Faux Crab Cakes

The 182-183 Street station of the D train that travelled from The Bronx to Manhattan was directly under the apartment building where I grew up.  Going “downtown” was a big deal, not in terms of distance but in almost every other way.  You didn’t throw on a pair of jeans and go downtown, you dressed for the occasion.  Anita, my sister, would take me to Manhattan as part of her continuous effort to expose me to culture and the arts.  She took me to all the wonderful museums, Central Park, the art galleries in The Village, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and everywhere else she could.  We ate roasted chestnuts, Chinese and Italian food, and hot, square knishes from street vendors.  We drank egg creams and hot chocolate.  I still remember getting off the train in Manhattan and experiencing that childlike sense of awe and wonder.  Walking up Fifth Avenue felt as if I had stepped over a threshold into another world.  No delis or bakeries on the corners, no people sitting on the stoops, no noises from the kids playing stickball on the street.  Instead there was elegance, beauty and The Plaza Hotel, straight out of the Eloïse books I adored.

The summer after I turned 16, I walked into Bergdorf Goodman and applied for a job.  I don’t think I would have had the courage to do that were it not for my sister and all those trips to Fifth Avenue.  To my amazement, I was hired, right then and there.  Suddenly I found myself working just around the corner from The Plaza Hotel and the elegant Palm Court where they served things like Cobb Salad and Crab Cakes.  That summer I had lunch there for the very first time.

I am meeting Anita in New York in October and I can’t wait.  I hope we have the chance to stroll up Fifth Avenue so I can re-capture some of the wonder of being in New York with my big sister.  We may even have tea at The Plaza.

Now that you can buy Kosher faux crab meat, I make crab cakes at home.

Faux Crab Cakes

1 lb. crab meat

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1 green onion, thinly sliced

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1/ 2 cup bread crumbs

3 dashes Tabasco sauce

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup canola oil.

Coating

1 cup corn flake crumbs

In food processor, using the double blade, add crab meat and pulse a few times till shredded. Place in large bowl and add mayonnaise, green onion, eggs, breadcrumbs, tabasco and salt and pepper. Mix well and form about 12 cakes, making sure they are not too thick.

Place corn flake crumbs on a plate and coat each crab cake. Heat oil in cast iron pan till hot, fry crab cakes till golden brown, about 4 minutes on each side.  Crab cakes are very delicate and fall apart easily so handle with care.

Perfect appetizer for a festive meal.

Enjoy,

Irene

Black Beans

One of the ways that I express my interest and desire to travel and see the world is by cooking foods from other countries.  When I think about the books I choose to read, or the movies that I am drawn to see, they are often set outside of the United States.  Each time I learn a little more about a particular culture and, of course, the food.  It is my personal way of having a mini-adventure.  I can get lost in a cookbook from Israel or a food blog from Mexico.  In the course of a weekend I can read about a family struggling in India, go see a romantic movie that takes place in France, and watch a cooking show filmed in Spain.  My older son recently returned from Guatemala, and my daughter will be going to Colombia and Argentina in the next few months.  That may be the source of my inspiration as I sat and planned what to serve for Shabbat Dinner.  I kept going back to Central and South American food, simple and satisfying, flavorful and made with ingredients that are readily available, especially here in Southern California.
A friend who I work with, Alba, is originally from Guatemala.  We are always talking about food, love, and life.  She calls me “her Jewish Mom” and that is only one of the many reasons that I am crazy about her.  Another is her Black Beans.

Alba’s Black Beans

1 lb black beans

2 large onions

4 cloves garlic

4 Tbsp. olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Place beans in a large pot to soak overnight.  Add a large onion, cut in half, two cloves of garlic, and enough water to cover beans by at least one inch. The next day cook the beans in the same pot of water for several hours over a low flame, until the beans are tender. Beans continue to expand so add water as needed. Remove onion and garlic and discard.

Finely dice  the second large onion and two cloves of minced garlic and sauté in olive oil till golden.  Strain the beans (reserve liquid) and add to onions.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  At this point add as much of the reserved liquid until you have the desired consistency. Cook for another twenty minutes for flavors to blend.

Serve with rice and some fresh chopped cilantro.

Enjoy,

Irene

Sautéed Fillet of Sole

Tonight is Tisha B’Av, a fast day.  Admittedly it is a day that I struggle with, but not my husband Norm.  He will be home any minute and will want to eat and run off to shul. That meant preparing a light and easy meal.

Fish is something that I enjoy on occasion but certainly never have a craving for.  I just can’t get excited over salmon the way I can over a beautiful thick steak or a perfectly prepared lamb chop.  There is one fish dish that I really enjoy, sautéed fillet of sole.  All you need is fresh fish from a reliable fish market, good quality butter and lemon.

For those of you observing, I wish you an easy fast.

Sautéed Fillet of Sole

1 lb. fillet of sole

1/2 cup flour seasoned well with salt and pepper

3 Tbsp butter

Dredge sole in seasoned flour and shake to remove excess.

