Meatballs (turkey) in Tomato Sauce

I must confess that there are many things that I love about Christmas.  I love the carols, the movies, and the wonderful decorations that announce the arrival of the holiday season.  My children had to get used to the fact that after Thanksgiving, my car radio was tuned to the station that played Christmas music, and the more sentimental the song, the louder I sang.

Growing up in The Bronx, my neighborhood was filled with Jewish and Italian immigrants, two groups that had a lot in common.  One of my closest friends was Donna Bartolini whose parents had come to New York from Sicily.  Donna and I were classmates and lived around the corner from each other.  If I stopped by after school and she wasn’t there, her mother thought nothing of giving me a shopping list and sending me off to the local Italian butcher to pick up ingredients she needed for dinner. (years later I realized that the random numbers listed on the back of the list was Mrs. B’s way of placing illegal bets)  There was always something wonderful cooking in Mrs. Bartolini’s kitchen, but what I remember most is the rich, thick tomato sauce that simmered for hours.  It was a kitchen you never wanted to leave, a kitchen so inviting that even Donna had a hard time coaxing me to her room.  I remember being invited for Christmas dinner, when the dining table was covered with pasta dishes, platters of sausage and peppers, cheesy lasagnas, and freshly baked breads to mop up the sauce on the bottom of the plates.  There was always a large bowl of meatballs in tomato sauce, the sauce that had cooked for hours.

To this day, when meatballs are cooking in my kitchen, the smell conjures up memories of my Italian neighbors in The Bronx.  On this December night,  my youngest son came home for dinner and was served meatballs and freshly baked bread that Norm made.  As we lovingly put away the Hannukiah, candles and dreidles, Christmas carols are playing on the radio in the background, and I smile at the memories.

Traditionally these meatballs were made with beef but I now often make a lighter version using ground turkey.

Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

3 lbs. ground turkey  (or beef)

2 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

1 pinch red chili flakes

1 pinch dried oregano

1/2 cup fresh parsley, coarsely chopped

4 eggs, beaten

1/2 cup bread crumbs

Combine all ingredients in large bowl and mix well.  Make golf size meatballs and sauté in olive oil, browning both sides.

Tomato Sauce

1 large onion, diced

4 tbs olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes

1 15 oz. can tomato sauce

2 tbs tomato paste

1 tsp salt

1 sprig basil

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup dry red wine

Saute onion and garlic in olive oil till translucent. Add diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste and sauté for several minutes. Add seasonings, water and wine and bring sauce to a simmer.  Gently place browned meatballs in sauce, cover pot and allow to cook for about 1 1/2 hours on a low flame.

Enjoy,

Irene

 

 

 

Turkey Potpie

Thanksgiving is over.  In the past three days I have served a total of 41 guests at various times.  Now, my husband is on the way to the airport with two of my children who are heading back East, where they live.  My future daughter-in-law will be leaving tomorrow and I am already experiencing the ache that always fills the space they leave behind.  Still, I continue to be grateful, even days after Thanksgiving, that they still come home.

When I wasn’t entertaining, I was thinking about change.  In my last post, I wrote about having asked my mother to make Thanksgiving dinner.  This weekend, I sat and wondered how she felt about that request.  It never occurred to me that perhaps she felt hurt, sad, or worried that her child was going to grow up and become too American, rejecting the things she stood for.  Did she wonder why I wanted American food rather than her Eastern European fare?  Did she understand my wish to belong? Although I will never know how she truly felt, I must admit that she would have been right to worry.  The reason having American food was so important to me was the naïve belief of a child that it would define who I was, or at least who I wanted to be.

I have a “day after Thanksgiving” tradition.  I take all the leftover meat from the turkey and turn it into potpie.  Nothing in my family’s culinary background could have led me to this dish.  Potpie was just another step into an American life, a dish that is creamy, definitely not kosher (although I have adapted the recipe), and about as far away from a kugel as one could get.  Chopped bits of poultry swimming in sauce covered by a layer of pastry?  As an adult, I am much more comfortable with my background, embracing my history along with the food that goes with it.  Still there is a place inside me that just wants a piece of potpie.  I think my mother would approve, seeing that we can have it all.

