Sara’s Muesli

photo-2Last week my mother-in-law Lillian Saiger passed away and the family sat Shiva in Toronto.  This time I was not the mourner, but the supporter, and watching from that perspective allowed me to see the beauty and choreography of Shiva.  As I sat with my husband, sisters-in-law, and Uncle Dave, I observed the sadness, loss, and the intensity of their mourning, but there were other aspects to this rich tradition.  Friends and family arrived to share stories of my mother-in-law, some even walked in carrying photos, others talked about her recipes.  People showed  their respect by coming by to wish their condolences, but their kindness was also demonstrated as they quietly dropped off a plate of their favorite dishes for the family to share, small gifts meant to console and sweeten the bitterness that the family was experiencing.   Plates of home-made poppy-seed cookies, a loaf of banana bread, a noodle-cheese kugel, Quiche, home-made cupcakes and red velvet cookies.  People provided meals, even from a distance, a salve to help heal the wounds.

I listened to stories of my mother-in-law from people who knew her from various stages of life, and learned all kinds of things that I didn’t know.   She wore bikinis, as a young woman she smoked, she invited my father-in-law on a date soon after they first met.  A South African friend shared that my mother-in-law was her mentor, and told me that when she first moved to Toronto, my mother-in-law took her under her wing and encouraged her to play bridge so that she would meet new people.  I met someone who told me that just after her husband passed away, Lil insisted that she join her for Shabbat dinner.  I watched my children, nieces and nephews come together as part of this choreography, with such grace and beauty, each one finding their unique way to help and support each other and their parents.

Were there any great surprises, not really.  I found out that there was an explanation for why my mother-in-law’s fricassee recipe looked darker and richer than my version. I was missing an ingredient.  During Shiva Lil’s niece Carol told me that when Lil gave her the recipe, she said to add a little grape jelly, grape juice, or even some Manishewitz.  I was so taken aback, how was it that I never knew this, but Carol reassured me that it wasn’t that Lil had intentionally left out an ingredient, but rather that the recipe changed over the years, a work in progress.

On the last morning the Cappe girls provided breakfast, the last meal before the mourners “got up” for the customary walk.  It was the final dance, and after the davening we sat down to a meal that Lil would have approved of, and enjoyed.

Sara’s Muesli

4 cups rolled oats
1 cup unsweetened coconut
1 cup toasted almonds (chopped or I used almond slivers)
1 cup of seeds (I used sunflower or pumpkin)
1/4 cup chia seeds (optional)
1.5 cups dried fruit (I used raisins and craisins)
1 cup light coconut milk
3 cups milk (I used almond milk)
1 tsp vanilla
4 tbsp maple syrup
Cinnamon (to taste)
1 package frozen blueberries

Toast the oats and coconut on unlined baking sheets at 325 for 5-7 min (take out before the coconut burns)
Toast the almonds on the stove until browned.
Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and stir. Leave overnight and it’s ready to eat the next morning. Serve with yogurt, berries, more nuts or dried fruits. Sometimes in the morning I add in a bit more milk if it’s mostly absorbed.  NOTE: Enough for a crowd and as is customary to say in Toronto, auf simchas.

Enjoy!

Irene

Dried (and fresh) Mushroom Soup

mushroomLetters 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

Marizon’s Steamed Persimmon Pudding

My sister remembered this story from her childhood and e-mailed it to me.

“I had a job after school helping an elderly man with his errands. I would take his laundry to the cleaners on the corner.  I bought him the evening paper and sometimes I would pick up two slices of pizza for his dinner and in return he would always give me a dime or a quarter.  He once asked me what was the one thing I really wanted.  I told him I wanted a bicycle like the other kids on my block but explained that my parents said it was too expensive.  One day I came home and there in the hallway was the most beautiful blue Schwinn bicycle I ever saw.  I have never forgotten how generous and kind that wonderful old man was.”

