Sharing Food and Memories with Friends and Family


May 14, 2021
Irene Saiger


Jaden’s Cheesecake

“Measure with love”.  A saying I learned from my son David’s student when I was invited to join them today for a cheesecake baking session.  I was thrilled to join in, and delighted to watch high school students connect over a family recipe.  The recipe is from South Africa, where the young woman’s parents, whose family recipe they used, are from. I don’t know if this is a commonly used recipe in the South African Jewish community but the special ingredient is vanilla pudding.  I tasted it last week and it was delicious.  Creamier and more pudding-like than the American versions that I typically make. 

It’s been a tough week for many of us who have family and friends in Israel.  It’s hard to think about the upcoming Chag, and trying to feel joyous when loved ones in Israel are worried about their safety. But when you grow up with survivors, you grow up with hope.  

I hope peace comes to Israel soon.  I hope you have a Chag Sameach. I hope you write down your family recipes because today I witnessed something special, a group of high school students all baking for Shavuot. And I hope that when you’re feeling unsure, or lacking confidence, that you remember to “measure with love”. 

Special thank you to Jaden and her family for the wonderful recipe and that wonderful saying. I will never forget it.


400 grams cream cheese, room temperature (slightly less than 16 ounces)

1/2 cup whipping cream

3/4 cup sugar

3 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 Tbsp flour

1 Tbsp vanilla pudding powder

Preheat oven to 275 degrees. In a bowl, combine cream cheese with whipping cream, and mix till smooth. Add sugar, flour and pudding, and stir till blended. In a small bowl beat eggs with vanilla. Add to cream cheese mixture and combine till you have a smooth batter. Pour into a crust of your choice and bake for 30-35 minutes or till center of cheesecake jiggles when slightly shaken.



November 20, 2020
Irene Saiger


Turkey Chili

I have lived in this house for over 30 years, but it is only in the last month or so that I have decided to turn a mostly unused space behind my garage into an orchard. When I was growing up, my Dad always spoke about the orchard behind his home in Warka, Poland with such pride. He didn’t gush over much, other than his grandchildren, and anything nature related, including fruits and vegetables. Watching my father choose an apple or pear was an experience, he would check each piece of fruit for ripeness, blemishes and fragrance. It made a lasting impression on me, and in part I owe my appreciation of farmer’s markets and fresh produce to him.

I am 65, and I suddenly want an orchard. This week I ordered four fruit trees, two plums, one pluot, one peach, and two blueberry bushes. I have cut and laid down cardboard, compost, and mulch to help invigorate the soil before the trees arrive later in the season. I added flower beds because I was told that trees get lonely and need companion planting. It will take years before the trees bear fruit but, G-d willing, time is something we have plenty of.

My father (Hersh Graf) far right, in the orchard behind his home in Warka, Poland, 1937.

Next week, like many of you, we will have a smaller Thanksgiving celebration. It is only the second time my daughter has ever missed Thanksgiving at home. Our friends who have joined us for over twenty years won’t be with us either. I will take over my daughter’s role in making the cornbread this year, and still plan to make our pumpkin chocolate chip bread as well as sweet potato pie.

The yard smells of fresh earth and that, for me, is the smell of hope. You plant something and hope that it will bloom and that the trees will one day bear fruit. I hope that many, many, many years from now my grandchildren will say that their Mima had an orchard behind the garage and remember how much I loved my garden. And though I am thankful for all that we have, I hope that we will all be healthy at the end of this, and together again next year. I wish each of you a wonderful and hopeful Thanksgiving!

I though that for those of you who may not want to make a whole turkey this year, turkey chili could be a good alternative. Maybe served with corn bread and mashed potatoes.

Turkey Chili

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 pounds ground turkey

2 cups coarsely chopped onions

2 tablespoons chopped garlic

1 red pepper, diced

1 jalapeno pepper, sliced

1 tablespoon fresh oregano

1 Bay leaf

3 tablespoons chili powder

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1-28 ounce can crushed tomatoes

2 cups water ( I added chicken bouillon for flavor)

1 -14 oz can black beans

1-14 ounce can vegetarian refried beans

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a large heavy pot, heat the olive oil and add the ground turkey to brown. Add in onion, red pepper, garlic, jalapeno and spices, and saute for several minutes. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil then lower to a simmer and cook for about 1 1/2 hours. Adjust seasoning.


