I am sure that at some point my children will come to crave comfort foods and perhaps they will reminisce about certain dishes that they had at the homes of family members and friends. My mother’s Bubelach, Fredda’s Tortilla Soup, Judy’s Salmon, Elin’s Roast Chicken, Susan’s Taquitos, Sheila’s Ribs, Rena’s Cheesecake and Susan T’s raspberry squares, along with many other dishes lovingly prepared over the years by many others. Of course, comfort food is different for each of us. For me, it is meat and potatoes, and any variation on the theme will do, but Sheila’s ribs hit the spot, every single time. The only improvement would be to serve them over a bed of creamy white, steaming mashed potatoes.
Last week my son and daughter-in-law traveled to Toronto to visit my in-laws, Bubbie and Zaidie. During their visit they went to see an exhibit on the great Cantors of Toronto. One of the Cantors featured was my husband’s grandfather Harry Saiger. I can only imagine how touched my father-in-law was knowing that his grandson and wife were going to view the collection but unfortunately it was no longer on display. The woman in the synagogue was kind enough to give them the photo and biography that had been part of the exhibit and so we too were able to see it.
The elegant photo of Harry Saiger shows him dressed in the dramatic black Cantor’s hat and Tallis. I stared at it looking for a trace of his features in my children. I thought about his journey to Canada as a young man, not knowing what his future held. Harry settled in Toronto, met and married Manya, had five children, and became an accomplished carpenter as well as a Cantor. I don’t know much else about them (coincidently they shared the same names as my parents, Manya and Harry) but I can imagine that as a cantor he would have been thrilled to know that three generations later his great-grandson became a Rabbi.
I look for those connections because it ties us to our past and keeps our family history alive. I feel the same way about food. Preserving the recipes that were handed down from generation to generation and, yes, though we may tempted to update them to our more modern tastes, there is something to be said for preserving the originals, like the photos displayed in the exhibit.
I don’t know what my husband was served on those Shabbat afternoons when he would go visit his Zaidie and Bubie Manya after shul but I imagine that lunch may have included something like Kasha because he seems to love it so much.
Kasha and Mushrooms
1 cup whole Kasha (Buckwheat Groats)
2 cups chicken stock
2 large onions
1/2 pound brown mushrooms, sliced
6 oz. bowtie noodles (optional)
2 Tb canola oil
Heat oil in deep sided frying pan and sauté onions till caramelized. Be patient because this imparts a lot of the flavor to the dish and can take 20-30 minutes before the onions are the right color. Add sliced mushrooms to onions and sauté for an additional 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove mixture to a bowl. Beat the egg in a small bowl and add Kasha, stirring till grain is completely coated. Wipe the pan clean and then add egg-coated Kasha. Saute for several minutes over low flame till grains separate. Add hot chicken stock, reduce flame to simmer, cover pan and cook till Kasha is tender, about 10 minutes. Do not overcook or Kasha will turn into mush. Add onions and mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and serve. If you want Kasha Varnishkes, then add cooked bowtie noodles to dish. Serves 4
There are several important people in my life who turned 60 this year but next Saturday night we are celebrating Norm’s 60th. The kids are coming in, friends are coming over, and together we will light both Chanukkah candles and birthday candles. Norm wanted a party, a big party, surrounded by the people he loves. We have both been busy baking in preparation of the event and tonight I made a batch of these very small cookies for my 60-year-old hubby who has a very big heart. Happy Birthday Norm!
Elka’s Jam Cookies
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg yolk
1 stick butter, room temperature
1 cup flour
Cream sugar and butter till smooth. Add egg yolk and mix well and then add flour. When dough is smooth, place in Saran wrap and refrigerate for about 10-15 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll olive size pieces of the dough and place on cookie sheet, covered with parchment paper. Gently press down on the cookie with a small shot glass. Then take a very small spoon (the size of a baby spoon) and make an indent in the middle of each cookie. Dot with a tiny bit of strawberry jam. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove cookies before they brown. Allow to cool completely on rack. Makes 3 1/2 dozen cookies.
Sometimes it really is the little things in life that makes you happy. Today I had a perfect afternoon. I came home from work early, planning to make my latkes so I could freeze them, something I don’t normally do but this year I needed to make lots of them. Unexpectedly it began to rain which only added to the coziness of the kitchen. I turned on my favorite radio station which plays Christmas songs this time of year, (I happen to love Christmas music) and peeled ten pounds of potatoes. I know it sounds crazy but to actually have the luxury of spending a weekday afternoon in the kitchen felt decadent. It took about 3 1/2 hours from start to finish but during that time two friends came to visit, one carrying lattes for each of us. Rain, that distinctive smell of latkes frying, music, friends, and good coffee. It doesn’t get better than that. Happy Holidays.
