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June 12, 2015
Irene Saiger

8 comments

Peanut Butter and Jelly Cookies

IMG_2739June gloom has settled over Los Angeles.  After a tough week, I couldn’t wait to get home this afternoon knowing just what to do to help me feel “sunny,”  even if the weather isn’t cooperating.

Lately I’ve been keeping a close eye on my backyard. I’ve picked the first blackberries from the bush we planted just a few months ago, enjoyed some truly vine-ripened cherry tomatoes, and made schav borscht with freshly picked sorrel.  A gray dove has built a nest under the eaves of my patio, and twice a day, morning and afternoon, I check to see if she is still there.  She is as devoted a mother as any I have ever seen, sitting there hour after hour, without food or water from what I can tell.  I’ve only seen the male come by once and he managed to stay for about three minutes, flying off before the female returned. I stood watch till she did, worried about crows and squirrels stealing the eggs.

So when I arrived at home this afternoon, I baked.  Standing in the kitchen with a glass mixing bowl that belonged to my mother-in-law, slowly creaming together four basic ingredients, I made peanut butter and jelly cookies.  I have house guests who arrived just in time to try them.  David said he loves peanut butter and told me his wife Lauren makes him a PB&J sandwich every day. Exactly!  Just like the sandwich, something about that combination makes you feel better, even on a sunless day.

ingreeni

Peanut Butter and Jelly Cookies

2 cups natural chunky peanut butter

2 cups baker’s sugar

2 tsp vanilla

2 large eggs, slightly beaten

some strawberry jam

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cover cookie sheets with parchment paper but do not grease.  In a large bowl mix all ingredients other than jam.  Take small pieces of dough and roll into balls, and place on cookie sheet.  Using the back of a spoon, gently press down on cookies. Then take the tip of the spoon and make a small indentation and fill with strawberry jam using a very tiny amount. Bake for 10-12 minutes.  Yielded 60 cookies.

Note: I made some of them by just pressing down gently with a shot glass and sprinkling a tiny drop of sea salt on top.  (no jam)

Enjoy,

irene

May 17, 2015
Irene Saiger

2 comments

Blueberry Pop Tarts

IMG_2589With Shavuot less than a week away, I’ve been thinking of the trips that our family took with the Androns,  specifically during this holiday.  We would each pack up our Volvo wagons and take to the road, heading to Palm Springs, Sequoia National Park and Forest, Santa Barbara, and places I no longer remember.  We have shared countless meals together, watched each other’s children grow, participated in family simchas, and supported each other during challenging times.  I used to tease Susan about her L.A. upbringing and how that influenced her cooking, and Saul would tease me about growing up in the Bronx.  The kids (we each have three children, all the same ages) were like siblings, laughing, fighting, having sleepovers, and getting into trouble.  It is a friendship that has continued for 34 years. This past week Saul celebrated a BIG birthday and although Norm and I missed the celebration, we are hoping to see him and Susan next week.  So today, this post is in honor of you Saul, may we have many more opportunities to spend Yontif together, and may our children continue the tradition.

In the meantime, as we prepare to head East for Shavuot, and in spite of a personal pledge that I was going to “stay out of the kitchen” I couldn’t resist baking. I wanted to make something with blueberries that would be easy to transport, easy to serve, and appropriate for the holiday.  So I baked little individual pies that look like pop tarts.

To sweet endings, lazy summers, fresh blueberries, happy birthdays, a growing family, and old friends.  By the way,  guess who’s living in The Bronx now?  Chag Sameach.

Enjoy,

Irene

Blueberry Pop Tarts

Crust Recipe  (enough for about 14 pop tarts)

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

2 sticks chilled sweet butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

Put flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor. Add butter and pulse until mixture looks like coarse meal. Slowly add 1/2 cup ice water and pulse, only adding more water if dry.  Dough will start to stick together. Remove and gently shape into a ball, wrap in plastic, and chill  for about 2 hours.  Remove when ready to bake and allow dough  to soften before rolling.

Filling

4 cups blueberries

1/2 Tb flour

1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup plus 1 Tb sugar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 Tb whipped cream cheese per pop tart

1 large egg, whisked with 1 teaspoon water

2 -3 tablespoons sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.   Cut dough in half for easier handling.  Roll half the dough on a floured surface to about a 15×12-inch rectangle. Trim edges with a knife.  Cut dough into 6 rectangles.
Toss blueberries, lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar, flour and salt in a medium bowl. Brush edges of rectangles with a little but of water. Using a knife, spread about 1 tb cream cheese across the dough.  Spoon some blueberries in the  center of each rectangle and then fold dough over in half. Using a fork, press edges to seal. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet, brush with the egg wash, and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake until pop tarts are golden brown, about 35–40 minutes.  Don’t worry when you see that the blueberry juices will run onto parchment. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool.  This recipe yielded 16 pop tarts.