We have a friend from synagogue, Marizon.  Over the past few years she has made us numerous Steamed Persimmon Puddings.  Sometimes she brings them to Shul, sometimes she delivers them to our house, but either way we are always surprised and delighted.  That kind of giving makes everyone happy so if  you do make this recipe just remember to double it so you can share.  It will taste even better that way.

Marizon’s Steamed Persimmon Pudding
 1  1/ 2 cups pureed persimmons ( 4 – 5  Fuyu persimmons, skins and pit removed , or you can use 2-3 ripe Hachiya persimmons)
2 Tsp. Baking soda
1 stick butter or pareve margarine at room temperature
1 1/2 Cups sugar
2 Eggs
1 Tb lemon juice
2 Tb  Rum
1 Cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. cinnamon (Optional –  enhance with a bit of allspice and a whisper of ground clove) I only use Cinnamon
½ tsp. Salt
1 Cup broken walnuts or pecans
1 Cup raisins (may use golden or black or mix of both)

Find a pot that is large enough to hold a 2 Quart pudding mold.  Fill the pot with enough water to reach halfway up the sides of the mold as it rests on a metal rack in the bottom of the pot.  The mold must have a lid.   Let the water come to a boil while you mix the pudding batter.

(Pudding mold is available at William Sonoma or Sur La Table).

Grease the mold well.  Butter is best, though cooking spray is faster. Use pareve margarine if making a non-dairy pudding.

Put the persimmon purée in a bowl and stir in the baking soda.  Set aside (the persimmon mixture will stiffen and lighten in color – it really is a rather odd fact of chemistry)

Using a standing mixer, cream the butter and sugar.  Add the eggs, lemon juice, and rum and beat well.  Set the mixer to its slowest speed and add the flour, cinnamon, and salt.  When well blended, add the persimmon mixture and beat until well mixed.  Remove bowl from mixer and stir in raisins and nuts.

Spoon the batter into the mold, cover, and steam for at least two hours (it’s nearly impossible to over-steam!).  Remove from the pot, and let rest for 10 – 20 minutes.

Use a long, narrow skewer to help remove the pudding from the sides of the mold, and then turn out onto the serving plate.  Some parts may stick to the bottom of the mold – just remove them and patch back together (the pudding is very moist).

I usually turn the mold over and the pudding just falls onto the serving plate.

Presentation
The traditional service for this dish is with a sprig of holly stuck into the top, then flamed with more of the rum.  To flame your rum, pour a generous ounce into a sauce pot, and THEN put the pot over medium heat.  Swirl the rum to warm it for thirty seconds or so, then carefully light it and immediately pour the flaming rum over the pudding.  It may be difficult to see the flame in strong light, so dim the lights for the 20 seconds or so before the alcohol burns off.

Serve warm with unsweetened whipped cream, or a crème anglaise.

Enjoy,

Irene

Judy’s Salmon with Creamy Dill Sauce

I had forgotten how beautiful Spring is on the East Coast.  Tulips and Daffodils are everywhere, poking their heads through even the most unwelcoming strips of land, and Golden Forsythia, White Dogwood, and Pink Redbud are all in full bloom.  After having spent hours in the kitchen preparing for Seder, the next day was sunny and warm and we were able to eat lunch outside.  I even managed to fall asleep on the grass, something I had not done in years.  Weather and family aside, we had the pleasure of sharing the holidays with the offspring of our children’s contemporaries.  There were three couples with babies under the age of one, the mothers women who I knew long before they were contemplating motherhood.  One of the babies spent all of Yontif  with us, Raviv, who everyone wanted to hold, each of us vying for his attention and affection.  There was no question that this Passover was different, and Zis, just as we had hoped.

In between the cooking and eating, there were several times when something brought me back to my childhood.  Today as I was walking down the streets of Williamsburg, I suddenly heard people speaking both Yiddish and Polish.  And this afternoon as I sat down to eat my lunch on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I realized that I packed the very same lunch that my mother used to make me, matzoh and salami (my mother’s favorite) a Dr. Brown’s Cream soda and a Passover Rainbow Cookie ( the ones with the almond flavoring and raspberry jam separating the yellow, green, and red layers of cake covered in dark chocolate.)  I thought about the fact that all my daughter wanted for lunch was my friend Judy’s Salmon, and so we prepared it last night.  Maybe she was reminiscing as well.  I hope that your last days of Yontif are filled with good food and the time to reminisce.

