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April 8, 2016
Irene Saiger

13 comments

Stuffed Artichoke Hearts

IMG_1235Over the past three nights I have watched Cooked, a series based on the book of the same title by Michael Pollan and I am hooked, on Cooked.  In the first episode I learned that Americans are spending less time cooking than ever before, no surprise, but more time watching food-related cooking shows, which I did find surprising.  It’s  been a great reminder that home cooking is more than a worthwhile endeavor, it is a gift, not just the act of preparing the meal, but also by preserving traditions to pass down to the next generation who, if we believe the trend, may sadly be cooking even less. 

With Pesach approaching I’ve been spending lots of time thinking about the Seder meal. I know that the next two weeks will fly by and then it will be finally be here. The food will have been prepared, the table set, and just before I sit down, I’ll inevitably be flooded with memories of previous Seders.  Both Norm and I were raised in households where our mothers spent hours and hours preparing for the Seders.  I remember my mother standing tirelessly over her pot of simmering chicken soup, repeatedly circling the outer rim of the broth with a spoon, gently spooning off any bit of “shaum”  scum that would rise to the surface, so the soup would be as clear as possible.  My mother-in-law  would purchase small pickling cukes weeks in advance, because timing was everything if you wanted the pickles to be ready for Seder.  After Lil carefully opened the first jar, and sliced the pickles just so, she would bring them to the table and  wait to hear the verdict, were they were too spicy, not spicy enough, or just right.  

So thoughts of Manya and Lil will of course lead to thoughts of Manya Lily, our first grandchild, who will be experiencing her first real seder (she was too little last year) in Houston.  I  know how much those women would have loved to have met, and of course cooked for their great-granddaughter.  And I hope that in some small way I can pass on their knowledge to her, so that the story is not the only thing we repeat at future Seders, but our family tradition of home cooking as well. 

Enjoy and wishing you a Zisn Pesach.

Irene

Note: It is not only my own Polish traditions that inspire me but really all kinds of family recipes from around the world. This dish was suggested by my colleague who comes from a Moroccan and Algerian Jewish background.

Stuffed Artichoke Hearts

18-20  frozen artichoke hearts , 2 – 14 oz bags

1 Tb lemon

1  1/2 pounds of ground beef, chicken, or turkey

1/2 onion, finely chopped

4 large garlic cloves, minced

1/4 cup finely chopped parsley

salt, pepper, and paprika to taste

pine nuts, toasted (optional)

Broth  (adapted from a recipe by Udi Shlomi)

5 celery stalks, including leaves, coarsely chopped

5 Swiss Chard leaves, remove main stem and coarsely chop

4 small zucchini, coarsely chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped

5 cups chicken or vegetable stock

salt, pepper to taste

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

juice of two lemons

IMG_1234Place oil in  large soup pot. Add vegetables and saute for a few minutes till they collapse. Then add  stock, lemon, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, turn heat down to low,  and simmer for about 40 minutes.

While your broth is cooking, defrost the artichoke hearts in a bowl of warm water with juice of half a lemon. This takes some time, so do it in advance.  In the meantime mix the ground meat in a bowl along with all of the other ingredients till well combined.  Place your defrosted hearts on a tray and carefully divide the meat mixture so that they are all filled.  In the meantime, remove half the cooked broth from the pot and set aside. Gently place stuffed artichoke bottoms into the pot and slowly pour remaining broth back into pot, enough so that it reaches just about half way up. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, cover and cook for about an hour and a half. Alternatively, place in a 325 degree oven for about the same  amount of time.  Serve hot.

