellete ( or substitute red chili powder)

1/3 cup olive oil

5 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp freshly ground pepper

cilantro

In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil and add the diced onion.  Saute onion till golden and then add minced garlic.  Saute for a minute and add sliced eggplant.  Add salt, pepper, and Piment d’Espellete.  Lower heat to a simmer, and cover pan, allowing eggplant to cook through.  This takes about 30 minutes. Then uncover and add diced tomatoes.  Cook eggplant for another 20 minutes, again over a low flame.  Serve hot or at room temperature with chopped fresh cilantro sprinkled on top.

Enjoy,

Irene

Grilled Short Ribs

We shared a room until the day she moved away from home.  Meticulous by nature, my sister used to draw an imaginary line across our bedroom, a line that I was not allowed to cross.  Eight years older than I, Anita was more than just my big sister.  She was my role model.  Her shoes always matched her purses, her hair was what the 60s demanded of curly-haired girls, ironed, straightened and made to conform to the necessary flip that was all the rage.  She took me to museums, bought me dolls and books, introduced me to new foods and exposed me to the exotic East Village, home of the Beatniks.  This past weekend my sister and I once again shared a bedroom, as I kept her company while she’s recovering from a broken leg.  We watched movies, reminisced, wrote down our family history, drank wine, and laughed.  The best part was getting to be the “Big Sister” to my big sister, a role that I must admit I relish.  The one thing I couldn’t do for her was cook, and so now that I am back home, I thought about what I would have made for her had I been able to.  My mother always fed us beef when we needed to gain strength, firmly believing that red meat had restorative properties.  A plate of ribs for my sister, that would be perfect.  Speedy recovery shvester!

Grilled Short Ribs
3 to 4 lbs of bone-in Short Ribs
1/3 cup Brown Sugar
1 tsp Pepper
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Cumin
1 tsp Garlic Powder
1 tsp Paprika
6 Tb red wine vinegar
Combine spices and rub into short ribs.  Place ribs, flat side down, in glass baking dish in one snug layer, cover with foil  and allow to marinate in fridge overnight or for at least several hours.  When ready to prepare, sprinkle ribs with red wine vinegar, and cover tightly with aluminum foil.  Bake at 300 degrees for 2 1/2 hours.
Rib Glaze (adapted from Spirit of Tennessee)
1 cup Jack Daniel’s Whiskey
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup ketchup
1/4 cup vinegar
3 cloves garlic
salt and pepper
Combine all ingredients in small bowl.
Make glaze and brush on ribs while grilling, basting each time you turn the ribs.  Grill on lowest heat for about an hour or till ribs are tender.
Enjoy,
Irene

Corn and Poblano Lasagne

My father had a standard response to a certain type of question, and that response was “only the best.”  That’s a tall order, and of course the idea of what’s best is very subjective.  The statement taught me not to settle for mediocrity.   At work I meet with families and often tell them to manage their expectations when it comes to their mentors, not because of the quality of the volunteers, but because I don’t want anyone disappointed.  Still even as I utter those words, I know I am not being true to myself or my father’s words.

When my father first arrived in NYC, he worked as a tailor for Davidow Suits. a women’s suit company whose ads I remember seeing in Vogue Magazine when I was a teen.  After coming home from a long day he would have dinner and head to night school to learn English.  Years later he decided to follow his passion and become a Stock Broker, not an easy thing for a man in his 40s who had to pass the grueling exam in English, by then his fourth language.  He studied night after night and when he passed away I found all the exams, almost perfect scores on each one.  It didn’t surprise me.

Shavuot is  holiday about relationships.  It is also the one holiday where dairy reigns.  One of my favorite cooking shows is called  “The Best Thing I Ever Made.”  The program features various chefs who talk about that one dish that they make at home for their loved ones and closest friends, the people who you want to serve your best.  Last week a female Mexican chef featured a lasagna that she makes with a Mexican twist.  The best of two great culinary worlds come together in perfect harmony.

May your relationships, your holiday, and your food come from the desire for it to be the best, even if it isn’t always achievable.  Chag Saneach.

 

 

 

Corn and Poblano Lasagna adapted from Marcela Valladolid

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups fresh corn kernels (from about 2 ears)

2 cups heavy cream

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 Poblano chiles, charred, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch strips

2 large zucchini, thinly sliced lengthwise

Twelve no-boil lasagna sheets

2 cups shredded Monterey Jack

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a saucepan over medium heat.  Add two cloves of minced garlic and the corn and sauté for 5 minutes.  Stir in the cream.  Cook over low heat for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let cool, and purée until smooth.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a small, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the remaining garlic clove along with the Poblano and zucchini and cook for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Spread about one-quarter of the corn mixture over the bottom of an 9 x 12 inch baking dish. Cover with a layer of 3 lasagna sheets. Spread 1/4 of the vegetable mixture and 1/4 of the cheese over the pasta.  Repeat the layering three more times. Cover with foil.

