Sharing Food and Memories with Friends and Family


September 18, 2018
Irene Saiger


Cod Fish Cakes

IMG_0583It is 2:00 p.m. and Yom Kippur is quickly approaching, never an easy day, physically or emotionally.  But each year, just days before, I wait in anticipation for this small thing that has become as much a part of my ritual as many other small things that I focus on as the holiday approaches.  I wait for an email, from our friends Fredda and Avrum, inviting us to their home to Break the Fast.

I am grateful that tomorrow night, once again, we will be at their home, surrounded by friends and family, shedding the weight of the day, having my long-awaited cup of coffee, and trying not to overindulge.  This afternoon, I made a pot of Moroccan style fish cakes to share. Cod fillets that I chopped and sautéed,  and which are now simmering in a slightly spicy tomato herb sauce.  Having to prepare a dish for tomorrow night allows me to have some creative time and space in the kitchen, thinking about the things that I hope for in the next year.  Good health is always first, but also the more universal things, like love and peace, happiness, and a better and kinder world.  And, then there are the small things that I look forward to as well, one being that next year, just days before Yom Kippur, an email will once again show up in my in-box, inviting us to come break the fast with family and friends. May it be a good year for all of us.  Shana Tovah and G’mar Hatimah Tovah.

Fish Cakes (adapted from a recipe by Levana)

2 pounds cod fillets

2 eggs

2/3 cup corn flake crumbs

1 1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp freshly ground pepper

Oil for frying

In food processor grind fish till smooth and remove to bowl.  Add eggs, cornflake crumbs, salt and pepper, mix well and form into small balls and then gently flatten.  Saute on both sides in hot oil till golden and set aside.

Tomato Herb Sauce

1 cup water

2 cups finely diced fresh tomatoes

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tsp red pepper

1 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

3 bay leaves

1 Tbspn paprika

8 cloves garlic, minced

1 bunch parsley, stems removed and coarsely chopped

1 bunch cilantro, stems removed and coarsely chopped

1 whole lemon, thinly sliced

In large pot, add water, diced tomato, olive oil, bay leaves, lemon slices, salt and pepper along with garlic, and herbs.  Simmer for about 20 minutes and gently add fish balls. Place on low heat, cover and allow to cook for about 30 minutes. Serve warm or room temperature.






July 13, 2018
Irene Saiger


Kooky Cookies

IMG_4025Remember the song Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer?  Minus the beer, that’s how my childhood summers were spent.   

Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer
Those days of soda and pretzels and beer
Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer
You'll wish that summer could always be here

My cousin Mel came to L.A. last week and after having not seen each other for many years, we had lots of reminiscing to do.  Mel and his partner Alex had just come from San Francisco where they had seen the production of A Walk on the Moon.  The play is set in a bungalow colony in upstate New York, similar to the one Mel’s family went to during our childhood.  Pine Grove Park was located near Monroe, and my Mom, sister, and I would leave the Bronx behind, and go visit and stay with the Blatmans every summer.  Our time there really did feel lazy and crazy.  Not in the adult sense of the word, but crazy in how free and unsupervised we were. There were two choices of activities, either hanging out at the pool or hanging out in the casino (a building with a pinball machine, ping-pong table, and a jukebox). I don’t remember being bored or restless, and somehow we kept busy, stayed out of our mothers’ hair, and didn’t get into trouble. There were no rules and no restrictions.  

While the kids ran around, our Moms mostly played cards, but they must have made time to cook and bake, because we never ate out, and certainly never ordered in. Mel’s Mom was an excellent baker, and I remember her cakes filled with fresh juicy blueberries. 

I still look forward to summer. My work schedule is the same, my responsibilities are the same, and my routine is the same, but somehow it feels different.  No bungalow colonies, not many lazy days, but there are ways that I can still capture that feeling of being carefree.  One of them is baking.  So at the beginning of this summer, I decided to bake cookies with my granddaughter.  Inspired by a show about pastry chef Christina Tosi who owns Milk Bar Bakery, I used a basic cookie dough, and then did something I had never done before.  I put out bowls of Fruit Loops, potato chips, corn flakes, sprinkles, and chocolate chips, all to mix into our dough. No rules and no restrictions. The cookies were fun to make, and fun to eat, and yes, it felt like summer.

Use your favorite cookie dough recipe and add whatever you like.  Something basic and simple.  Preheat oven to 350 and line cookie sheets with parchment paper

Kooky Cookies

1 stick butter left at room temperature till soft

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 1/4 cups flour

Cream butter with sugars, vanilla and egg.  In another bowl mix flour with baking soda and then add to butter mixture.  Take tablespoon sized pieces of dough, and add whatever you like!!!  Press down on each cookie, gently, to flatten.  Bake for about 8-10 minutes but don’t allow to brown.  Cool on rack.