February 22, 2016
Irene Saiger

12 comments

Ranchero Sauce

IMG_4089The purpose of the trip was the wedding of close family friends, the destination Mexico City.  Never having ventured farther into Mexico than Ensenada, and because of assumptions based mainly on movies and media, we were somewhat apprehensive.  To our great surprise the trip could not have been more wonderful.  The city is draped in color, not pastels but vibrant greens, blues, reds and oranges. The warm palette matched the warmth of the people, and of the food as well, and not just in heat.  Dishes were well seasoned, presentation was inviting, and everything tasted incredibly fresh.  There were salsas that were smokey, acidic, and garlicky, prepared with assorted chilies that delivered various levels of punch.  Freshly caught fish was shown to us on platters before being grilled with different toppings or rubs. Homemade corn tortillas, right off the stove top with a slight char accompanied most meals.  Margueritas made with tamarind, both sweet and tart were a highlight.  From the elegant meal at Contramar to the tacos at the family style restaurant El Califa Condesa, we looked forward to what we would discover at each meal.

The wedding took place at ex Convento de San Hipolitoa former convent that has been beautifully restored.  Under the chuppah the Rabbi spoke of faith and magic, words that described that night perfectly.

Afterwards, we spent a few luxurious days in Acapulco. The air was tropical and the rhythm was slow. Although our days were full, our meals were leisurely, lasting several hours at a time.  We arrived back home in Los Angeles well rested, happy and still feeling the magic.

Ranchero Sauce

Ranchero sauce is typically served with eggs, but I thought it would be equally good with meat or poultry.  I learned how to make it in Acapulco and  tonight I served in over shredded chicken in the blue corn tortillas I carried home with me.

2 large beefsteak tomatoes

6 Serrano chilies, tip and stem cut off.

1/4 cup water

1 clove garlic

1/8 of a medium onion

Place tomatoes and chilies in a small pot, with just enough water to cover. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Strain tomatoes and chilies and purée in blender with one clove of garlic, onion, and about 1 /4 cup fresh water. Season with salt and pepper.

I had made some chicken broth and after the chicken cooked and cooled, I shredded it and warmed it in a frying pan, adding a little broth for moisture, some cumin, and a few tablespoons of the ranchero sauce.

Enjoy,

Irene

January 3, 2016
Irene Saiger

7 comments

German Pancake

IMG_3554It was a combination of my 60th birthday celebration and a trip down memory lane.  We chose to have a family vacation in Palm Springs, the place we travelled to six weekends a year, for a period of 20 years, visiting my in-laws, snowbirds who came from Toronto to soak up the sunshine and be near their West Coast children and grandchildren.  The years were 1984-2004.  We were fortunate, my in-laws chose to rent in The Greenhouse because our friends’ parents wintered there as well, and so it ended up that three generations of Saigers and Androns spent those weekends together. Every family member had a playmate, even the Volvo wagons arrived in twos.  The other grandchildren arrived as well, from Israel and Canada, and so while the participants varied, the landscape remained the same. 

The grandmothers, Esther and Lil, would sit by the pool, and shep naches, watching their grandchildren passing the long lazy days swimming and playing endless games of Marco Polo, only to be interrupted by tennis, or food. The kids had the run of the place, going back and forth between the grandparents’ condos, and running to Izzy and Mollie, an elderly couple from Winnipeg, for their daily dose of candy.

On this trip our first stop was at Hadley’s for date shakes and, of course, to stock up on snacks, but it also set the tone. When we arrived at our hotel, we slipped into our bathings suits and into our new roles with the same ease. It was our turn to sit on the chaises and watch the “kids” in the pool as they played with Manya Lily.  I  remember wondering how my mother-in-law was able to spend so many hours watching us, but the pleasure that she derived from it is now obvious. 

There were many nostalgic moments, walking on Palm Canyon, hiking in Joshua Tree, and visiting The Living Desert.  We made sure that the trip included a meal in a Mexican restaurant and of course we went to Elmer’s, the only place my in-laws ever went to for breakfast, a yearly ritual in celebration of David’s birthday.  No surpise, my kids ordered what they had always ordered, German pancakes.

Yesterday I spoke to my sister-in law Gail and we ended up reminiscing about those years. Gail said it was the consistency that made it so special, that the kids loved going to the same place over and over, year after year.

I hope we can create a family tradition that echoes the experience of my children, but for now, making German pancakes in my kitchen allows the taste and the memories to linger on.  

