Cheesy Grits

I had forgotten how dark, how quiet, and how peaceful it is to be out in the woods.  The pleasure of being temporarily disconnected from things that beep, light up, or plug-in, is an added bonus.  For many years we took a yearly trip to the national parks with my parents and sister.  After  joining us on a trip to Sequoia, we quickly realized the benefits of having that kind of family time together, there were few distractions, lots of unstructured activity, and no fixed schedules.  My parents and sister were troopers and year after year they drove up treacherous mountain roads, participated in nature walks, attended the evening ranger talks, and stayed in places that were not particularly luxurious.  During those trips my parents often shared their own memories of going to the woods in Poland before the war.  My mother talked about the delicious mushrooms that she picked and dried, to be used in soups all year long.  My father spoke about the gypsies that came through each year, setting up camp in the woods, entertaining the locals with their small circus act.  Those trips were definitely planned by Norm, who always insisted that we start at the visitor center and who always left the parks with a patch that he planned to sew on a wool blanket one day.

This past weekend we went camping for the first time in many years.  I loved every minute of it and on Sunday morning when I knew that we would have to pack up and leave, I stayed in our small two-person tent as long as I could.  It had rained the night before and I was enjoying that cozy feeling of being warm and comfortable in a very small space.  Eventually I got up and walked out into the crisp morning air, and there stood Norm, still a Boy Scout at heart, slowly stirring a pot of grits, frying up eggs, making fresh coffee, and buttering up the toast.  When we came home, I was still thinking about all those past trips that we had taken with our children and parents and realized that something was missing.  This time Norm forgot to buy a patch.  I guess we’ll have to go back soon.

Cheesy Grits

1 cup Falls Mill White Corn Grits.

1 Tb sweet butter

dash of salt

8 oz. sharp grated sharp cheddar cheese

Place grits in bowl and cover with water, and stir so light bran will rise to the top.  Carefully pour off water and light bran. In the meantime bring 2 cups of water to a boil with 1 Tb butter and 1/2 tsp salt. Add grits and reduce heat to low, cover pot and cook for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Grits should be thick and creamy.  Add cheese, ground pepper, and a little milk if needed.  Serves 4
Enjoy,

Irene

Chicken Couscous

There is something about porch doors that stir up memories of summer.  They remind me of the bungalow colony in the Catskills where we stayed with the “mima” and my cousins,  of day trips to family and friends in cottage country outside of Toronto, and of the weekends we spent at my aunt’s house in New Jersey.  The center screen invites you to peek inside, like a window without a curtain, and offers you a chance to call out and see if anyone is home without having to knock.  Then there is that particular sound that a porch door makes as it slams shut, that hard clap that announces your arrival and your departure.  Best of all, you can smell what’s cooking as you pass by.

When we redid our kitchen several years ago, I went on a mission looking for a porch door in various architectural salvage yards, and when I finally found one, it needed to be restored.  We brought it home and after it was sanded down, painted, and re-screened, it was installed on the laundry closet inside my service porch, as a reminder.  When I’m home, you will find that I always keep my kitchen windows open (and curtain free) so you can still peek in, call out my name, and smell what’s cooking.  Come on in!

Chicken Couscous

3 lbs boneless chicken thighs. cut in half
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, diced
3 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into thirds
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
any type of orange fleshed squash, peeled and thickly sliced
4  Mexican squash or zucchini, sliced in half, lengthwise
1 bunch cilantro
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 can tomato paste
1 tablespoon chili powder, or less depending on your taste
salt and pepper to taste
½ Tb paprika
½ Tb cinnamon
½ Tb cumin
1/2 cup golden raisins

Saute thighs and onions in olive oil till golden, meanwhile sprinkling with spices.  Allow to fry for several more minutes and add tomato paste, chickpeas and 1 cup of water.  Season with salt and pepper bring to a boil, then lower heat and cook for about 15 minutes.  Add about 4 cups of water to the pot along with the orange squash, sweet potatoes and carrots.  Cook for about 45 minutes.  Add zucchini, raisins and cilantro and cook on low flame til vegetables are tender.

