Sharing Food and Memories with Friends and Family


December 26, 2019
Irene Saiger



IMG_0382 (1)It is the fourth day of Chanukah and, for Los Angeles, it is cold, gray and dreary.  I decided that instead of latkes, I’ll make soup.  One of those hearty filling soups that only needs a good piece of bread to go with it,  and a glass of red wine.

I first tasted this dish many years ago on our first and only trip to Italy.  We had some amazing meals and I still remember the name of two restaurants that we dined in.  One was Cafe Zaza in Florence where we had bowls of Ribollita.  I am sure that was my first taste of kale, and it has never tasted as good as on that night.

So here I am sitting in my kitchen, apron on, radio playing Chanukah music, found by Alexa, with some Yiddish songs thrown in.  In between cooking, I am sewing a gift that was a special request. My Mom was a seamstress, and my Dad a tailor.  My uncle Charlie was a hat maker and my uncle Jack was a furrier.  It should come naturally to me but what I lack in talent, I make up for in determination.  Yes, I have turned into my Mom.  And because the kitchen smells so good and because this soup is so simple and easy to make, I thought you also may want to make it.  Let me know if you do. Wishing you all a Happy Chanukah and a Happy New Year, filled with peace, love and good health.  And don’t forgot the wine. L’Chayim.

Note:  I used pareve chicken broth for a meat meal,  but if I was serving dairy, I would definitely toss in a parmesan rind.



4-5 Tbsp Olive Oil

1 large onion  ( 2 cups) finely diced

2 carrots diced (1 cup)

2 stalks celery diced ( 1 cup)

6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

1 bunch Lacinato kale, leaves removed from stem and chopped

3 whole tomatoes removed from can, crushed and chopped

2 cans cannellini beans, drained

1/2 cup white wine

2 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

6 cups chicken stock (pareve) or vegetarian broth

1/2 bunch Italian parsly chopped

Saute onions in olive oil for about 10 minutes on a low flame.  Do not brown. Season with salt and pepper and add celery, carrots and garlic and continue to saute for another 10 minutes.  Add tomatoes, kale and wine and let flavors combine.  Add beans and broth.  Bring soup to a boil, reduce heat, cover and cook for about 15 minutes.  Add chopped parsley.  I am going to serve with toasted thinly sliced baguette rubbed with fresh garlic and placed on top of  each bowl of soup.  If you want it even thicker, use an immersion blender and partially blend.  Or use it for a meat meal by adding Italian sausage.  Serves 4-6








November 20, 2019
Irene Saiger


Potato Pierogi

Even though I should be focusing on Thanksgiving,  yesterday I spent three hours making Pierogi for the first time, and froze them to serve for Shabbat after the big day.  Having eaten some last week in NYC, they have been on my mind ever since. So after having our fill of food that we have adopted as our own,  that Shabbat it is back to Eastern Europe and dinner will include mushroom barley soup, pot roast, and pierogi filled with potatoes and caramelized onions.
Here is what I learned from this experience. Making pierogi is not something to do when you’re in a rush.  It requires patience to roll out the dough to the right thickness, it requires patience to allow the onions to caramelize till they are just the right color, and it requires patience to sit and spoon just the right amount of filling on to each round of dough.  This kind of cooking is nothing short of an act of love.  It’s the kind of cooking my Mom did almost every day, knowing that her food nurtured not only our stomachs but our souls.  And so even though this is not exactly Thanksgiving fare, for all that my Mom instilled in me about the importance of good food and feeding those I love, I am so thankful. Happy Thanksgiving!
4 medium sized russet potatoes
1 large onion
canola oil
salt and pepper to taste
3 cups flour
Approximately 1/2 cup water
1 egg
1 tsp salt
1 tbs pareve margarine or butter
IMG_4435 (1)
Put flour in a large bowl and make a well in center.  Add margarine, egg, salt, and water. Using a fork slowly mix in flour until a dough forms.  I added a few  more tablespoons of water slowly as needed.  Place dough on a board dusted with flour, and knead till dough holds together and texture is smooth.  Wrap in saran and let rest for about an hour.
Peel, quarter and boil potatoes till they can be easily pierced with a fork.  Drain and set aside.  Finely chop one large onion and fry in a few tablespoons of canola oil, till dark golden brown.  This usually takes about a half hour.  Mash potatoes with salt and pepper to taste.  Mix in caramelized onions and some of the oil from the frying pan as well, and allow to cool.  Adjust seasoning.
Cut dough in quarters. Roll sections out, one at a time, till pretty thin, less than 1 /4 inch.  Use a small glass to cut out rounds.  I used a 2 1/2″ glass.  Add small amount of potato filling to each round. Dab your finger in water  and pat around one side of the round. Fold dough over and pinch closed with a firm hand!  Boil in water till they rise to the surface which only takes a few minutes.  I plan to serve these with the drippings from the roast but butter and sour cream is also delicious.