Melt butter in large sauté pan over medium heat. When butter sizzles, add sole and cook about 4 minutes. Flip and cook on the other side. Put on platter and drizzle with fresh squeezed lemon.

Serves 3-4

Enjoy,

Irene

Corn Cakes

Summer and fresh corn on the cob are one of those perfect pairings, like peanut butter and jelly, or chocolate cake and milk.  As a child I only remember eating yellow corn which we always bought with the husk on, thinking they were fresher that way.  (I still can’t bring myself to husk the corn at the market even though it would mean less mess in the kitchen) My mother boiled that corn forever, not knowing that it only needed a few minutes to cook.  It certainly never occurred to us that we could eat it raw.  She always told my sister and I that in Poland corn and tomatoes were food for cows, not humans.

When our children were little, we often went to Toronto during the summer to visit their paternal grandparents.  One of the places we enjoyed visiting was Puck’s Farm outside of Toronto.  It was a wonderful old-fashioned farm with a barn,  a few farm animals, bales of hay to jump in, an area where you could pick your own vegetables, and incredible corn that had just been harvested.  The variety they grew was called peaches and cream, alternating white and yellow kernels, and I had never seen anything like it.  The corn was for sale but it was also available to eat right there, steaming hot ears of corn ready to dip into a huge vat of melted butter.  So simple and so good. Boiling is only one of the ways I now prepare corn, and when I do boil it, it is for no more than five minutes.  I often grill it, constantly turning the ears till they get slightly charred.  Sometimes I cut the kernels off the cob and add them to a salad, raw.  Other times, I throw the raw kernels into a hot cast iron pan with olive oil,  salt and pepper, and some shredded basil.  It’s all good but, truth be told, none of it is as sweet as it was on those summer days when we watched our children eating corn on the cob with melted butter dripping down the sides of their smiling faces.

Corn Cakes

3 ears fresh corn

3 eggs

1/2 cup matzoh meal

2 scallions

1/4 cup cilantro

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1/4 cup canola oil

Cut corn off cob and put in mixing bowl. Add eggs, slightly beaten, and matzoh meal to bowl. Mix well. Thinly slice scallions and add to mixture along with coarsely chopped cilantro. Season with salt and pepper. In a cast iron pan heat oil till hot. Drop large tablespoons of corn mixture into hot oil. Let cook till golden brown then turn over.

Warning: Corn pops in the frying pan so be careful!!!

Makes 12 corn cakes.

Enjoy,

Irene

Potato Sides

My sister, brother-in-law, and older son came to town this week for my father’s unveiling.  Yes, it was sad and emotional, but it was also a celebration of a life lived to the fullest.  Well they have all gone home and, tonight, when I sat down to write this post, all I could think of was potatoes.  They are the ultimate comfort food for those of us who come from Eastern European Jewish stock. How can anyone resist a steamy, buttery bowl of mashed potatoes at the end of a challenging day?  Potatoes have always been a staple in our house.  Occasionally we had noodles, Kasha or rice, but potatoes reigned.  My mother served them mashed, roasted, fried, and boiled and used them to create dishes like potatonik, chremslech, kartoffel knaidlech and latkes.  One of my favorite preparations was a dish she learned while living in Paris, called Pomme de Terre Sauté.  Potato knishes are another favorite, and although we did not make them at home, we enjoyed eating them in the delis and on the streets of New York.  In Israel I discovered Burekas, a crisp flaky dough filled with tender mashed potatoes, similar to the knish but a little lighter with a more tender crust.

This is a verse from an old Yiddish folksong about potatoes, a reminder that this delicious tuber was eaten daily!

Zuntik bulbes, montik bulbes,
Dinstik uhn mitvoch bulbes,
Donershtik uhn fraytik bulbes.
Ober shabbes in a noveneh a bulbeh kuggele
Zuntik vayter bulbes

Ober shabbes in a noveneh a bulbeh kuggele
Zuntik vayter bulbes

Pomme de Terre Saute

2 Idaho potatoes

1/4 cup butter

4 eggs

salt and pepper to taste

Peel potatoes and slice as thin as possible.  Saute them in a frying pan with butter, over low heat, until they are transparent and starting to form a golden crust. Beat eggs, and season with salt and pepper.  Pour eggs into the frying pan over the potatoes and gently stir. When the potatoes can be easily pierced with a fork, they are ready.

Potato Burekas

1 Pkg pre-cut puff pastry  (this is readily available in most middle-eastern markets and are already cut into squares)

4 Idaho potatoes

2 large onions, diced

1/4 cup oil

black sesame seeds

Egg Wash

1 egg beaten with 1 Tbs water

Peel and quarter potatoes and boil till tender. Drain and mash.  Dice and sauté onions in oil until they are golden brown. Add to mashed potatoes and season with salt and pepper.  In the center of each square of puff pastry place a heaping tablespoon of potato filling. Fold into a triangle and press firmly down along edge. Brush the top of the Bureka with egg wash and sprinkle with black sesame seeds.

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees and bake burekas till golden. About 30 minutes.

Enjoy,

Irene