Enjoy,

IreneIMG_2583-2

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April 23, 2015
Irene Saiger

12 comments

Chicken Shawarma

FullSizeRenderMoshe Blatman was my cousin’s brother-in-law, and on my first trip to Israel I was told to make sure to visit him, that he was like family.  He and his wife Frieda lived in an apartment in Tel Aviv, and owned a small cosmetics shop on Rehov Shenken, (in the 70s  it was not as hip as it is today).  I was looking forward to spending time in Tel Aviv and wanted to go out and explore the city, but they wouldn’t hear of it.  After taking a brief walk, Moshe took me home for dinner, there was not to be any exploring or wandering, and no letting me out of their sight.

I remember that Frieda prepared a meatloaf made with veal, and I was surprised that her food was similar to my mother’s.  Their apartment was perfectly kept and neat as a pin, and the decor felt so European that it was easier to imagine that you were in Austria (where Frieda was from) than the Middle East.  Moshe who was Polish had learned to speak German, the only language that his wife knew in spite of the fact that she had lived in Israel for over 20 years.  She had not learned a word of Hebrew, English or Yiddish.  Frieda wore her white hair tightly coiled in a bun at the back of her head and her clothing was formal and conservative, with black sturdy shoes that had tie up laces.  Although we couldn’t communicate, she had kind eyes and I wondered what it was like for this woman to live in a country so different from her native Austria.  The next day I asked Moshe to take a walk with me so I could buy a falafel at the local stand but Moshe refused, saying I would get sick if I ate street food.

During each visit to Israel I think of Moshe and Frieda, and other “family members”  like Manya and Yosek and Sonja, people who were devoted Zionists, who moved to Israel living out their lives in an adopted homeland that must have felt very strange to these Eastern Europeans.  A homeland that turned 67 today.  If Moshe were alive, I wonder what he would think of  today’s Israel, would he eventually have become integrated into Israeli culture, would he have become just a little more comfortable being in the Middle East, and would he agree to celebrate this Yom HaAtzmaut by having a falafel with me, or maybe a plate of Shawarma.

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Chicken Shawarma  (adapted from a recipe in the NY Times, this is one that we keep making over and over)

2 lemons
½ cup  olive oil
6 cloves garlic minced
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons paprika
½ teaspoon turmeric
Red-pepper flakes, to taste
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 large red onion, peeled and quartered

Mix the lemon juice with the olive oil and spices in a large glass baking dish. Add the chicken thighs, and turn several times in marinade.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or for at least a few hours.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Toss quartered red onion with chicken thighs.  Put silver foil on a cookie sheet, remove chicken and onion from the marinade, and spread on cookie sheet.
Roast chicken thighs for about 30 to 40 minutes. Meat should look slightly crisp at edges. Remove from the oven and after a few minutes, thinly slice.  Serve with pita, Israeli salad and chumus.  Serves 2 – 4 depending….

B’tayavon,

Irene

March 29, 2015
Irene Saiger

10 comments

Cherry Tomato Jam

IMG_2500It had been seven years since our last visit but as soon as we exited the plane everything felt familiar.  We drove straight to Jerusalem where we spent the next several days.  Staying in Rechavia, we walked everywhere, but mainly we returned to the places we had been before, including two of my favorites, Yemin Moshe and Machane Yehuda.  Walking through the shuk was a great reminder of Israel’s love affair with fresh fruits and vegetables.   The consumers were passionate, maybe more so than the vendors, both young and old, men and women, looking in stall after stall before making their final choices.  There were things I had not seen before, miniature dark green acorn squash just big enough for an individual serving,  mounds of colorful mixes of dried fruits for tea infusions, dried legumes including roasted and salted fava beans ready to eat, tiny melons the size of a grapefruit, and of course the spices….

We had one week to pack in as much as possible.  The days revolved around seeing our family and friends but always over a meal.  The food, much of it home cooked, was always delicious, but for me the highlight were the breakfasts.  From Glenda’s cheesecake on Shabbat morning (recipe coming soon) to Debbie’s pashtedot, to the numerous borekas that we sampled.  I loved the small plates served as sides to the main dish,  little bowls of leben, tuna, olives, pickled lemon, tehina, etc.  I tasted two new kinds of jam, one made with eggplant and the other with cherry tomatoes.  The small servings were just enough to tempt your palette but left you wanting more.

We didn’t get to do everything we had hoped to do, or see everyone we had wanted to see.  Like the sides served at breakfast, it was just a taste, a reminder to come back soon, and though we left happy, of course we also left wanting more.  Chag Sameach.