Prepare couscous according to directions on the box. Before serving take a ladle of the broth and stir it into the couscous which will give it a beautiful color.  Mound couscous in the center of a large platter and surround with meat and vegetables.  Place broth is a small bowl to serve on the side.  Serves 6-8

Enjoy,

Irene

Curried Swiss Chard and Lentil Stew

The Graf brothers all loved nature, the outdoors, and animals.  My father would watch shows about the animal kingdom and would tell us stories of the pets he owned growing up in Warka, Poland.  A porcupine, really?  He was already well into his seventies when he suddenly decided to stop eating chicken and beef, purely for ethical reasons.  With longing and affection, my father would talk about the orchard and vegetable garden behind his mother’s home.  At the farmer’s market he would choose his fruits and vegetables with such care and tenderness, rotating each apple or pear to make sure it was blemish free, fresh, firm, and fragrant with ripeness, intent on selecting the best he could find.

The brothers were all avid gardeners, and I was fairly certain that their green thumbs were not passed down to my city hands.  I love the idea of gardening, to be able to go into your backyard and plan your meal based on what’s ready to be picked.  After a long hiatus, I was determined to try my hand at vegetable gardening once again and so I ruthlessly pulled out a whole bed of roses.  It took months to prepare the soil and put in the first raised bed.  During a trip back East my cousin Janine laid out the plans for my garden and I use it as my roadmap.  Not only does it guide me but it provides me with inspiration,  knowing that another branch of the Graf family are successful gardeners.  My first planting included broccoli which was a complete failure, basil which was immediately consumed by insects and several plants of red leaf lettuce which grew well, but became limp immediately after being harvested, not a desirable texture for a fresh salad.  I thought I would try kale and swiss chard and finally I was able to experience the sense of pride that comes with success.  There is more chard and kale in my garden than I know what to do with.

My father would probably chuckle at my meager garden but despite its small size, the pleasure that I derive from it is immeasurable.  My father and I never gardened together, I was too young and independent to listen to his advice when he offered it, but now each time I am in the garden I think of Harry, Charlie and Jack, and the legacy they left behind.

 

 


This dish is a vegetarian stew but so hearty that you really don’t miss the meat. Serve with rice or whole wheat pasta.

Curried Swiss Chard and Lentil Stew (adapted from a recipe from Bon Appetit)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
5 tsp curry powder
1 /2 tsp chili powder
42 oz. pareve chicken stock or vegetable broth
1 large bunch Swiss chard, stems thinly sliced and leaves coarsely chopped (about 12 cups)
1 pound brown lentils, rinsed well
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans
2 tsp salt
1 heaping tsp cumin.

Saute onion in olive oil till golden.  Add spices and sauté for several minutes, till fragrant.  Add broth and bring to a boil, then put in lentils and garbanzo beans.  Lower heat to a simmer, add salt and chard, and cover.  Cook till lentils are tender but still whole.  About 20 minutes.  Serves 6

Enjoy,

Irene

Inari (Beancurd skins stuffed with rice)

The concept of actually going someplace with the intention of picnicking was not something we did when I was growing up.  Wherever we went food was always packed and brought along.  That changed when I had children of my own and we actually began planning picnics as an activity.   July 4th at the Hollywood Bowl,  Visitor’s Day at Camp Ramah and Mother’s Day in the park all stand out in my mind.   My mother loved going to Will Rogers State Park which had an expansive lawn, a Polo field and horse filled stables.  It was a perfect way for three generations to spend time together either playing with a frisbee, flying kites, feeding the horses or hiking.  My mother was the figurehead, she would sit and watch and smile.  My parents didn’t care about cards or gifts because being with us was really all they wanted.

Of course, we all have certain ideas of what constitutes a picnic.  My mother loved deli with cole slaw and potato salad,  Norm prefers fried chicken, I love good cheese and a baguette.  The kids seemed to like it all, but one of them loved Inari, something my friend Fredda introduced to my family.  This will be my first (I think), Mother’s Day without having any children in town.  What will I do??  I guess get some cheese and wine and maybe have Norm bake a baguette and then head over to Will Rogers.  Recently my sister told me that I am turning into my mother.  I hope so.