August 24, 2020
Irene Saiger


Spinach Quiche

My “Machatenista” described it as Coronavirus Kashrut, and she’s right. Without any consistent set of guidelines to follow, every individual has to come up with their own set of protocols that they feel comfortable with. For some, the recommendations that do exist are more easily bent, for me it’s a struggle. The conversations in my head go something like this. Am I too risk averse, am I getting too close to the kids, is it ok to eat together outside, would it be allright to hug my children and grandchildren, even for a brief minute… how risky is it really to travel to NYC to see my daughter Shira. It is never ending…but hopefully just for now.

I also spend a lot of time wondering how I can be helpful during this time. The truth is that there isn’t really much I can do, but over the past few months I have learned that listening to the most insignificant comments that come up during conversations have become precious clues that give me purpose, and hopefully helps them in some small way. During a phone call with my daughter, she mentioned not owning a pie dish, so I went on-line to have one delivered to her. I can’t tell you how happy that made me! Overhearing my daughter-in-law Anna say that my youngest grandson had outgrown his shorts led to a Target shopping spree. Thinking of ways that I can anticipate a need. Now, I try keeping my fridge stocked with cans of Le Croix, and the pantry filled with kid and adult friendly snacks, just in case they ask. I try and keep the freezer stocked with meat in case they need something and can’t get to the butcher. I’ve even started making my own pickles for my grandson Phin, who is a big fan and never asks for much. And then this past week, knowing that my daughter-in-law Elizabeth has been craving quiche, I made sure to add that to the list.

I know how lucky I am to have family here, and I remind myself of that each day. These small acts are probably more significant to me than they are to them, but that’s ok too. After all, Norm and I had spinach quiche for lunch today, and so in a way Elizabeth helped us without even knowing it. And Shira, well you can make this too since you now have a pie plate.

Quiche is something I have made many, many times over the years with varied success. I am very particular about the texture of my eggs. I won’t eat a runny white, an anemic looking omelette (no French omelettes for me) or a mushy quiche. This was my 3rd quiche since Coronavirus, and this has been the best. The dough is not the issue. It is the egg to liquid ratio that either turns the quiche into this too soft mass, or else it is too solid and has none of the creaminess that makes a quiche so rich and delicious.

Spinach Quiche

I used this pie crust as well as Christina Tosi’s technique to make crust and placed in 9″ greased pie plate.


4 large eggs, lightly beaten

2 cups milk

1 cup cooked spinach ( I used fresh)

1 medium onion, finely diced

1 cup freshly grated Gruyere, plus a little extra for top.

3/4 tsp salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375. Saute diced onion in olive oil till slightly golden in color but do not brown. Steam enough fresh spinach to result in one cup cooked. Rinse steamed spinach in cold water, squeeze out excess liquid, and then chop. Mix eggs with milk and add salt and pepper. Place onions on the bottom of pie dish and top with spinach. Add grated cheese. Pour milk mixture over top and finish with a little more grated gruyere. Bake for about 45 minutes. Toothpick should be fairly dry after inserting in center. Allow quiche to rest for about 10 minutes before cutting.

Enjoy and stay safe,


June 30, 2020
Irene Saiger


Ricotta Stuffed Zucchini Flowers


IMG-2305 (1)