Judy’s Salmon with Creamy Dill Sauce
I  2-3 lb. salmon fillet
1 stick of butter  (melted)
1 cup mayonnaise
1 Tbsp Honey
1 Tbsp White Vinegar
1 tsp Dill (dried)
1 Tbsp Lemon Juice
Salt and Pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Melt the butter and allow to cool.  Mix with the other ingredients and add salt and pepper to taste.  Place the salmon fillet on parchment paper.  Spread about half of the sauce mixture on the salmon.  Place in oven for about 20 minutes, checking the thickest part to test if done.  Top of fish will be lightly browned.  Serve fish either hot or at room temperature with the rest of the sauce.  Serves 4-6
Enjoy,
Irene

Brie en Croute

When I was growing up, Sunday was my father’s day to cook.  The menu never varied, it was always broiled steaks and lamb chops, a salad, and home-made french fries.  My father prided himself on knowing his way around a kitchen.  He would peel and cut the fries in a particular way, preferring a thick cut fry.  He used a stainless steel pan filled with oil and would fry the potatoes in batches until they were golden brown.  My father was unusual in that European men of that generation didn’t typically spend time in the kitchen cooking.  I didn’t realize it at the time but he was modeling a behavior that my children noticed.  They grew up around a grandfather and a father who both devoted lots of time in the kitchen, cooking for their families.  What a nice legacy to have inherited.  My children all know how to cook but I hope that my sons continue this particular tradition and one day cook for their own wives and children.  In the meantime, to all the fathers and grandfathers, and especially to my father-in-law, wishing you a Happy Father’s Day!!

Norm loves to bake so after making this French  Boule, we used it to make a family favorite, Brie En Croute.  We prefer this version as opposed to using puff pastry.

Brie en Croute

1 small French Bread

1 stick sweet butter, melted

3 0r 4 cloves of garlic, minced

16 oz. of Brie

Carefully hollow out center of bread, making a well.  Melt butter, add minced garlic and brush mixture on the inside of the hollowed out bread.  Cut Brie into large pieces and place inside bread.  Take the bread that you had cut out, slice into bite size pieces and brush with remaining garlic butter.  Bake Brie en Croute and croutons on a lined tray in a 375 degree oven till Brie is melted and oozing.  Serves 4-6

Enjoy,

Irene

Baked Ricotta Pie

How do you keep traditions alive, and at the same time stay creative and flexible?  Every year, during Passover, our family talks about incorporating Kitniyot into our diet.  My reaction is always the same, how will future generations know about our family’s Ashkenazi traditions, if we all end up eating rice and legumes.  Without preserving some of our differences, it seems that we have more to lose than we have to gain.

Food is a way for me to preserve memories of my mother and pass on her traditions.  One memory is that she always made blintzes for Shavuot.  Tonight I decided to try something new in preparation of the holiday.  I made a layered cheese pie filled with ricotta and mascarpone, a far cry from the traditional farmer cheese filling of  the blintzes that my mother lovingly prepared.  I am sure it will be delicious (it is an Ina Garten recipe) but I already  feel a pang of guilt, as if I chipped away at a family tradition and one small memory of my mother.  Chag Sameach, enjoy the layered Ricotta pie, but next year I am serving blintzes.

Baked Ricotta Pie  (adapted from a recipe by Ina Garten)

1 1/4 cups milk

2 Tbs sour cream

1/2 stick melted butter

1/3 cup sugar

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

4 eggs

1 1/3 cup flour

Beat ingredients together in large bowl and pour half the batter into a greased 9 x 13 Pyrex dish.  Bake for about 10 minutes in a pre-heated 350 degree oven.