October 7, 2019
Irene Saiger


Sweet and Sour Cabbage Soup

IMG_3821Last month we went to Philadelphia for a family wedding.  It was not only great to be there for Beth and Zach, but it was also a reunion of the remaining first cousins of the Graf family.  There were six of us present (including myself and my sister) and after the wedding weekend, five of the six, along with our spouses and four extended family members, drove up to Skytop Lodge in the Poconos.  The fourteen of us gathered for each meal, but during the rest of the day we would split into smaller groups, though these outings were short lived because none of us wanted to be apart for too long.  The six cousins are spread among six states and given that we had started planning this reunion eight years ago, we didn’t take our time together for granted.  At breakfast on our last day, you could feel that we were sad to say goodbye.  There were toasts and speeches, and then the lovely Michel and Danielle Leib,  related to my cousins through their mother’s side,  suggested that the next Graf family reunion take place in their hometown of Avignon, France in 2020.  An appropriate choice as our parents,  Hersh (Harry),  Yankel (Jack), and Chiel (Charlie), all moved to France from Poland, and four of the six cousins were born there.  

I am sure that our father’s would have loved doing something like this. When they did get together, it was not so different.  They ate, they drank, they took shpatzirs (strolls) and they talked about politics which inevitably led to arguments. Not that much has changed. I feel blessed that we had this time together, and as the French cousins would say, a bientot, till we meet again.  

My Mom used to make a version of this soup.  I called my sister to consult and, as usual, we remember it differently.  She thought my Mom thickened it, I don’t remember that.  Anita said my Mom included raisins which I chose to leave out and can’t imagine my Mom using.  In any case, that’s part of being with family, we all experienced not only our own parents differently, but our uncles as well.  Like this soup, our collective memories are sweet, but also peppered with the sadder stories of these three men who survived the war.  May their memories be for a blessing.  G’mar Hatimah Tovah.

Sweet and Sour Cabbage Soup

8 cups water

2 onions, diced

4 carrots, cut into coins

1 – 28 oz can whole tomatoes

1 1/4  pounds cabbage, shredded  ( I used 2 – 10 oz pre-shredded bags)

2 Tsp salt

5 Tbs brown sugar

1 Tsp ground pepper

2 Tsp Osem chicken bouillian

Juice of 1 1/2 lemons

Bring water to a boil.  Remove tomatoes from can, coarsley chop and add to water along with whatever sauce is in can. Add remaining ingredients and once it is boiling, slow to a simmer and cook for about 45 minutes.  You can serve as is, or add a dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt.



September 27, 2019
Irene Saiger



IMG_3738After almost 50 years in the workforce I am finally retiring.  People having been asking how I’ll fill my time, and that is yet to be seen.  I hope to pursue some of the things I have missed, like gardening, having more time to read, taking some trips, seeing friends, and taking better care of myself.  Maybe even doing a little more cooking in the early hours of the day when my energy level is at its highest.  Right now, with just two days left of work, I am excited that this new chapter of my life is coinciding with the New Year, and I pray that G-d grant me the good health to enjoy it.  I look forward to finding out how I will fill my time, and see what it is that I discover doing with that time, which will fill me.

Looking through Rosh Hashana recipes, there are lots of dishes that tend to be on the sweet side.  I decided to make Couscous this year and will be serving it with my homemade Harissa. I think this hot sauce would be equally good with gefilte fish or brisket.  After all what’s life without a little spice.


2 large red peppers

5 dried red chilies

2 cloves garlic

2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp ground coriander

1/2 tsp kosher salt

1/2 cup olive oil

Soak dried chilies in hot water till softened, about 20 minutes.  Cut and remove seeds and stems. Roast the peppers on the grill, or as I did over the stove top, till skin is charred.  Let cool and scrape off skin, cut open and remove stems and seeds. Cut and place in blender with the chilies and other dry ingredients.  Slowly add olive oil and puree till smooth.

Shana Tovah!!




July 14, 2019
Irene Saiger


Blueberry Cornmeal Cake


There are so many things that I love about summer, one of them is blueberries.  More than any other fruit, you pretty much can find them in my fridge all summer long. Another is eating outside. As an adult I have discovered how much I love eating outdoors, with the long summer days and warm weather, the backyard becomes an extension of our house.  It also changes everything, people seem to be more relaxed, the meal tends to be less formal, and the children have plenty of room to wander without parents worrying about what they are getting into.  If I am planning to serve dinner outside, then I tend to prepare simpler, more family style, and less fussy meals.  BBQ, hand held appetizers, tacos and corn all require a pile of napkins and not much else.  Dessert?  This blueberry cornmeal cake is rustic, easy to make, and you can dish it out with a big spoon.  A perfect ending for an outdoor summer meal.