Turkey Potpie

Use as much leftover turkey as you like, white and dark meat, diced

1 large brown onion, diced

2 stalks of celery, diced

1 carrot, diced

2 Tbsp oil

1 stick parve margarine

1/2 cup flour

6 cups chicken broth

salt and pepper to taste

Crust

1 sheet of Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry, rolled out to 9 x 13 rectangle

In a large pot sauté chopped onion in oil for several minutes until onion is translucent.  Add celery and carrot and sauté an additional 5 minutes.  Remove vegetables from pot and set aside.  In the same pot, melt the margarine.  Add the flour and blend together over a low flame for 2-3 minutes.  Gradually add 6 cups of chicken broth, stirring constantly.  Season with salt and pepper. Add diced turkey and vegetables and cook for about 5 minutes.  Pour into a shallow 9 x 13 baking pan.  Cover with dough and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes or until crust is golden brown.  Serve hot.

Enjoy,

Irene

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread

My sister recalls that I came home from Kindergarten and told my mother that I wanted to celebrate Thanksgiving.  At that point my parents and sister would have been living in the United States for about seven years,  and were open to the idea of celebrating this “American” holiday.  That was the beginning of a new tradition for our family, Thanksgiving dinner.

I remember my mother roasting a turkey, prepared the same way she prepared roast chicken for Shabbat, with lots of garlic, salt and pepper.  She made candied sweet potatoes, a dish she learned from my cousin’s housekeeper Edith, and a delicious stuffing made with challah, mushrooms, celery, carrots and caramelized onions.  It was sort of an Eastern European Thanksgiving dinner.  No guests, no fanfare, no cornucopia, but I always found it special and meaningful.

As a child of immigrants, the Thanksgiving narrative of people who came to America searching for religious freedom always resonated with me.  As a child of survivors, I understood that my family had much to be thankful for.  It was not a story from a textbook, it was the story of my family.  America welcomed them and gave them a fresh start, shelter, the ability to live openly and proudly as Jews, and a place to put down roots and watch their families grow and flourish.  For each of those reasons, and more, I will always be thankful.

Our Thanksgiving dinner is very traditional, given some dietary restrictions.  We have mulled cider, Turkey, stuffing, corn bread, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie and our favorite Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread

3 1/2 cups flour

3 cups sugar

2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp allspice

1 1/2 tsp salt

4 eggs, beaten

1 cup oil

2/3 cup water

2 cups canned pumpkin

1 12 oz. pkg semi-sweet chocolate chips, tossed with 1 tbsp flour

Sift together flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, and salt. Combine eggs with oil, water and pumpkin and mix well. Stir into dry ingredients.  Fold chocolate chips in to batter.  Divide mixture among three greased loaf pans.  Bake at 350 for one hour or until toothpick inserted into loaf comes out dry.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Enjoy,

Irene

Moussaka

My mother would hang the wet laundry on clothes lines that were strung across the rooftop of our building.  She carried it up the stairs in a laundry basket with her wooden clothespins resting on top.  On her way up she would pass the apartment of an Italian family with a daughter named Rosemary, who was a friend of mine.  Her grandmother, Rose, lived next door to them, and sometimes my mother would stop in to see her and share a small glass of wine.  Rose spoke very little English so I have no idea how she and my mother communicated but it didn’t seem to matter.  With people living in such close proximity language barriers didn’t stand in the way of relationships.

This past week we were invited to friends for Shabbat dinner and I was seated next to a lovely woman in her eighties.  Intrigued by her accent, I asked about her background.  We spent the next three hours talking, and during that time I learned a lot about her life.  An Egyptian Jew, she spoke of her experiences in Israel and the struggles of  Sephardic immigrants in a country governed by Ashkenazim.  She spoke of her husband and children and the ups and downs one has during a lifetime.  Throughout her story, she kept stating that no matter what challenges you are dealt in life, “somehow you adjust.”  As I stood up to leave, she took both of my hands in hers and asked me to please come and visit her.  On our way home, I told Norm all about this woman and then I realized that we never even learned each other’s names.