To Lil and all the other Moms, Happy Mother’s Day!!

Inari

Prepare 1 cup Japanese sushi rice according to directions on package.  Remove cooked rice from heat and place in shallow bowl to cool.  Mix vinegar, sugar and salt and heat in small pot till sugar dissolves.  Cool and mix into rice.  Carefully open bean curd pouches.  Divide rice into 12 portions and stuff into each pouch.  Sprinkle with sesame seeds if desired.

Dressing

3 Tbsp rice vinegar

1 1/2 Tbsp sugar

1/2 tsp salt

Note:  Try adding slivers of tofu, shiitake mushrooms, carrot, avocado, or sliced omelette.

Enjoy,

Irene
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Soba Salad

I look back on my childhood and wonder how I felt as a young girl walking through the front door of our home knowing that the language would shift from English to Yiddish.  My recollection is that I always liked Yiddish, having positive associations with the language and understanding that the words were so much more expressive than their English counterparts.  To this day there are certain words that I have never found an English equivalent for.  One of my favorite words is fagin, a word my mother often used.  Loosely translated it expresses the act of denying oneself the pleasure of an indulgence.  It takes several English words to capture that one word in Yiddish and the sentiment is still lacking.

This week I heard an interview with Professor Udea who published the first Japanese-Yiddish dictionary after spending twenty years of his life dedicated to producing this scholarly work.  The NPR interview made me smile, especially when hearing Professor Udea’s Japanese-accented Yiddish.  My father used to insist that Yiddish was a dying language and when I find evidence to the contrary, I am delighted.  One of my mother’s favorite expressions was that it was a lebidikeh velt,  and she was right.  Guess what we are having for Shabbat dinner tonight?  Japanese inspired Soba Salad.  Gut Shabbos.

For those of you who might be interested in learning some Yiddish, take a look at yiddishwordoftheweek.tumblr.com   

Soba Salad

12 oz. Soba noodles, cooked in boiling water for about 6-8 minutes.  Drain and rinse very well, actually washing the noodles in cold water to remove all excess starch.  Set aside.

1 red pepper

1 scallion

1 avocado, thinly sliced

1 block firm tofu, cut in cubes

6 oz. shiitake mushrooms sliced

1 bunch of greens of your choice, chard, spinach, steamed

2 Tb olive oil

1 tsp sesame oil

Thinly slice red pepper, scallion and avocado and set aside.  Slice mushrooms and sauté over high heat for about 5 minutes.  Add sesame oil and set aside.  Steam spinach.

Dressing
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 Tb rice vinegar
2 Tb maple syrup
3 Tb Agave Nectar
5 Tb peanut butter
1/4 cup water
Whisk all ingredients together till smooth.   Adjust sweetness to your taste.  Assemble salad ingredients in shallow dish and dress.  Serves 4-6
Enjoy,
Irene

Moroccan Hamin

It’s been my experience that when my expectations are high, it can sometimes lead to disappointment.  How often have you been seduced by that decadent pastry in the display case only to discover that it was tasteless, or had dinner in a restaurant with a great reputation and left wondering why.  Thankfully, there is also the flip side, the delightful experience of buying food from a street vendor and biting into something truly delicious.  Some of the best dishes I have ever eaten have been from places where the atmosphere may have left something to be desired, but the food did not.  Places where my expectations were low.

Today the range of my dreams is being installed in my kitchen.  This morning Norm asked if I was excited, and although I am, I am also nervous that my expectations are too high.  All I really want is a range that will brown chicken to perfection.  Norm wants a convection oven that will take his baking to the next level.  We will let you know how it all works out but in the meantime I came home last night and thought I had better cook dinner for Shabbat on my old stove, not knowing if there would be a working stove today.  I made a Moroccan version of  Tabit, one of my favorite one-pot meals.  It was in my oven overnight, and this morning when I took it out, I knew it was the last thing that would ever be cooked in that oven.  It was like saying goodbye to a familiar friend who may be cranky, but who you know well and understand.  Shabbat Shalom and a BIG thank you to Anita and Jeff,  for everything, and then some!