German Pancake

3 large eggs 

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup milk

1/4 tspn  salt

1/2 tspn vanilla extract

2 tbsp unsalted butter

2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

confectioners sugar

1/2 apple peeled and thinly sliced, sauteed in little bit of butter for a few minutes and sprinkled with a dash of cinnamon

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees. In a mixing bowl, beat eggs and add flour, whisking until smooth.  Add milk, salt, and vanilla and mix well.

Add 2 Tbs  butter to a  cast-iron skillet and place in hot oven until the butter melts and skillet is really hot, about 10 minutes. Remove pan from oven and quickly pour in the batter. Return to oven and bake until the pancake is puffed and golden, about 15 minutes.

 In the meantime, saute apples in a bit of butter for a few minutes and sprinkle with cinnamon to taste. 

Place sauteed apples in center of pancake, drizzle pancake with lemon juice and sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.

Enjoy,

Irene 

November 18, 2015
Irene Saiger

10 comments

Garlic Turkey

IMG_1587I first posted this recipe on November 18, 2012.  Since then, Norm and I have experienced loss, but we have also experienced great joy. With Thanksgiving just a week away, it is time to take stock. This year we are especially grateful to have our health, but even good health would be less important without our wonderful children, our daughter-in-law, our son’s girlfriend Anna, our granddaughter, our siblings, our extended family, and of course, our friends.  Next week we will be surrounded by many of the people we love,  missing those who can’t be with us. We will ask everyone at the table what they are thankful for, and some will say what they say each year, that they are thankful that we are together.  But this Thanksgiving, with many of us feeling so vulnerable, I don’t think those words will  be taken quite as lightly. This year we won’t take Thanksgiving for granted. This year we may even say Amen.

Nov. 18, 2012  At 5:40 this morning we drove our friends to the airport.  They were flying to Boston to be with their “East coast” family for Thanksgiving.  On Wednesday we will return to LAX to pick up my daughter, and on Thursday to pick up my youngest son.  It’s the wonderful pull of Thanksgiving, being with the family and hanging out in kitchens where the smells are familiar.  Today I started baking, and so this morning my kitchen smelled like cinnamon and allspice from the pumpkin breads in the oven.  This afternoon it smelled of apples and dried cherries baking inside puff pastry squares that I folded into individual turnovers.  On Thanksgiving day the kitchen will smell like the mulling spices simmering in the pot of apple cider on the stove top, but as soon as the fridge door is opened,  the predominant smell will be the garlic that was rubbed into the turkey on Wednesday morning.  That specific smell of garlic-covered poultry is embedded in my memory because it is the smell that I most closely associate with my mother’s kitchen.  The smell that signaled it was Shabbat,  Yontif, and yes, Thanksgiving.  On Thursday the kitchen will smell both savory and sweet, depending if you are  standing near the oven or closer to the kitchen table covered with desserts.  I love the old recipes combined with an occasional new one, it sets the mood and gives me the perfect opportunity to remember and be thankful for what we had, what we have, and what we look forward to.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Garlic Turkey 

(Mixture for a 15 pound turkey)

1 Tb kosher salt
1 Tb. paprika
2 tsp. pepper
1/3 cup  olive oil
2 whole heads garlic, peeled and minced

Mix all ingredients together until you have a paste-like consistency.  It should be red from the paprika and thick, almost like tomato paste.  Rub the garlic mixture on the inside and outside of the turkey and let marinate in fridge overnight.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Place turkey in a roasting pan, breast down, with about 2 ” of water on the bottom of the pan.  Bake for 30 minutes and then baste with liquid.  Add more water to pan if necessary.  Lower heat to 350 degrees.  Continue to add liquid to roasting pan as needed and baste about every 30 minutes.  When turkey is golden brown, turn breast side up and finish roasting. Total baking time is about 3 hours depending on size of the bird.

