Micheline’s Creme Caramel

We are standing in the kitchen together again, as we have for more than 50 years, but this time we weren’t in her kitchen.  The location doesn’t seem to matter, we have an easy rhythm that two people share when they are just happy to be together.  Like a duet, effortless, even though we hadn’t practiced in a long time.  We shop, cook, eat, drink, and talk, and after resting we start all over again.  I learned that our Uncle David was going to be a rabbi, she learned that my favorite wine is Vouvray.   We have history, both genetic and the kind that comes from having lived in close proximity to each other, and despite our mature ages, she is still my role model.  I am astonished that she arrives to cook with perfectly done hair and make-up, wearing a twin sweater-set she could just as easily have been dressed for an afternoon at the museum.

On Friday afternoon Micheline took center stage, no recipe in hand to guide her, just years of practice and the experience of having prepared this dish hundreds of times.  I stood and watched, still learning from my cousin who has already taught me so much about food, family, and life.

After the first day of Yontif,  Micheline went home, and we discovered a brown bag with her custard pan, the slightly larger pan which she uses for a Bain-marie , along with the small Corningware pot that she uses to make her caramel.  I called her to see if we should ship them to her, but she said to keep them.  Now those pans belong to my son and daughter-in-law.  May they use them in good health, and have them as a reminder of the wonderful Rosh Hashana that they created for the family.  Maybe one day they too will make crème caramel.

I called  Micheline this morning and she asked me to share this part of the story.  That afternoon, she trustingly left me to watch over the crème caramel while she ran to the market.  I over-baked it and “ruined it.”   I hope she will forgive me, but it was a lesson well learned and one I don’t think I will ever forget.  There is still so much to learn.  Chag Sameach.

Photo taken by Glenda Amit

Micheline’s Creme Caramel
(original recipe from Mireille)

Custard

8 egg yolks and 4 whole eggs

1/4 cup sugar

1 quart whole milk

dash of salt

2 tsp vanilla

In a large mixing bowl, mix eggs with sugar, then add milk and salt, ending with vanilla.  Set aside.

 

Caramel

1 cup sugar

water to cover

To make the caramel, place sugar in a small saucepan and add just enough water to cover the sugar, no more than that.  Place pan on stove over medium heat.  Do not stir.  Allow syrup to boil until it starts to turn dark brown.  Then quickly remove from the heat and immediately pour into baking dish, tilting pan till bottom is covered with caramel.

 

Pour custard over caramel.  Place larger pan in the oven and put custard-filled pan inside of it.  Carefully add cold water in between the two pans, 2/3 up the side.  Not too much!  We don’t want it to flow over into the crème caramel.

Set oven temperature to 350° F.  and bake for about 30 minutes. The water should not boil during baking. The custard is done when it has set, which you can test by inserting a  knife which should come out clean.  DO NOT OVERBAKE. Allow the custard to cool completely, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate till serving time.  To serve, run a knife along the outside and turn over onto a dessert plate.  Serves 10-12

Enjoy,

Irene

Moroccan Carrots

 

Photo taken by Elizabeth Saiger

They are almost like characters in a book, these relatives that I have heard so much about but never had the opportunity to meet.  The baker, the grocer, and the tanner.  Yisroel (Isser) Gutman, my maternal grandfather, the one who I know the most about, owned a tannery in Mogielnica.  Is it coincidence or did I purposely seek out the stories of my namesake?  What I do know is that he was observant, davening in Shul three times a day, leaving little time to spend with his family.  My mother told us how he maimed himself to avoid conscription into the Polish army out of fear that he would be forced to eat “treif.

My favorite story was the one of his great adventure.  One night, long before the war, Isser left his home in the middle of the night, while everyone else was asleep,  to rendezvous with an uncle with who had concocted a plan.  They had hired a driver with a horse and wagon to meet them at a certain hour and take them to the port where they boarded a ship bound for the United States.  Apparently when my grandmother woke up that morning and heard the news, she went to the port to stop him, but it was too late.  Yes, my grandfather left his family without any discussion, but I prefer to think about the great lengths that he undertook to improve their lot.  Isser stayed in New York for about a year, but we don’t know anything about his life there.  Did he work as a tanner, did he live on the Lower East side, where I imagine him living, was he happy, lonely, prosperous?  We know that my grandmother refused to join him in this “heathen” land and eventually Isser returned to Poland and neither she nor he survived

I think of Isser more often during this time of year because of two stories that connect him to the holidays.  One was that he would insist on eating all of his meals in the sukkah no matter how bad the weather was, forcing my grandmother to carry his food out to him while the rest of the family ate inside.  The other story is that the head of the fish, which was considered not only a delicacy but also a symbol of good fortune, was always saved for my grandfather on Rosh Hashana, out of deference and respect.