This recipe made exactly 150 latkes. If you want a smaller version, here is the recipe I normally use for latkes.
Potato Latkes for a crowd
10 pounds Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into eighths.
4 large onions, cut in chunks
4 1/2 cups matzoh meal
3 Tbs salt
Canola Oil ( Lots )
Pour oil into three large frying pans until oil comes halfway up the sides of the pan. In the meantime, in batches, fill the bowl of a food processor with potatoes and a handful of onions, and process till mixture is fine. Pour into large mixing bowl and add 3 beaten eggs, 1 1/2 tsp salt, and 3/4 cups matzoh meal. Mix well. When oil is hot, place large spoonfuls of mixture in pan but do not overcrowd. Fry till golden on one side and flip over. Serves 35-40 people.
There is something wonderful about visiting NYC just as winter is approaching. The air is crisp and clean, and although it may be chilly, it isn’t the bitter cold that would normally prevent you from being outdoors. In fact it is perfect walking weather. The windows on 5th Avenue are decked out for the holiday season, stores are busy, and salespeople helpful. Shops are filled with the scent of spices that we associate with winter festivities and celebrations, like cinnamon, ginger, and pumpkin. My sister said that she was on sensory overload, too much to buy, to see, to try, to do. Still when it came time to leave, she said that it was harder for her to leave this time, harder than during her previous visits. In part we are sad to leave the place where we spent our childhood because as we wander the streets, we are flooded with memories. Winter memories of coming home to my mother who would be standing and warming her hands on the stove, my father coming in after work and rubbing his cold face against our cheeks, putting wet gloves on the steaming radiator in the living room, and of course lots of good food everywhere. Some things never change.
Here is a list of my recent discoveries and indulgences.
Breakfast at Saltie in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I recommend the Ship’s Biscuit which wasn’t a biscuit at all but a hearty focaccia slathered with a layer of ricotta and the most perfectly seasoned scrambled eggs.
Brunch at Pastis, a French Bistro in the Meatpacking District. Perfect for a special occasion.
Dinner at Porsena in the Village. We started with Baccalá mantecato, salt cod with potato, garlic toast and extra virgin olive oil. Salt cod is amazing!!!! For dinner I had Penette col Cavolfiore – roasted cauliflower, olives, capers, garlic, toasted breadcrumbs .
If you still have energy take a ride down to the Lower East Side. I accidentally came across Economy Candy and spent some time going down memory lane. I walked out with $40.00 worth of candy and although I was lectured by my sister and son for spending a ridiculous amount of money on candy, that night there were no complaints as we each ate our share of Abba Zabba, Bit O Honey, thin strands of red licorice, and my personal favorite, Baby Ruth.
Pasta with Roasted Cauliflower
1 head cauliflower chopped into small pieces
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 lb. cooked pasta
2 Tb capers
1/2 cup olives
1/4 cup roasted garlic cloves
salt and pepper to taste.
Toss chopped cauliflower with about 2 Tb olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast on a cookie sheet in a 450 degree oven for about 20 minutes or till tips are golden brown. Then sprinkle with bread crumbs and roast for another five minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.
In a large bowl, toss together 3-5 Tb of olive oil, capers, roasted garlic cloves (optional), cooked pasta and cauliflower. Season to taste. Add a little more olive oil on top and serve with shaved parmesan. Serves 4.
My youngest son is moving to New York City today so at 6 a.m. this morning I got up and prepared a special breakfast to send him off. The winds have been howling for the past two days here in Los Angeles, almost as if they too are sad to see him go. When he wakes up he will find a plate of sautéed tomatoes, mushrooms, and onions, all scrambled together with eggs, served with a side of veggie sausages and fresh guacamole. Of course I wanted to make something special to warm his insides before he deals with the realities of life in New York City and so I prepared a pot of hot chocolate, added some cinnamon, a little vanilla, and a touch of chili powder. Bittersweet. Bon Voyage and B’hatzlachah!
Mexican Hot Chocolate
4 Cups milk
1/2 Cup U-Bet Chocolate Syrup
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla
1/2 tsp ground chili powder
Simmer all the ingredients together and adjust sweetness to your taste. I would top it with fresh whipped cream and sprinkle with cinnamon. Serves two because it is always nicer to share a cup of cocoa with someone else.