Blueberry Cornmeal Cake

2/3  cup sugar, divided

3 cups blueberries

2 large eggs

Grated zest of 1 lime

cup orange juice

cup vegetable oil

½ cup corn meal

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9″ square cake pan, line with parchment paper cut to fit bottom of pan, and grease again.  Sprinkle 1/3 cup sugar over the parchment paper and cover with blueberries.  In a large mixing bowl, combine eggs, 1/3 cup of sugar and lime zest. Add orange juice and oil, and whisk until well blended. In a separate bowl, combine cornmeal with flour, baking powder, and salt. Add flour mixture to egg mixture and stir till flour is incorporated.  Pour into prepared pan. Bake for about 45 minutes, until golden brown. Cool on a rack for about 5 minutes. Carefully invert onto a serving plate, and slowly peel off parchment paper. 



April 15, 2019
Irene Saiger


Susan’s Almond-Lemon Torte

IMG_2554I recently read an article where a chef said that you are never really alone in the kitchen and that is so true.  When I’m cooking, my kitchen is filled with memories of family and friends, and hopefully a creative spirit hanging around to keep me company.  Today, my plan was to  spend a good part of the day cooking for Passover, by myself, when I received a YouTube video from one of my closest friends, Susan Tober.  It was a video of our daughters 2nd grade mock Seder at Sinai Akiba Academy.  Watching the video reminded me of all those years when the Androns and Saigers spent almost every Shabbat together, and most holidays as well.  That’s when I decided to make Susan’s Passover Almond-Lemon Torte, from the Sinai Akiba cookbook that our PTA put out around the same time, 1988.  I remembered the flavor, though I haven’t had it in years.  When I took it out of the oven, I texted a photo of the cake to Susan, to show her I made her recipe, and she  said she hasn’t had it in years either.  As she and her family now spend Pesach in Israel, I am wondering if she’ll end up making one of my recipes, and that way a part of me can be in the kitchen with her!!!  I hope so.  Chag Sameach!   Continue Reading

January 13, 2019
Irene Saiger


Funfetti Cake

img_1981We’ve  had a flurry of activity in our family.  It started with Chanukkah, followed by my grandson Phin’s 2nd birthday, a family vacation, Norm’s birthday, and then my granddaughter Manya’s 4th birthday.  That meant lots of cooking and baking.  Not really being a “baker” (too scientific), I realized that if I was going to make three cakes in a short span, I needed something fairly easy, fool-proof, and with kid appeal.  After pouring over recipes, I settled on something I had never tried before, a Funfetti cake. 

My first attempt was not what I had hoped for.  I was impatient, and before the sheet cake had completely cooled, I turned it over.  Pieces of the cake fell on to the platter in large chunks. Not a pretty sight and one that almost brought me to tears.  Luckily my son Micah and daughter-in-law Anna were over and wouldn’t let me throw it away.  The cake was moist, tasted great, and (even in chunks) was so pretty with the sprinkles floating throughout. Using my mother-in-law’s trifle bowl, I alternated mushing the cake into the bowl in two layers, separated by two layers of frosting.  It worked out perfectly, and Phin didn’t seem to mind at all.


This weekend I decided to avoid the sheet pan and go with two small pans.  I used my mother-in-law’s heart-shaped tins, which are about 8″ in diameter, and buttered and lined the pans with parchment paper for good measure!  Success!

The two pans yielded enough for four layers which was more than I needed, so I took one cake, carefully sliced it horizontally into two, and frosted it with homemade buttercream.  Pink of course,  Manya’s favorite.  It was exactly what I was looking for.


I actually never did make a cake for Norm, but someone else did! Our friend Marizon delivered a still warm persimmon pudding to our door.  His favorite.  Happy Birthday to all and may 2019 be filled with many more happy occasions. I’ll even bake!!

Funfetti Cake

2 1/2 c flour

1/4 c cornstarch

1 tsp kosher salt

2 tsp baking powder

1 c unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 1/2 c sugar

4 large egg whites

1/4 canola oil

1 tb imitation vanilla 

3/4 c whole milk

1/2 c rainbow sprinkles 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. I used two heart-shaped tins but it would fit 3  8″ tins more comfortably.  Butter the tins and line with parchment paper.

Let butter and eggs come to room temperature.

Whisk dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside.   Using a beater, cream butter till light and fluffy and slowly incorporate sugar. Add oil and beat for a few more minutes till well blended.  Add vanilla. Slowly add flour and milk, alternating between two till batter is smooth.

In a clean bowl beat egg whites till stiff.   Gently fold whites into batter along with sprinkles and carefully combine with spatula.  Pour into prepared pans and bake 35-40 minutes.  Allow to completely cool on a rack before turning out onto board.  Frost and decorate to your “heart’s” content!

Basic Buttercream Frosting

1 cup butter, at room temperature

3 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar

1 tb milk but I did add a little more, one drop at a time till I was happy with the consistency

1 tsp vanilla

1/8 tsp salt

food coloring of choice

Using mixer, beat butter till creamy.  Add salt and powdered sugar, one cup at a time.  Add milk and vanilla and beat till smooth. Add food coloring.