Baked squash blossom over broccoli rabe

My paternal family, the Grafs, had an appreciation and love of nature that they passed down to the next generation and, especially now, I am so grateful for that gift. The family came from Warka, Poland, and my father and his brothers often spoke of their childhood home which had fruit trees and a vegetable garden behind the house. I don’t remember my father ever gushing over a steak or roasted chicken, but a bite of a perfect tomato or apple would often result with his enthusiastic one-liner,  “DELICIOUS.”
In my parent’s home, fruits and vegetables were plentiful, fresh, and seasonal.  No T.V. dinners or canned soups, no shortcuts in the kitchen.  My mother walked to the market for fresh produce every day, dragging her shopping cart behind her.  Dinner always included a green salad, dressed with lots of lemon and pepper.  We ate asparagus and artichokes, served with a tangy vinaigrette.  Mushrooms were cooked in soups, or sauteed and mixed into homemade farfel.  Beets were used to make cold borschts, as was sorrel (schav). Carrots were carefully diced, simmered with sugar, and thickened with a little flour. They had a rich glaze which I’ve never been able to duplicate.  Potatoes reigned (we are Polish) but my favorite preparations were eating them mashed with lots of butter and warm milk,  or sliced and sauteed in butter till golden, after which beaten eggs were poured over top.  For Shabbat dinner, Russets were quartered and roasted on the bottom of a pan of garlic chicken absorbing all the delicious drippings.
Sundays, as with many families, was dedicated to bagels, lox and cream cheese but upstaged by the beautiful platters of New Jersey tomatoes, crisp cucumbers, spicy red radishes, wedges of green peppers, and slices of refreshing kohlrabi. Dessert in our home was fruit.  Depending on the season, it could be an apple or pear, grapes, oranges, or a bowl of red cherries, all eaten in front of the T.V.   My father turned peeling fruit into an art form, it was intentional and purposeful and reflected how much he loved a good apple or pear.  In the summer, my Mom baked cakes and buns with blueberries that we picked in Lakewood, New Jersey, where my aunt and uncle lived. She packed raspberries into glass jars with vodka and loads of sugar, and kept them on the bottom shelf of the  kitchen cupboard till the solution magically turned into a sweet cordial.
So it is not surprising that I have been gardening for most of my married life.  It’s a Graf thing.  My success has been uneven.  I have great artichokes, sorrel that has produced leaves for 30 years, delicious blackberries and a very happy Lemon Verbena. The pomegranate tree has half a dozen fruits for the very first time.  Every summer I optimistically plant tomatoes, zucchinis, and maybe some peppers or eggplants. I tell myself the same words that I say to my grandchildren, “keep trying, don’t give up, and you can do it!”
Sunday, I had my first outing in almost four months and chose to go to a farm, Underwood Family Farms in Simi Valley, where you can pick your own fruits and vegetables. As soon as I arrived, I could smell a sweetness in the air from the berries, and the stress of the past four months melted away.
We took our time, walking up and down row after row of raspberries and strawberries, patiently looking for the largest berries that were the perfect shade of red.  We moved on to the field of zucchini plants, topped with those beautiful yellow flowers that were fully open in the morning sun, perfect for stuffing.  Each flower had a bee or two buzzing inside, but even that fear-inducing noise couldn’t deter me, nor could the very prickly stems!  We found a potato patch, where I dug potatoes for the first time ever, sticking my hands into the dark soil and using my fingers to feel for the round tubers hidden under the earth.  Getting my hands dirty was never more fun!! There were rows of pickling cucumbers, and I decided to try making kosher pickles.  On our way out there was a row of small bushy plants that I couldn’t identify, but when I looked closer, there were tiny French green beans hanging on the stems, and even though I was tired by then, I had to pick just a few.
My fridge is now full of fruits and vegetables, and I came home full of inspiration. My children keep encouraging me to expand the garden and grow more vegetables. I appreciate their confidence, but it is also daunting.  Tomorrow half barrels are being delivered so I can move my eggplants and zucchini plants to a new location where I hope they’ll be happier.  And if they aren’t, well,  I won’t give up, I’ll keep on trying, and maybe, I can do it?!  But if not, I’ll be very happy to take another trip to the farm.


With my daughter-in-law Anna picking strawberries


My harvest!

I am currently obsessed with Rosetta Constantino, a cookbook author who I follow on Instagram, and from whom I learn something new about food and gardening every day.  After watching her stuff squash flowers, I was inspired to try it. Since all I had was Anaheim peppers, I used them instead and the results were great!  Today I used the squash blossoms that I picked on Sunday,  but this would be equally good in any vegetable you can stuff. It’s not really a recipe so play with the flavors and ingredients.


Filling the Anaheim peppers

Ricotta Stuffed Zucchini Flowers
6 squash flowers or Anaheim peppers
2 cups ricotta
3/4 cup shredded mozzarella
Freshly grated parmesan
salt and pepper
red chili flakes
1/4 cup fresh basil, shredded.
4 cloves fresh minced garlic
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Tomato Sauce
I used one small can of tomato sauce and simmered it on low for 20 minutes with 1 garlic clove, a little of the shredded basil, salt and pepper to taste, and some chili flakes.  This will be more than you use for this dish.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  
In a bowl, mix ricotta with 1/4 cup of the mozzarella (save the rest to sprinkle on top), grated parmesan, shredded basil, 3 cloves of garlic, salt, and pepper.
Carefully open the blossoms, or Anaheim peppers (see Note), and evenly distribute the filling among the vegetables.  Close the vegetables around the filling, if using squash blossoms, then twist the tops closed.  Place some of the tomato sauce in a small and shallow baking dish.  Place veggies on top, spoon a little tomato sauce over each blossom or pepper, then some mozzarella cheese and a little more grated parmesan.  Bake for about 30 minutes.
Note:  If you use Anaheim peppers then they need to be peeled and seeded.  Brush peppers with a little olive oil on each side and place in 400 degree oven in shallow baking dish till peppers are slightly blistered.  Then remove with tongs and place in small paper bag. Close and leave on counter till cooled after which you can easily peel off the skin.  Open to stuff and remove seeds.