March 16, 2018
Irene Saiger


Turkey Cocletten

IMG_3656We hadn’t been back in a decade. As we headed North on route 395 we started reminiscing about all the years we had spent vacationing in Mammoth. We had gone during the summer, but loved it most during the winter. We had stayed in various hotels, motels and condos, until we discovered Tamarack Lodge at Twin Lakes. It’s a magical place with a center lodge complete with a fireplace, comfortable couches, the perfect cabin decor, a great bar and the best deconstructed carrot cake I have ever tasted.  Around the main lodge are cabins nestled among the trees. It’s the kind of place where people sit around for hours drinking cider, toddies, and hot chocolate. The kind of place where strangers talk to each other, happy to share stories of their successes, or their challenges, on the slope that day.

For years, as the only non-skier, I would sit inside Canyon Lodge, adjacent to the ski area, prepared to spend the day alone with my coffee, books and magazines, staring out through the plate-glass window hoping to catch a glimpse of the kids coming down the slope. This time it was no different. 

On our way up, we decided to use Google maps which recommended a new route.  We weren’t that comfortable with the idea, it was dark and we weren’t sure where we would end up.  Norm is, at best, a reluctant user of Google Maps. He likes his Thomas Guide and he likes to go his way, tried and true. But we followed the voice which was redirecting us around the town of Bishop instead of through it. Of course we arrived safely and that was all we really cared about.  

What does all of this have to do with Pesach?  Each year, i start off well before the holiday weighing all the options. New recipes, new readings, new ways of making the Seder relevant and fun. But ultimately, it’s really all about the story that we are gathering to retell and remember. On this recent trip to Mammoth, yes we tried a new route, and maybe it shaved off a little time, but in the end it wasn’t actually about the journey, it was all about the destination.

I am still not sure of my menu for the Seder, still pouring over cookbooks, still wondering if I can actually figure out how to make crispy quinoa (the current rage). I am sure that I am wasting a whole lot of time, because in the end I will most likely go back to what’s tried and true, to the dishes we have come to expect around the Saiger Seder. My older son is always discouraging me from trying new recipes, and encouraging me to perfect the ones I already make. 

My Mom made cocletten all year round and used matzoh meal even when it wasn’t Pesach.  She mixed ground beef with eggs, salt, pepper and matzoh meal. I have added cumin and garlic, and as Norm doesn’t eat beef, I now use ground  turkey.  A friend told me that her Mom always added finely grated zucchini to her cocletten to get some veggies into her grandchildren. I now do the same. 

These are prefect for an easy Pesach lunch or dinner.  They are great with tomato basil salad or would be perfect on top of a bed of crispy quinoa. Let me know if you figure out how to make that.


Turkey Cocletten

2 1/2 pounds ground turkey thighs

2 large brown onions

2 medium zucchini

2 tsp salt

freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp cumin

3 cloves garlic, minced

3 eggs

handful of Italian parsley, finely chopped

1/2 cup matzoh meal

Olive oil

In a food processor finely mince onions and zucchini.  Add to a large bowl with ground turkey, eggs, salt, cumin, black pepper to taste, minced garlic, chopped parsley and matzoh meal.  Refrigerate for about one hour.  Heat a frying pan with olive oil and saute till cooked through, about 5 minutes on each side.  Makes about 40 cocletten.  Wishing you a Chag Kasher v’Sameach.






November 21, 2017
Irene Saiger


Shira’s Cornbread

cornAs a child what I remember wanting  most was to be as American as Apple Pie.  I wanted my parents to speak English without an accent, I wanted to have an American style turkey (no idea what that meant) for Thanksgiving dinner, and not one prepared in the same way my Mom made roast chicken on Shabbat, and I definitely wanted to have Barbie dolls like the other girls I knew.  None of those wishes came true.  My parents never lost their accents, my mother only made turkey one way, with garlic, salt and pepper, and she never bought me a Barbie doll.  She wasn’t a great believer in toys in general but I think that if she had agreed to buy me a doll, it would not have looked like  Barbie and it would not have had a boyfriend that was blonde and named Ken.  It was too much to ask. 