That interaction made me wonder about my mother and Rose, who I am sure learned less about each other’s lives in the thirteen years that they were neighbors than this woman revealed in the three hours we spent together.  It made me think of friendships and how we define them.  The glass of wine that Rose and my mother shared, was no less significant for them than friendships based on a more intimate knowledge of each other’s lives.  Sometimes, a glass of wine or a dish of Moussaka is enough.

This is the recipe for the Moussaka that we all shared on Shabbat.

Moussaka

4 globe eggplants

olive oil

4 onions, diced

2 pounds ground chicken or turkey

1 tsp each of ginger, turmeric, cumin and paprika

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 14 oz. can of tomato sauce

1 small can of tomato paste

1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped

6 eggs, beaten

Drizzle about 3 Tbs  of olive oil on a cookie sheet and pre-heat sheet in a 350 degree oven. Peel and slice eggplant,  1/2″  thick, sprinkle with salt, and bake in a single layer on cookie sheet till soft. Turn eggplant slices over and bake other side.  (you can fry the eggplant if you prefer but this is a much lighter version)  Heat 3 Tbs olive oil in a large heavy pot and add 4 finely diced onions. Saute till golden. Add ground chicken, ginger, garlic, turmeric, cumin, paprika, and salt and pepper.  With a wooden spoon, continue breaking up ground chicken till seasonings are incorporated and meat is lightly browned.  Add tomato sauce, tomato paste, and cilantro to chicken mixture and cook for about 20 minutes over a low flame, stirring frequently.

Grease a 9 x 13 dish and cover the bottom of the dish with half the meat sauce and add a layer of eggplant. Repeat this so that you end with the eggplant on top.  Beat 6 eggs and pour over dish.  Bake about one hour, uncovered, in a 350 degree oven.

Enjoy,

Irene

Peanut Butter Cookies

On the corner of our apartment building was a candy store.  It was the typical corner store of that period (1950s) with a counter and bar stools where you could order your soda fountain treats.  I would often stop in after school or on the weekend and buy a candy bar.  My all time favorites were Baby Ruth or Chunky, but I also liked anything made with peanut butter.  Butterfingers, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Mary Janes, James Peanut Butter Chews and Abba-Zaba bars.  My parents never ate peanut butter so I have no idea where I developed a taste for it. (although my father did discover peanut butter in his 80s and decided that it was perfectly paired with sliced tomatoes)  Like many foods there are two sides to the peanut butter debate, those who prefer the creamy variety (my daughter) or the crunchy type (me.)  The wonderful thing about eating peanut butter is that with one bite you are transported  right back to your childhood when life was messy, gooey, salty and sweet, just as it should be.

Here is the classic recipe for peanut butter cookies. You can use any variety of peanut butter, I used extra crunchy.

Peanut Butter Cookies

1 1/2 cups Skippy extra crunchy peanut butter

1 stick sweet butter at room temperature

1 cup brown sugar (packed)

1 large egg

1 1/2 cups flour

1 tsp. baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a bowl sift together baking powder and flour.

In a large bowl, combine and beat sweet butter, sugar, and peanut butter.  Add lightly beaten egg and mix.  Slowly add flour mixture.

Using slightly less than a tablespoon per cookie, roll dough into balls and place on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Press down gently to flatten. Then using the tines of a fork make your cross-hatch pattern on top of each cookie.  Cookies should be about 1/2 inch thick.

Bake for about 15 minutes or till golden brown.

Enjoy,
Irene

Faux Crab Cakes

The 182-183 Street station of the D train that travelled from The Bronx to Manhattan was directly under the apartment building where I grew up.  Going “downtown” was a big deal, not in terms of distance but in almost every other way.  You didn’t throw on a pair of jeans and go downtown, you dressed for the occasion.  Anita, my sister, would take me to Manhattan as part of her continuous effort to expose me to culture and the arts.  She took me to all the wonderful museums, Central Park, the art galleries in The Village, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and everywhere else she could.  We ate roasted chestnuts, Chinese and Italian food, and hot, square knishes from street vendors.  We drank egg creams and hot chocolate.  I still remember getting off the train in Manhattan and experiencing that childlike sense of awe and wonder.  Walking up Fifth Avenue felt as if I had stepped over a threshold into another world.  No delis or bakeries on the corners, no people sitting on the stoops, no noises from the kids playing stickball on the street.  Instead there was elegance, beauty and The Plaza Hotel, straight out of the Eloïse books I adored.