Note: My mom used to tell me about a tomato jam that they ate in Poland.  With Pesach around the corner, and the tastes of Israel still fresh in my mind, I tried this cherry tomato version which I’ll serve with matzoh and butter, but not for another week!!

Cherry Tomato Jam

20 oz.  cherry tomatoes, washed and cut in half

1/2 cup plus 4 Tb sugar

1 packet vanillin sugar (for Pesach use)

2 Tb freshly squeezed orange juice

1 Tb orange zest, thinly sliced

1 cinnamon stick

Bring all ingredients to a boil and then reduce to medium high heat.  Cook, stirring frequently, for about one hour or until thickened.  Strain to remove tomato skins and cinnamon stick.  Allow to cool, place in clean jar and refrigerate till ready to use.  This is perishable so it will only be good for about a week or so.

Enjoy,

Irene

January 23, 2015
Irene Saiger

8 comments

Harira (vegetarian)

IMG_1989January 11, 2015 On our trip to Toronto last month we stayed in a hotel that we had chosen based on location and convenience.  The sad occasion for the trip, (my father-in-law had passed away), seemed to be echoed by the hotel.  Built in some era long ago, the front part of the property was leased to a Honda dealership which you actually had to drive through to get access to the hotel parking lot.  The pool was in the lobby, and next to the pool was a sushi bar and a restaurant.  Nearby was a pool table, some couches and outdoor street lamps that looked as if they belonged in the center of London. Nothing about the decor inspired confidence that the restaurant would produce food that would be in any way impressive.  The place was a mish-mash, disjointed, and tired, just like we were.  But we were surprised by the eclectic menu which had more than a few vegetarian options.  We chose a soup, Harira, something I had never heard of before.  What we discovered was a thick hearty Moroccan soup filled with lentils and chickpeas, and tasting of cilantro and parsley in a broth tinged red by tomato, and it was delicious.  It was the perfect dish to restore our energy and lift our spirits.  Several nights later I took my children and nephew to dinner at a newish local Israeli restaurant and once again Harira was on the menu.  Then just a few days after we returned to Los Angeles we had Shabbat dinner at my friend Rachel’s house and she served….. you guessed it, Harira.  That’s too much of a coincidence for me, surely someone out there was trying to tell me something.  After some research, what I found was not particularly earth shattering, both the lentils and garbanzo beans represent the circle of life, and we have certainly been experiencing that in our family.  I planned to make it today but something got in the way.  To be continued……

January 23, 2015  We just came back from New York where we welcomed the birth of our first grandchild.  Manya Lily, named after my mother Manya, and Norm’s mom, Lillian.   The week was filled with emotion, seeing my son with a child of his own, watching my daughter-in-law pour all of her love into this new little baby, holding my granddaughter and whispering her name, and being flooded with memories of my mother,  thinking of the past and wondering about the future.  After a period of loss, Manya is a blessing, a new beginning that brings joy, hope, and happiness.  Today, it seemed appropriate to complete what I hadn’t been able to start just a few weeks ago.  I made Harira, with its little round lentils and garbanzo beans, I know that the circle is complete, just as it should be.  

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Harira

3 Tb olive oil

1 large onion, diced

2  celery ribs plus leafy tops, diced

3 cloves garlic cloves,minced

1 large ripe tomato, skin peeled and then diced

1 – 8 oz can tomato sauce

1 small bunch cilantro, finely chopped

1 cup Italian parsley, finely chopped

1/2 cup green lentils, rinsed and drained

1 -15 oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

4 cups water

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/2  teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 large lemon, cut into wedges, for serving

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Stir in the onion, celery and garlic and cook for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables have softened.  Add diced  tomato and cook for about 5 minutes.  Then add the tomato sauce, cilantro, parsley, lentils and chickpeas and stir.

Add water, salt, cumin, turmeric and pepper, stirring to mix well.  Bring soup to a gentle boil, then reduce the heat to low. If soup seems too thick, add some water. Cover and cook for about 30 minutes or until the lentils are tender, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Serve hot, with lemon wedges.  Serves 6-8    Note: Traditionally this is served with vermicelli noodles.

Enjoy,

Irene

December 20, 2014
Irene Saiger

13 comments

Lukshon mit piteh und kase. (Hot noodles with butter, cinnamon and cheese)

IMG_1820When my parents became grandparents for the first time, I was fascinated to see what this new inter-generational relationship would be like, never having had grandparents of my own.  And since my parents had not had any grandparents either, this was new for them as well.