May 27, 2020
Irene Saiger


Rosette di Pasta (pasta roses)

It’s been almost three months since we’ve been sheltering at home, and I thought I would share what has become one of the highlights of this crazy time.  I have started following various chefs who are posting cooking demonstrations from the comfort of their home kitchens, sometimes surrounded by their families.  Watching Massimo Bottura almost on a daily basis, and seeing his son who always shows up in his pajamas, his wife who serves as his sous chef, and his daughter who does the filming, feels as close to being invited to a dinner party as I could hope for.  Recently my daughter and I joined Chef Samin Nosrat on Instagram for the Great Lasagne bake-off and we both sat in our respective homes, drinking wine and listening to Samin as she fielded questions from participants and talked about her life.  And now, for the past ten days I have been following The Great Big Jewish Food Fest, which has been an incredible experience, and one I especially recommend if you enjoy learning about Jewish food from around the world.  It’s been such fun watching chef Fanny Gerson make her family recipe for chilaquiles, and then “having tea” with cookbook author Claudia Roden. 

On one  recent episode, Massimo Bottura made Rosetta di Pasta, something I had never before seen.  Similar to lasagne but rolled up so that it looks like a rose, I hoped he would share that recipe, but he didn’t.  So, this morning, based on what I had in my fridge, my pantry, and my garden, I came up with this version. This has been my silver lining, my inspiration,  that watching a family cook together on Instagram provided me with an idea that translated into a meal for my own family. 

One of the many wonderful things I heard during a class from the GBJF was a quote by someone in the food world, ” A recipe without a story is just calories.”  For today, this is my story.  What’s yours?


Rosette di Pasta

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a small 8 x 8 pan with tall sides to support the pasta rolls. I used a loaf pan.

12 sheets dried lasagne noodles

Simple Tomato Sauce

1-28 can diced tomatoes

3 Tbsp butter

2 cloves garlic

2 Tbsp tomato paste

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 tsp chili flakes

Simmer for 20 minutes and let cool, then blend. 


15 oz whole milk ricotta

1 bunch fresh spinach or any greens of your choice, blanched, chopped and then squeeze excess water out.  I combined greens from a farm box that I can’t identify, and sorrel from my garden.

1/2 cup shredded parmesan

2 cloves fresh garlic, minced

1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

1/2 tsp chili flakes

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

Take 12 sheets of lasagne noodles and lay them in a roasting pan.  Pour boiling water over them so they are submerged for about 15 minutes. Then carefully separate and spread on table or counter.  In the meantime mix ricotta with salt, pepper and chili flakes.  Add chopped greens, cheeses, garlic, and taste to adjust seasoning.  Take a heaping tablespoon of filling, and place some in  the center of each lasagne noodle to make sure you have enough for all.  Then using the back of a spoon spread cheese mixture over the length of the noodle.  Gentle roll up and place in  greased pan.  Pour sauce over top.  Sprinkle with mozzarella and parmesan.    Bake at 400 for about 30 minutes or till top is golden brown and crispy.



Chag Sameach!





April 27, 2020
Irene Saiger




I have been making this particular recipe for over 35 years, since my daughter Shira was in pre-school and Rosa, one of the Moms, shared it with me. I used to make challah fairly regularly when the kids were growing up, but then Norm started making it, and I pretty much stopped, other than for the High Holidays. Over the past few weeks, since this pandemic began, I have begun baking again. challah, cinnamon buns, bread, chocolate chip skillet cookies, biscotti, brownie meringues, and that’s just the baking. We are eating well,  maybe too well. That’s my way of coping, and clearly it’s the same for many others. Two weeks ago I did my first challah Zoom call with my daughter and some friends who also wanted to begin baking challah.

My daughter encouraged me to update this blog and repost.  if you haven’t made challah, this is a good, basic recipe. This  past Shabbat I added food coloring to the strands so they had a watercolor effect. I would love to hear how you are filling your time,  and if you are baking and want to share your recipes, we can post them here. If  you do use this recipe, please send photos of what your Challah looks like.  

I try and find inspiration wherever I can find it. I heard Julie Andrews interviewed and she shared something her Mom use to say to her during the war. “Everything has a beginning, a middle, and an end.” Stay home and stay safe.