Bake covered for about 50 minutes. Remove the foil and turn up the oven temperature to brown, about 8 to 10 minutes.  Serves 6-8

Enjoy,

Irene

Marisha’s Veal Roast

It is an unfortunate truth that extended family members may only get together for life cycle events, both happy and sad.  Two weeks ago many members of the Graf family came to Philadelphia, and as a result I was able to spend time with my Tante Marisha.  Marisha is now the matriarch of the family, the only person still alive of my father’s generation, and she looks great.   She and my Uncle Charlie met in Poland during the war, moved to France after the war, and then eventually settled in Lakewood, New Jersey, where I spent much of my childhood visiting them and my cousins.  I reminded my aunt that she use to call me “princess” and she reminded me that she would take me to the “market’  to help her sell hats.

Marisha arrived in Philadelphia with her sons, daughters-in-law, her eldest grandson and his wife.  Both my cousin Michel and I named our middle children David, after our fathers’ brother who died during the war.  I watched these two Davids, second cousins, both grown men, both married, both serious and both learned, talking to each other, and I was filled with a sense of continuity.  Wherever I looked, cousins were conversing and getting to know each other.  There was talk of cars, horses, gardening, art and architecture, and I was feeling strangely content despite the overwhelming sadness of the occasion.  I realize that it may be years before all the cousins get together again, and hopefully next time it will be for a happy event, but I was sure that the three brothers, Jack, Charley and Harry knew we were there, together, under one roof, for a brief time.

At one point my daughter and I were sitting with Tante Marisha when the conversation turned to food.  My aunt told us that her grandchildrens’ favorite dish is veal roast, and related that she prepares it in the same way she and my mother prepared chicken and turkey, coated with a simple mixture of minced garlic, salt and pepper, and baked till golden and tender.  I couldn’t wait to come home and make it, knowing that I would feel as if I had a bit of Marisha with me, but also wanting to preserve another recipe, and another memory, for another generation.
Marisha’s Veal Roast
8 lb Veal Roast, bones left in
10 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tb salt
1 Tb cracked pepper
1 Tb paprika
3 Tb olive oil
Make a paste of all the ingredients and rub into veal.  Place veal in roasting pan that fits snugly, cover well and refrigerate overnight.  Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees, add enough water to just come up to the bottom of the veal, cover tightly and bake for about 3 hours, basting after each hour.  Add water if needed.  Uncover for last hour to brown.  Serves 8
Enjoy,
Irene

Tongue in Spicy Tomato Sauce

Last night I attended the Annual Dinner for the non-profit where I work.  It was held at a restaurant in a very chic hotel in Los Angeles run by a chef who is known for his use of molecular gastronomy.  As I wandered around the room, I felt as if I were in a theatre where the food not only took center stage but the dishes were both unusual and magical.  Everything was bite size, with choices like Cotton Candy Foie Gras, (which I didn’t try) tiny cones filled with cream cheese and topped with salmon caviar, Caprese Salads no bigger than your thumb prepared with liquified mozzarella, and silver spoons that held “Spherical Olives” a process where the chef purees and strains olives to separate the essence, and somehow creates soft little green balls that, despite their olive flavor, are almost foam-like in consistency.  One of my favorite “bites” was the brown egg that looked as if it was soft-boiled but in fact was hollowed out and filled with Flan.

When all was said and done, I left feeling like I had experienced a great show.  I wasn’t disappointed, but I didn’t have that familiar sensation that you have when you eat a meal that is nourishing, earthy, and soulful, something like the dish I had prepared earlier in the week for a friend, Tongue in Spicy Tomato Sauce.

Tongue in Spicy Tomato Sauce

1 Beef or Calves’ Tongue

Bay Leaf

2 Large Onions

6 Cloves of Garlic

1 Green Pepper

1 tsp chili flakes

1 tsp dried oregano

1 14 oz. can tomato sauce

salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, cover Tongue with water, bring to a boil and cook for about 15 minutes. Drain and fill pot with fresh water, again making sure tongue is submerged.  Add one large onion cut in half, 1 large bay leaf, 3 cloves of garlic, a pinch of salt and about ½ tsp freshly ground pepper.  Bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer, cover pot and cook tongue for about 2 hours.  Make sure that tongue can be easily pierced with a fork before removing from heat. Allow to cool completely.

In the meantime chop a large onion and sauté in 2 tbsp olive oil till translucent, about five minutes. Add 3 cloves minced garlic, 1 tsp chili flakes, 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp dried oregano.  Saute for 2-3 minutes.  Add green pepper that you cut into strips. Then add 1-14 oz. can tomato sauce and about 1 cup water.  Cook for about 10 minutes covered, on low flame.

In the meantime, slice cold Tongue on the diagonal and add to tomato sauce. Cover and stew for about 30 minutes. Serve with rice, mashed potatoes or corn tortillas. Serves 6-8

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!