Filling

22 oz. fresh ricotta cheese

8 oz. mascarpone cheese

2 eggs

1/3 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp salt

Mix all ingredients and pour over baked layer of batter.  Spoon remaining batter on top and bake an additional 30-40 minutes. Serives  6

Enjoy,

Irene

 

 

Rena’s Cheesecake

Shavuot is approaching and the tradition is to serve dairy meals, stemming from a description of Israel as “a land flowing with milk and honey.” What a wonderful opportunity to create meals with ingredients that I love.  Sweet butter, heavy cream, farmer cheese, cream cheese and sour cream will be transformed into vichyssoise, blintzes, cheesecake, and one of my childhood favorites, warm broad egg noodles tossed with butter, farmer cheese, cinnamon, and sugar.  Sweet and comforting.

Of course the quintessential dessert for Shavuot seems to be cheesecake and my friend Rena H. is the local Cheesecake Queen. She has been making this recipe for years, and although she has recently “lightened” it up, I prefer the original. Growing up, my son David always anticipated having Rena’s cheesecake during the holidays, as did we all.  I recently asked Rena to share this recipe and she told me it was originally adapted from a recipe by Dinah Shore!  Who knew!
On Wednesday Rena brought over this delicious cheesecake, made with the original recipe.
Here is the original recipe.

Rena’s Cheesecake

Crust:

1 and  3/4 cups Graham Cracker Crumbs

1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 stick melted butter

Mix all ingredients together setting aside 3 tbsp for topping.  Press remaining mixture into bottom of 9″ spring-form pan.

Filling

3 eggs

2-8 oz. packages cream cheese (Rena uses Philadelphia brand)

1 cup sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract

3 cups sour cream

Combine eggs with cream cheese, sugar and vanilla. Beat until smooth. Blend in sour cream. Pour on top of crust and top with reserved crumb mixture. Bake at 375 degrees for one hour. Chill for 4-5 hours or overnight.

Serves 12

Enjoy,

Irene




Schav Borscht (Sorrel Soup)

Mother’s Day may feel like a Hallmark holiday but it does force us to stop whatever we are doing for a minute, an hour, or a day, and think about our mothers or our role as mothers.  My mother was a petite, olive-skinned woman with medium brown hair and the deepest set blue-grey eyes I have ever seen.  Those eyes had seen the best and the worst of humanity but in the end my mother chose life and all that it had to offer.  Nothing was more important to her than her family, her daughters, and especially her grandchildren.  She would kvell at their every achievement, smile when they smiled, and if they experienced a moment of sadness or pain, you could see the sadness reflected in those deep blue-grey eyes.  She was the embodiment of a yiddishe mamma.

As mothers, we all know that motherhood is much like a roller coaster ride, thrilling and frightening at the same time.  On this mother’s day I want to thank my husband Norm and my children, Shira, David and Micah for giving me the opportunity to experience the ride. Nothing could be better.

Michael Yanow, a friend and colleague, took this generational photograph of  his grandmother sitting at her vanity.
http://www.storiestoldbythecamera.com/?p=589

Happy Mother’s Day to all of you!

Here is one of my Mom’s favorite cold soups.

Sorrel growing in my garden

Schav Borscht

1 lb. schav (sorrel leaves)

6 cups water

1 lemon, juiced

1 tsp salt

2 egg yolks

1/2  cup sour cream

Wash the sorrel well, removing the tough stems and chopping the leaves coarsely.

Bring the water to a boil, add sorrel, lower heat and cook for about 20 minutes.

Remove from heat. Add salt. Slowly add lemon juice until the desired tartness is achieved.

In a small bowl beat the egg yolks well. Add a few tablespoons of the soup to the yolks and then stir yolks back into remaining soup. (Delete yolks if you are worried about egg related illnesses)

Whisk in 1/2 cup sour cream.

Chill and serve in a tall glass along with a bowl of hot buttered mashed potatoes.

Note: I wrote my post before I read this article but had to share the coincidence.  http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/05/dining

Enjoy,

Irene