Enjoy,

Irene

October 16, 2015
Irene Saiger

16 comments

Fall Soup

IMG_3283It simmered and simmered, slowly taking shape. I didn’t rush it because I wanted to get it right and so I allowed myself the luxury of spending hours thinking about how to step into this new role that I would be adding to my others. Daughter, wife, sister, sister-in-law, mother, daughter-in-law, and mother-in-law, but for the first time I was able to choose what I would be called.  Like sorting through a closet when going somewhere special, I tried on grandma, bubbie, nanny, safta, saftush, but none quite fit.  As in so many other parts of my life, I wanted something worn, something old, something that not only had character but had history, and that thing I love most, some connection. Then in the middle of one night, at about 3 a.m., just a few weeks before our granddaughter was born, I  chose Mima, deciding to pay tribute to the woman who saved my mother’s life.

During the war my mother’s paternal aunt Dina Rosen, came to my grandmother and told her that she was going to try to get into a work camp, hoping against all odds that she’de have a better chance of surviving the war that way.  Dina wanted to take her two youngest nieces with her.  My grandmother let my mother go, but not the baby of the family. With that single act of bravery, Dina saved her own life as well as my mother’s.  To us, she wasn’t brave, or heroic, she was just “the Mima.”

Little did I know that our granddaughter would be named Manya after my mother, and so it feels right that she has a Mima just as her namesake did.  My Mima was the only grandparent figure I had, and although I wouldn’t describe her as being overly demonstrative,  I could feel her love, especailly towards my mother who she continued to protect, adore, and treat like a daughter for the rest of her life.  By extension, I too was treated more like a grandchild than a great-niece.

Manya may choose her own name for me one day, but for now, when I call myself Mima, I think of my Mima, of her strength, her love and her bravery, and when I say Manya, I am reminded of my mother who was the object of so much love, from every member of the family.  Manya started life with four grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and others who love and adore her.  How lucky she is, and may it always be so.

Today was just the kind of day that brings back memories, cloudy, gray, with an occasional drizzle.  It made me feel hopeful that the weather is changing, and so I put on a pot of soup, golden in color, slightly sweet in taste.   It feels a little bit like fall.

Fall Soup

1 medium Kabocha squash

1 medium brown onion, coarsely diced

2 carrots, cut into large dice

2 stalks celery, sliced

3 Tb olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

dash cinnamon

IMG_3277

Using a sharp knife, cut squash into chunks.  Toss with some olive oil, salt and pepper and roast in a 450 degree oven till tender and brown.  In a soup pot, add olive oil along with diced carrots, onion and celery and cook over high heat till vegetables are  translucent.  Using a large spoon, remove squash meat from skin and add to soup pot. Add about 5 cups of water, or stock, and bring to a boil.  Lower heat and cover pot with lid.  Simmer for about 45 minutes.  Puree soup, adjust seasoning and add a dash of cinnamon. Serve with toasted pumpkin seeds. Serves 6-8

Enjoy,

Irene

September 11, 2015
Irene Saiger

16 comments

Manya’s Pineapple Kugel

IMG_3136Superstition comes to me easily.  I can’t take all the credit, some of it was passed down by my Eastern European Mom who would be very proud of how successful she was in training me to look for “signs” everywhere, both good and bad.  Unfortunately there were a few minor glitches that happened to me this week, but the fact that they happened right before Rosh Hashana raised every superstitious hair on my head.

First it was a missing cookbook that I spent hours looking for over a period of a week or more.  Then I misplaced my reading glasses which was problematic since I was trying to look through cookbooks, and then yesterday there was a third (they say bad things happen in threes) “incident.”  I  took my very large brisket outside to place in the back fridge, opened the garage, made room in the fridge, closed the fridge and the garage, and completely forgot about the brisket sitting on the ledge.  It sat in the 95 degree heat for over 8 hours, cooking.  I called my sister and she had the perfect response, she said “kapparah,” and added that she hopes that’s the worse thing that happens to me in the coming year.  Amen.