At some point, there was some kind of awakening and I realized how lucky I was to be living in the ethnically diverse community that existed in the Bronx in the 50s and 60s.  Now those cultural influences, that I wanted so much to shed, is what I love most about my childhood, and I cherish that my Thanksgiving dinner reflects a cross-section of the people who I have come across in my life.  I now happily pair garlic turkey with the candied sweet potatoes that my mother learned to make from Edie, my cousin’s  African American housekeeper.  I love that my daughter still makes “corn pone” from an Amish cookbook we bought her when she was just a little girl and we were visiting Amish country in Pennsylvania.  ( I did publish this recipe in 2011 but she has changed it and now I call it cornbread) This year my dinner will include a sweet potato pie that I was given by a colleague who is a descendent of slaves and Native Americans. 

My children, all born and raised in Los Angeles have grown up with other culinary influences. Persian, Mexican and Middle Eastern dishes have crept into our kitchens, and I wouldn’t be surprised if one day those influences make an appearance at our Thanksgiving table.  

As I begin my Thanksgiving preparations, I am grateful that my children, daughters-in-law, and now my granddaughter, have helped me, or made on their own, some of the recipes that they have eaten at my table. Mock chopped liver and pumpkin chocolate chip bread are two of the popular ones, and of course cholent as well.  If there was one tradition in my family that I want to pass on, it’s that cooking is an act of love and of Thanksgiving.

Shira’s Cornbread

1 c. sugar

1/2 cup non-dairy margarine or butter

2 eggs

1  1/2 cup stone ground cornmeal

1  1/2 cups flour

3 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 1/2 cups non-dairy creamer or milk

1 – 14 oz. can creamed corn

Cream together margarine and sugar, add slightly beaten eggs and mix together well.  In another bowl sift cornmeal with flour, baking powder, and salt. Alternate adding dry ingredients and milk to batter.  Add creamed corn, mix gently and pour into greased and floured 9 x 13 baking dish.  Bake at 450″ for 30-35 minutes.  I  think the texture is better if made the day before.  Serves 8-10

Notes: I prefer a glass Pyrex to a metal baking pan because I think it results in a moister texture.  Don’t over bake or it will be dry.  Try adding something new, like sliced green onions, or jalapeno.

Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving,


September 10, 2017
Irene Saiger


Fig and Date Syrup Challah

IMG_2440The past few days have been filled with worry, not always at the forefront of my mind, but ready to surface at any given moment.  As Hurricane Irma began to pound Florida, those of us who are far away feel powerless, and all we can do is stay-tuned and pray for the best. My sister and brother-in-law made their way inland to Coral Gables from their home in Boca Raton and are currently holed up in a hotel.  I had begged, pleaded, yelled and enlisted the help of others to try to convince them to evacuate, but to no avail.  And so rather than resort to one of my “go to” responses to stress, ice cream and potato chips, I chose to be productive and cook.  On Friday I made chicken soup, zucchini and mushrooms stewed in tomato sauce, schnitzel, and garlic chicken.  At 4:00 a.m. this morning I woke up to get an update from the news, fell back asleep for a short while, and not wanting to be far from the phone or T.V. decided to stay home and spend more time in the kitchen. Norm hung around too, and so between the two of us, we managed to make 70 kreplach, cooked up a restaurant size pot of chicken soup, and baked four challahs.   

The reality is that  Rosh Hashana is also looming and no matter what happens in the next few days, we know that we will be going to Shul and having festive meals.  We pray that everyone will be safe, and that this is a case of the storm before the calm.  Wishing everyone a peaceful, happy, healthy , sweet, and uneventful Yontif.  Shanah Tovah!

I decided to try something different after being inspired by a conversation we were having yesterday about date syrup.  A young woman visiting from Israel said her family uses it with chicken and so I decided to try it on challah.  Using my basic challah recipe, I made a thick spread made with the syrup, dried Greek figs, and some fresh orange zest.

Basic Challah Recipe

I cup dried Greek figs diced into small pieces

1/4 cup date syrup

1/2 cup water

1 tsp freshly grated orange zest

Place diced figs in small pot with syrup and water and cook till tender, about 10 minutes. Place in Cusineart and blend till for a minute or so till you have a paste. Add orange zest and remove to bowl.   Roll out challah dough to rectangle shape and spread mixture across. Roll up and create round challah.











Double Chocolate Biscotti

July 14, 2017

Today I unexpectedly found a chocolate biscotti.  The cookie had somehow fallen into a bowl perched on the edge of my kitchen counter where I discovered it poking out from the jars of vitamins. I had baked several batches of cookies on a Sunday just a few weeks ago in preparation for the out-of-town guests coming in for my youngest son’s wedding. Now two weeks later this single biscotti and a few cases of leftover wine in the living room are the only traces left of more than a year of planning .  

