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Sharing Food and Memories with Friends and Family

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August 24, 2020
Irene Saiger

8 comments

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. https://www.christinatosi.com/post/bake-club-kitchen-sink-quiche.

Filling

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,

Irene

June 30, 2020
Irene Saiger

15 comments

Ricotta Stuffed Zucchini Flowers

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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.

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With my daughter-in-law Anna picking strawberries

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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.

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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.
Enjoy,
Irene

 

May 27, 2020
Irene Saiger

9 comments

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?

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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. 

Filling

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.

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Chag Sameach!

Enjoy,

Irene

 

 

April 27, 2020
Irene Saiger

2 comments

Challah

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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 

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IMG_2928Challah
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.

Enjoy,

Irene

 

 

 

April 6, 2020
Irene Saiger

2 comments

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.

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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.
Enjoy,
Irene

 

March 24, 2020
Irene Saiger

2 comments

Cinnamon Rolls

IMG_1294Over the last few weeks, there has been a noticeable shift in my approach to cooking.  Growing up, after having a day or two of leftovers my Mom would toss them out and declare she had eaten enough bad food in her life.  She didn’t repurpose food, she never froze leftovers, frugality was not part of her vocabulary when it came to food.  That’s how I am in general.  But now I feel like I’ve taken on a bit of a wartime mentality.  I am trying to use everything up and make sure nothing goes to waste.  I’ve been blanching vegetables to freeze for later use (just in case), making stocks that I can add different ingredients to the next day, cooking pots of beans that I serve with rice for dinner, and with eggs, melted cheese and hot sauce for breakfast, baking breads, zucchini muffins, corn muffins, pie crusts, and even cinnamon buns.
When I cook with my grandchildren, I always tell them that adding a “pinch” of something means “not too much and not too little, but just enough”.  That’s my new mantra, I try and be productive, and be forgiving when I’m not.  But at the end of the day, it’s nice to sit down with a homemade cinnamon bun, just a little something sweet, not too much and not too little, but just enough.
Stay home, stay healthy.
This recipe is so easy, I’ve already made it twice in the past week.  I’ve stuck to the original but you can play with the filling and add nuts, use a different type of sugar, or even try a savory filling.
Cinnamon Rolls  from Taste of Kosher

1 cup warm water

1 tablespoon instant dry yeast

2 tablespoons white sugar

3 tablespoons oil

1 egg

1 teaspoon salt

3 cups all-purpose flour

Filling

1 cup brown sugar, packed

2 tablespoons cinnamon

1/4 cup oil

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Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour warm water, yeast and sugar into the bowl of a mixer.  Let sit for a few minutes until the yeast starts to bubble.  Add oil, egg, salt, and flour. Using the dough hook , mix till dough is smooth but still sticky.  Cover the bowl with a damp towel and put in a warm place. Let it rise until it’s doubled. Punch dough down and put on a flour-dusted surface. Roll the dough out into a large rectangle.

Combine brown sugar and cinnamon.  Brush the dough with the oil and sprinkle entire surface with the cinnamon sugar mixture.  Starting with the longer side, roll the dough tightly.  Use a sharp knife, cut into 12 pieces. Place the rolls, cut side up, on a lightly greased piece of parchment paper in a 9 x 13 pan.  Cover with a damp towel and put in a warm place. Let it rise till almost double in size.  Bake for about 20 minutes.  Do not over bake.

Enjoy,

Irene

 

March 15, 2020
Irene Saiger

4 comments

Simple Loaf Bread

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Just like many of you, I am staying home, trying to do the right thing, and keep myself and others healthy.  After about four days of reading, watching TV,  and worrying, not in that order, I decided to take on some “projects” to distract myself and be productive at the same time.  I actually spent time thinking of something to do that would be easy and fun.  I decided to bake bread.  I am not a seasoned baker so I found a recipe that was incredibly easy to make and produced 4 loaves, enough to share, hoping it would help us avoid the temptation of going to a bakery or market to pick up “a loaf.”

I thought the texture was excellent. One of my sons  said it had a “perfect crumb” but crust needed work.  My other son called it “white bread” which it is, but still a far cry from Wonder Bread.  Anyone who knows my children, won’t be surprised at their high standards, but I am here to tell you to make it!!!!  It is so easy, I plan to make it again tomorrow and maybe try and mix it with some rye flour or chop in some olives and rosemary.  In the meantime, I am also doing some Japanese mending and working on an Art Deco coloring book, I kid you not.  More baking to come, and maybe even homemade pasta because there can never be too many carbs in a crisis.

I am sure that none of it will be “perfect” but these days, what is.  Stay home, stay healthy.  Bake and cook, and share it.  We may not be able to see each other but we can cook for each other.  If anyone has flour to share, please feel free to drop some off.  Better yet, leave it on my doorstep.  Stay healthy! Stay home!

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Simple Loaf Bread (adapted from NYT)

2 packages dry yeast

1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt

3 cups warm water

6 1/2 cups flour

cornmeal

Preheat oven to 450.  Add yeast and salt to a large bowl.  Add lukewarm water and flour and mix thoroughly just till combined.  No kneading!!!  Cover with dishtowel and set aside for 2-5 hours. Prepare 2 sheet pans with parchment paper and sprinkle with cornmeal.  Then carefully cut dough into four portions and using a scraper, place one section of dough into your hands.  Round out gently into oval by pulling dough down from top and pinching under.  Imagine stretching plastic wrap over a bowl and sealing on bottom. Place 2 loaves on each sheet and allow to rest for 40 minutes. Then sprinkle with some flour and  slash top of each loaf  3  times with a very sharp knife.   Bake for 20 minutes.

Tip: My husband, who is a baker, suggested that you pre-heat a metal pan  (NOT GLASS) in the oven and then add about one cup of water to it when you place bread in the oven.  Place pan under the shelf that bread is baking on to give it a better crust.

 

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Enjoy,

Irene