Then things turned around, I found my cookbook, Norm found my glasses, my friend Judy bought me the first in the series of that cookbook which made me realize that I had owned the second, and I made short ribs in place of brisket. My mood lifted, maybe the signs weren’t so bad after all.   

Today, I spent the day cooking a completely traditional meal that didn’t need much thought or creativity.  It is pretty much a duplicate of my mother’s yontif meal which was always the same. Growing up there were two things that were predictable when it came to the holidays.  What would be served for dinner and what you wore to Shul.  There was an unspoken dress code that included delicate ankle socks , black patent leather Mary Jane’s, a new dress for the New Year,  and hair neatly combed back out of my face with the help of  a thin velvet hair band.  Dinner was  Gefilte fish, chopped liver, chicken soup with kreplach, garlic chicken with roast potatoes, pineapple kugel and apple cake for dessert.   Predictability can be good, but clearly it doesn’t always work out as you hope.  

So as we head into the New Year, I hope that most of the signs I see are good ones, and as my mom always said, may the New Year be better, and no worse.  Here is a family favorite to help sweeten the year.

Manya’s Pineapple Kugel

1 pound wide egg noodles

pinch salt

5 large eggs, beaten

1 20 oz. can crushed pineapple in juice

1 cup sugar

1/ 2 stick pareve margarine

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Boil noodles per directions on package but for no more than about 6 or 7 minutes. Drain.  Place noodles in a large bowl, add remaining ingredients and mix well.  Pour into 9 x 13 greased Pyrex and bake for about 45 minutes.  Serves 10-12

Enjoy,

Irene

August 3, 2015
Irene Saiger

10 comments

Blueberry Cobbler

IMG_2911It’s on summer days when the hours are long, that I miss it the most, the kind of communal feeling  that existed when I was growing up in our apartment in the Bronx.  It was a time when everyone knew the names of their neighbors, and had a relationship with them.  Most of the women stayed home, and although they worked hard, they also socialized, played cards, caught up with each other while hanging laundry on the roof, shopped together, had a glazileh tea over something they baked, or sometimes even a small glass of wine.  They took turns looking after each other’s children, one day a week my sister and I had lunch at Fanny’s,  and once a week Sarah and Liba came to us. I think our mothers went to the Lower East Side on their days off.  There was no day care, and no nannies.  Need was their motivation and it was expected that you pitched in to help each other out.

Even though the various accents could have presented a barrier, these women had a common language, the language of immigrants sharing a similar experience.  The kids?  We had no barriers, we all went to the same public school, we came home to milk and cookies, and we went back outside to play.  There were so many parallels, including the fact that we all  had one thing to do before we were really free for the day, the Italian kids had to go for religious instruction at the local Catholic church, and we had to go to Hebrew school.

There was never any lack of companionship.  If you were bored, your nearest neighbor was less than a foot away.  We didn’t feel that an unexpected knock at the door was intrusive, or invasive, we didn’t worry about boundaries, or setting limits. Women wanted to get together and if your neighbor wasn’t home, you walked downstairs to the stoop, where someone was always taking a break from the sweltering apartment heat.

This week I baked a blueberry cobbler, (blueberries were and still are my favorite berry to use in desserts) but we didn’t finish it and sadly there was nobody upstairs or downstairs to call and invite over to share a piece, with or without a glazileh tea.  So that’s what I miss.

IMG_2909

Blueberry Cobbler  adapted from Mark Bittman

5 cups blueberries, washed and strained

1/2  cup sugar plus 2 Tb

1 tsp lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and place in a lightly greased pie dish.

In your food processor, combine flour, margarine or butter, baking powder and salt and process for less than a minute, just till blended.  Then remove blade and mix in egg and vanilla.  Use a large spoon and drop dough over fruit but don’t spread it.

1 stick frozen margarine (for pareve cobbler) or cold sweet butter, sliced into 6 pieces.

1 /2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp vanilla

1 egg, beaten

pinch salt

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Bake cobbler till golden, about 40 minutes.
Enjoy,

Irene

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