January 21,  2010

The scent of dough rising in the kitchen can create so many associations.  It can bring us back to the bakeries we frequented as children, holding on to our mothers’ hands, and eating the sprinkle cookie given to us by the woman behind the bakery counter.  It can remind us of a flour covered apron worn by a grandmother making Challah.  My own mother would make blueberry buns from blueberries that I collected with my sister near my Tanta Maricia’s house in Lakewood, New Jersey.  There is something special about working with yeast, it has that distinctive lifelike quality and scent, always recognizable, like an old friend in the kitchen.  My husband has recently started making home-made bagels, hazelnut flutes and artisanal French breads.  They are wonderful, wheatey, warm and yeasty.
January, even in California, is a perfect time to bake.  A warm kitchen is so inviting so go ahead and create a memory that your children will cherish. The scent of yeast.

Here is my tried and true recipe for challah.  Be creative and add some dried cranberries, some chocolate chips, some dried figs or dates and most of all, have 







½ cup vegetable or canola oil
3 tsp table salt
¾ cup sugar
1 cup boiling water
½ cup cold water
2 packages dried yeast or 4 1/2 teaspoons
1/3 cup warm water
3 eggs
7-8 cups all purpose flour

1 egg, beaten for brushing challah.

Dissolve yeast in 1/3 cup warm water along with a pinch of sugar, and proof for several minutes till bubbly.  Put oil, salt and sugar in a large bowl, add 1 cup boiling water and stir till sugar is dissolved.  Then add ½ cup cold water and stir.  In a small bowl beat 3 eggs and add to cooled oil mixture. Then add yeast and stir.  Add up to 7 cups of flour, one at a time, and stir after each cup.  Add only as much flour as you need to get the right consistency (firm enough to form a ball without being too sticky).  Put dough on floured board and knead for about 10 – 15 minutes. Surface of dough should have a sheen when ready.
Place dough in lightly oiled bowl and rotate so the entire ball of dough is coated , then cover and let rise until doubled, about two hours.  Punch down and knead gently for several minutes.  Divide and make into any shape you like and place on parchment paper covered baking sheet, lightly greased.  Brush with beaten egg.  Let stand for about 45 minutes, or till doubled in size.  Makes 2 large challahs or four medium sized.

Bake in 375 degree oven for 25 – 30 minutes or until brown and also tap bottom of Challah to see if you get a hollow sound.






April 6, 2020
Irene Saiger


Potato Leek Soup

60729597842__F47CBDC5-6178-4229-B9E0-5453E6E38F8A Passover will be unlike anything that most of us have ever experienced before.  This is what it looks like in my kitchen, so far.  I am cleaning, but not with my usual zeal. I have a fair amount of kosher L’Pesach products, but this year I will be forgiving, and will use substitutions, within reason.  And I am cooking, but not creating.  For me this Pesach is about basics. Over 30 years ago I helped work on a cookbook for my kids’ day school, Sinai Akiba Academy.  It was titled Pesach Potpourri and my old stained and coverless copy comes out of the closet every year.  Yes the recipes are dated and pretty standard, but right now it’s all I need, and this year it will be my main source for Passover cooking.


Chapter cover in Pesach Potpourri

Last week I placed two orders of potatoes by mistake, and ended up with 15 pounds.  Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t a hardship for someone whose parents were Polish.  I will be serving them mashed, fried and in simple frittatas, but this week I made a big pot of potato leek soup, a standard recipe that I’ve made for years.  I didn’t have leeks so I had to substitute onions. I didn’t have cream, so I used milk, and I decided to make it a little healthier by throwing in some spinach and broccoli.  It’s great soup for Passover because potatoes, and leeks or onions, seem to be plentiful.  It can be served cold, warm, or even room temperature.  I prefer it on the thicker side but you can add as much cream or milk as you want to thin it out.  In Pesach Potpourri there is a similar recipe that calls for 2 cups of grated Cheddar to be added before serving.  It’s a recipe that’s forgiving, and this Passover we could all use some of that.  Chag Sameach.
Basic Potato Leek Soup
4 Tablespoons sweet butter
1 Tablespoon olive oil
3 Leeks, trimmed down till light green part, thinly sliced OR 2 large onions, sliced
3 large Russet potatoes, peeled and diced
5 cups of pareve chicken stock or water
1/2 cup cream or milk
salt and pepper to tast
Add any veggies you want, I added spinach and broccoli.
In a large pot, over a low flame, saute leeks or onions in butter and oil for about five minutes. Add potatoes and broth and simmer till potatoes are very tender, about 30 minutes.  Allow to cool and puree with an immersion blender.  When soup has completely cooled down, add some milk or cream, and adjust seasoning.


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