This week I’ve been thinking about my Mom more than usual, and what kind of grandma she was.  It was always clear that her only concern was her grandchildren’s happiness.  She hated to see them cry and would do anything within her power to prevent that.  She didn’t spend her time worrying about their future, grades, or professions.  She allowed them to eat whatever they wanted, in any order they wanted.  No rules about sugar, dessert, noshing, or anything else food related.  She was not the kind of grandmother who set limits, never telling them to finish the food on their plate, or eat their vegetables, or threatening to withhold dessert.  Although she didn’t exactly force feed them, that would have been too obvious, she would just very casually follow them around the house,  staying close by, with bowl and spoon in hand (see photo below).   If they opened their mouths, she’d grab the opportunity to get them to have another bite.  She didn’t believe in schedules.  She didn’t believe in spending money on toys, pots and pans were good enough.  She knew too well that life could change on a dime, and didn’t see any point in preventing the kids from enjoying every minute of each day.  Nothing, other than safety, was worth saying no to.  Yes, she was indulgent, and loving, and giving.  Shiraleh, Dovidle, and Michalu were the light of her life.  During this Chanukah, the memories I have of my Mom, of  “grandma”, have been the light of mine.

One of the dishes my Mom loved to make for the kids was lukshon und piteh und kase.  Hot egg noodles tossed into a bowl of farmer cheese (or dry small-curd cottage cheese) with cinnamon, sugar and butter.  It is the perfect dish for the child in all of us.  Sweet, cinnamony and warm, I can remember my children opening their mouths and my Mom’s ever-ready spoon rushing in.

Shiraleh

Shirale

Michalu

Michalu

Dovidle

Dovidle

Lukshon und piteh und käse

6 oz. wide egg noodles, cooked per directions on package

1 cup small curd cottage cheese or farmer’s cheese

2 Tb butter,  cut in small pieces

2 Tb sugar

1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Toss hot noodles into bowl with remaining ingredients. Serve immediately.  Makes 2 servings for a big kid, and four for a little.

Enjoy,

Irene

December 10, 2014
Irene Saiger

18 comments

Schmaltz and Gribenes

IMG_8088Last week Norm lost his Dad, I lost my father-in-law, and my children lost their last surviving grandparent.  We were in Toronto for the funeral but after the first day of Shiva, we returned to Los Angeles for Norm to complete the week here.  We arrived to our home to find that in our absence the mirrors had been covered, the chairs for services had been set up, the furniture had been moved out of the way, the paper goods for meals had been purchased,  and there on the patio table, a pot of split pea soup was waiting for us. The meals were all planned, and just seven hours after our arrival, it began.

Shiva was in motion and while the davening was taking place in the living room and Norm was being comforted by his friends, there was a different kind of comforting in the kitchen.  Bamitbach, women were milling around, telling each other what and how to set things up, more cookies, fewer bagels, fresh coffee.  The comfort that comes from being together, working as a unit, is also the comfort that comes from doing what we do best, preparing food for people we care about.

There was a lull later in the day and my daughter sent me an article from the New York Times about the renewed popularity of schmaltz.  My mother used to make schmaltz and although I don’t remember what she used it for, I do remember the delicious by-product, gribenes, the delicious salty cracklings of fried chicken skin.  After I read the article out loud,  we talked about trying to make schmaltz and Norm said we should make it right then.  I called my friend and asked her to buy a chicken and bring it over.  Within minutes, Shira, Denise, Anna and myself, not unlike hens in a henhouse, were skinning a chicken, cutting off every piece of precious fat, chopping onions and making schmaltz.  We ate the gribenes right away but the 2 tablespoons of schmaltz are sitting in the fridge until inspiration hits us.

This morning at 6:00 a.m. Norm and I were in the living room.  I asked how he was doing and he said, “Shiva, that’s what it’s about, having  Shira here and preparing schmaltz and gribenes during her Zaidie’s Shiva is something that she will never forget.”  I am sure that Norm’s dad, Pinnie Saiger, would have felt the same way.

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Schmaltz and Gribenes

1 chicken, skinned and all fat removed.   (Or collect fat each time you make chicken, freeze, and make schmaltz once you have a larger amount)

1/2 onion, chopped

dash of salt

Dice pieces of fat and skin and place in frying pan over low heat.  Cook till fat is rendered (melted) and skin begins to turn golden brown.  Add diced onion and continue to cook until gribenes are crispy and dark brown.  Strain through sieve and store schmaltz in fridge till ready to use.  Drain gribenes on paper towel and allow to stand for several minutes to become even more crisp.  Sprinkle with salt and eat!   Note:  The article said that in Eastern Europe latkes were fried in schmaltz,  so you might want to think about that for Chanukah!

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Enjoy,

Irene

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