The wedding reflected the taste and personalities of the bride and groom. Not only was it fun but it was unique as well. The venue, Big Daddy’s Antiques, is a warehouse filled with, of course, antiques.  I loved being surrounded by things that had history and found it comforting and familiar. It wasn’t bright and shiny, but worn and warm like our family chuppah that’s been in use for several generations.   

It was the “wedding weekend ” they had hoped for.  Aufruf,  Shabbat dinner, pre-wedding drinks at a brewery, the main event, brunch for out-of-town guests, and two evenings of Sheva Brachot.  For six days many of us moved in unison, from Beverlywood to the Arts District to Culver City, Ladera Heights, and Westwood. We had food from Ta-eem Grill, Joan’s On Third, Tarte Catering and Got Kosher, as well as various dishes and home-baked goods that were prepared by friends and family.  It was a weekend of feasting and celebration, sharing the joy we all felt for Anna and Micah.  We laughed and cried, but now it’s time to settle back into our routines.  Then again, maybe I can linger with the memories for a few more minutes over that last biscotti. 

Double Chocolate Biscotti  Adapted from David Lebovitz 

2 cups flour

3/4 cup cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 large eggs

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Paste

1 cup pareve chocolate chips

For Top

1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon water

2 tablespoons Turbinado sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Sift together dry ingredients. In a large bowl beat eggs with sugar and vanilla paste. Stir in the dry ingredients, add the chocolate chips, and blend.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Divide the dough in half and roll into two logs. Transfer the logs onto a baking sheet, and gently flatten the top.   Brush beaten egg wash over logs and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for about 25 – 30 minutes or till almost firm.  Let cool for about 15 minutes, slice with serrated knife and place cut side down on cookie sheet.   Bake another 10-15 minutes.  Should feel dry and firm. 

April 3, 2017
Irene Saiger


Chana Chat (South Asian Garbanzo bean salad)

IMG_9366Yesterday, just about a week before Pesach (Passover), my kitchen and dining room table were covered in flour.  Mounds of dough were portioned out around the edge of the table, potatoes were boiling in the kitchen, and salad ingredients were being chopped on every available surface.

My daughter-in-law, Elizabeth, is involved in an organization called New Ground, whose mission is to encourage dialogue between Jews and Muslims. Months ago I had suggested that she organize something around food, and so here we were, sixteen people crowded around the table, eight Jews and eight Muslims, representing two generations.  I demonstrated how to make my Challah and Mahmooda taught us how to make Chana Chat, a salad that is commonly served in both Pakistan and India.  (which if you eat kitniyot during Pesach is a light and delicious salad!!)

What did we have in common? Plenty!  One woman shared how she cared for her aging in-laws because that’s the family’s responsibility, and expressed hope that her own children and grandchildren will do the same for her and her husband one day.  A young woman named Farzana told me how her family gets together every Friday night after prayers for a late dinner.  She said that everyone knows it’s family night and instead of seeing friends, they spend time together as a family, sitting and eating, talking, and as she put it, marinating.  Mahrukh, a woman from Bombay explained that she was contentedly living in Italy when she and her family decided to move to Los Angeles. Her boys only spoke Italian, very little Urdu, and no English and she worried how they would adjust to life in America. All of these stories could have been stories from my own family.  Of the sixteen participants at least 14 were immigrants, children of immigrants, or grandchildren of immigrants.  Sound familiar?

Yes it was a little crazy to do this a week before Passover but it filled me with so much hope for the future, more than I’ve had in months.  And what better way to start the Chag but to be reminded how much we gain from opening our hearts, our doors, and our kitchens to others.  Let’s tear down those walls, one dish at a time.

Chana Chat

1 cup garbanzo beans.  Prepared from dry beans is best but you may substitute canned beans.

1 tbsp sweet tamarind sauce or pomegranate molasses, thinned out slightly with some water  ( we found tamarind sauce in Persian market and it was kosher for Passover!)

1 potato, peeled, diced into 1/2 ” pieces, boiled until soft, and drained

1 small red onion, diced

1 tomato, small to medium size, diced

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 tsp red chili powder

1 tsp freshly ground cumin powder

1 tsp red chili flakes (if you want extra heat)

2-3 green chilies, chopped

1⁄4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

1/2 tsp salt

1 lemon cut in quarters

Mix together all the ingredients in a bowl. Taste and adjust flavors according to your preference. You can serve this warm or at room temperature.

Note:  One woman said she sautes her onions and tomatoes for a few minutes, she just prefers it that way.  Seasoning seemed to depend on how much heat you like.  There was lots of tasting and shaking, adding as they went.  One woman said you can add mint if you like.

Enjoy and Chag Sameach,