We didn’t make fish for Rosh Hashana but we did serve other symbolic foods.  Dates and pomegranates, beets and kreplach, (kreplach represent our concealed fate for the coming year.)  In Yiddish the word for carrots is mehren, a word that also means multiply or increase, so they too were included.  I like to slice them and drizzle them with olive oil so that they look like a bowl of glistening golden coins, a reminder of the riches we hope for in the New Year.  Riches that come in the form of enjoying good health, from spending time with family, and from remembering and sharing the stories that have enriched my life.   These carrots, although not an Ashkenazi dish, remind me of Isser who wanted more from life and tried his best to achieve it.  G’mar Hatimah Tovah.

Moroccan Carrots

2 pounds large carrots, peeled and sliced into coin size thickness

1/3 cup olive oil

juice of two lemons

5 garlic cloves, minced

2 tsp ground cumin

salt and pepper to taste

Boil sliced carrots in a large pot of water for about 8 minutes.  Drain under cold water.  Place carrots in bowl and toss with remaining ingredients.  Adjust seasoning.  Sprinkle with chopped cilantro if desired.  Serves 6-8 as a side dish.

Enjoy,

Irene

 

Kitchen Safety Tips for the New Year

To all of you whose support, comments, constructive suggestions, and encouragement have kept me going,  Shana Tovah.  May this coming year be filled with health, happiness and joy.  First and foremost here are some tips to keep us all “safe” in the place we love to spend time, our kitchens.

 Houston Fire Department (HFD) Offers Cooking Safety Tips

HFD reminds residents that cooking is the number one cause of residential fires and is preventable by following these safety tips:
• Always, have a working smoke detector!
• Over half the people attempting to extinguish a kitchen fire are injured. Often the best advice is to get everyone out of the house and call the fire department (911) from a neighbor’s house.
• Use a moderate cooking temperature
• Don’t overfill the container
• If you must leave the kitchen, turn the burner off (Unattended cooking is the primary cause of kitchen fires. Over half of these are grease/oil fires.)
• Turn pot handles away from the front of the stove. Curious children may reach up and grab the handle, pulling the hot contents down on themselves.
• Don’t position handles over another burner, it may catch on fire or burn someone who touches it.
• Wear short sleeves or tight fitting long sleeves when cooking to reduce a clothing fire hazard.
• Shield yourself from scalding steam when lifting lids from hot pans.
• Make sure pot holders are not too close to the stove. They could catch fire!
• Keep ovens, broilers, stove tops, and exhaust ducts free from grease.
• If there is a fire in the oven – Turn off the oven and keep the oven door closed.
• Never try to move the pan, don’t throw water on it, and don’t put flour on it.
• If you attempt to extinguish the fire, it is best to use a class ABC multipurpose fire extinguisher. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions – stay back 6 to 8 feet and be careful not to spray the grease out of the pan. Baking soda can also smother the fire. Fires can double in size every 30 seconds.

Vegetable Confetti

Certain rituals signaled that the holidays were approaching.  The parquet floors of our apartment were waxed, the silver Kiddush cups, candelabra, sugar bowl and prongs (used to pick up the sugar cubes) were polished , new dresses were bought, and shoes were purchased at Buster Brown.  I still remember walking up several stairs to the little platform in the middle of the store so that our feet could be x-rayed, insuring a proper fitting shoe.

On Rosh Hashana the four of us went to Shul, something we only did on the holidays.  Everyone got dressed up and when we returned home for the Yontif meal, the table was “dressed” as well.  My mother spared no expense during a holiday, it was her way of transmitting the significance of the day to her children.  As a child I loved it all, but only now do I understand that despite the hard work, my mother’s happiness stemmed from being able to take care of her family.  May your year be filled with abundance and beauty,  and the gift of having family to take care of.  Gut Yontif, Gut Yohr.

Vegetable Confetti (pretty enough for Rosh Hashana)

3 large eggplants, diced into 1” pieces

6 large peppers, two each of,  red, yellow and orange, cored and diced

1 red onion, peeled and diced

3 ears of corn, kernels removed

2/3 cup of olive oil

1 dozen cloves of fresh garlic, peeled and left whole

2 tsp salt

2 tsp pepper

2 Tb honey

Take two cookie sheets and line them with parchment paper.  Place diced eggplant on one sheet, peppers and onion on the other.  Divide remaining ingredients between the two trays of vegetables and toss to coat with seasonings and olive oil.  Roast vegetables at 425 degrees for about 30 minutes or till tender and caramelized, stirring occasionally.  Note: Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds for the holidays.

Enjoy,

Irene