The summer after I turned 16, I walked into Bergdorf Goodman and applied for a job.  I don’t think I would have had the courage to do that were it not for my sister and all those trips to Fifth Avenue.  To my amazement, I was hired, right then and there.  Suddenly I found myself working just around the corner from The Plaza Hotel and the elegant Palm Court where they served things like Cobb Salad and Crab Cakes.  That summer I had lunch there for the very first time.

I am meeting Anita in New York in October and I can’t wait.  I hope we have the chance to stroll up Fifth Avenue so I can re-capture some of the wonder of being in New York with my big sister.  We may even have tea at The Plaza.

Now that you can buy Kosher faux crab meat, I make crab cakes at home.

Faux Crab Cakes

1 lb. crab meat

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1 green onion, thinly sliced

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1/ 2 cup bread crumbs

3 dashes Tabasco sauce

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup canola oil.

Coating

1 cup corn flake crumbs

In food processor, using the double blade, add crab meat and pulse a few times till shredded. Place in large bowl and add mayonnaise, green onion, eggs, breadcrumbs, tabasco and salt and pepper. Mix well and form about 12 cakes, making sure they are not too thick.

Place corn flake crumbs on a plate and coat each crab cake. Heat oil in cast iron pan till hot, fry crab cakes till golden brown, about 4 minutes on each side.  Crab cakes are very delicate and fall apart easily so handle with care.

Perfect appetizer for a festive meal.

Enjoy,

Irene

Tongue

When life feels stressful we often think about simpler times.  I think about growing up in the 1950s and although, admittedly, I was very young, my impression was that life was uncomplicated, relaxed, and good.  I am sure that my parents had worries and struggles but they and my older sister protected and sheltered me, and I am grateful to be left with memories that are positive and rose-colored.  I had the freedom and luxury  to be a kid.  My friends and I ran around the Grand Concourse after school and nobody seemed to worry about where we were or who we were with.  Both adults and children had a sense of security and a basic belief that all was well with our world.

Even food was less complicated.  Daily, my mother would go to the market, pulling her shopping cart behind her, and return home with the ingredients she needed for that night’s dinner.  Every afternoon she would prepare either one entrée or two, depending on what she was serving.  As the “baby” and a fussy eater, there were certain things I would not eat, so my mother would make a separate entrée for me. For example, my family loved organ meats. I don’t  know if that was a function of economy, or of having lived in Paris for five years, but  my mother would often prepare brains, liver, sweet breads, pancreas and tongue. Brains were mushy, a consistency that I still dislike, liver was liver, pancreas had the texture of a sponge, but tongue… that was delicious. I loved everything about its’ delicate flavor and soft creamy texture.  I remember watching the tongue come out of the pot, this enormous version of the one in my mouth.  How could I not be impressed!   Tongue makes a statement.  My job was to peel the tough outer layer off the tongue. I  still love doing that!!

Tongue is readily available and you can buy veal or beef tongue. It is simple to prepare and great on a thin slice of rye bread with mustard.

Here is to simple times!


Tongue

3 -4 lb. Tongue

2 bay leaves

1 Tbsp. whole black peppercorns

2 Tbsp. coarse salt

Place tongue in pot with cold water to cover.  Bring water to a boil and cook for thirty minutes. Discard water and start again. Add fresh water to cover tongue and add bay leaves, salt and peppercorns. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook till tongue is tender. About 2 hours. Test tongue with a fork for tenderness.

Remove tongue from pot and when it is cool enough to handle, peel tough outer skin. Cool and refrigerate.

Enjoy,

Irene