Moroccan Hamin

2 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, diced

1 chicken cut into eighths plus an extra 4 thighs

3 cups water

2 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

1 tbsp  paprika

2 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp cinnamon

2 tbsp tomato paste

1 large tomato, diced

2 cups wheat berries, rinsed several times and drained

1 – 14 oz. can garbanzo beans, drained

4 dates, pitted and diced

Saute onion in oil till golden.  Add salt and pepper, spices, and chicken,  and brown well.  Then add freshly diced tomato and tomato paste and sauté for several minutes.  Add wheat berries and garbanzo beans to pot along with diced dates.  Add water,  bring to a boil, cover pot, lower heat and place in a preheated 250 degrees oven overnight.  Serves 4-6

NOTE: If  Hamin looks dry when you take it out, add a little more water, if it has too much liquid, leave pot in the oven without lid for another 30 minutes.

Enjoy,

Irene

Kasha with Mushrooms and Onions (Buckwheat Groats)

Cantor Harry Saiger

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)

1 egg

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

Kasha coated with egg

Enjoy,

Irene

Oven Baked Sweet Potato Fries

It all comes down to a few essentials.  I don’t think many people are waiting for the roasted Brussel sprouts (even when they are beautifully presented on the stalk) or the cranberry chutney, and some people don’t really like turkey.  For me it is the dressing (we don’t stuff), the sweet potatoes and the corn bread.  Like most things in my life, you can eliminate the extras and find that there are just a few things that really count.  Family, friends and food.

Here are a few of my favorite recipes for Thanksgiving.  Also some photos taken last year in and around Blue Hill at Stone Barns to  help you get in the mood.

Almost any type of sweet potato dish works, I don’t think I have ever tried a recipe that I didn’t like.

I often boil the sweet potatoes in their jackets till soft, mash with some brown sugar and a little bit of margarine and then place in a baking dish.  Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour.  Today I tried oven baked sweet potato fries.  Good for a small crowd.

Oven Baked Sweet Potato Fries

5 Sweet Potatoes, cut into thin long slices

3-4 Tbsp olive oil

Salt, pepper and garlic salt to taste.

Toss together and bake on a parchment covered cookie sheet at 450 degrees for about 20-25 minutes.  Serves 4-5

Shira’s Corn Pone

We bought a bread cookbook in Amish country when Shira was a little girl.  She makes this recipe for Thanksgiving dinner every year.  It’s great for dinner and cut in half, toasted and served with butter the next morning!!!!

1 c. sugar

1/2 cup butter or  pareve margarine

2 eggs

1  1/2 cup stone ground cornmeal

1  1/2 cups flour

3 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 1/2 cups milk or non-dairy creamer

Cream together margarine and sugar.  Add beaten eggs and mix well.  In a bowl, sift cornmeal with flour, baking powder and salt. Add flour and milk alternately to batter.  Pour into greased and floured 9x 13 baking dish.  Bake at 450″ for 30-35 minutes.  I  think the texture is better if made the day before.  Serves 8-10

Pumpkin Bread, a yearly traditional dessert.  This recipe has spread far and wide and I love that!  Click on the link for the recipe.

Manya’s Mushroom Stuffing

1 1/2 lbs. brown mushrooms or a combination of mushrooms
2 large onions
2 large carrots
2 stalks celery
4 eggs, beaten
1 large Challah,  crust removed.
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
2-3 tbsp vegetable oil

Dice onions and sauté in olive oil over low flame until a rich golden color, this can take up to 30 minutes.
Dice carrots and celery and add to onions and sauté for about ten minutes until tender.  Raise heat slightly, add sliced mushrooms and cook an extra 15 minutes.  Allow to cool and place in large mixing bowl.
Remove crust and run challah under warm water until soft.  Then squeeze challah and add to mushroom mixture.  Add beaten eggs, salt and pepper.
Prepare 9×13 pan by adding 2-3 Tbsp oil, make sure bottom and sides are well-greased and place in 350 degree oven for several minutes.  Take out and immediately pour in stuffing  mixture.  Brush with olive oil.

Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes or until golden brown.  Serves 6-8

Please send in your family favorites to share!

Enjoy,

Irene

Persian Rice with Tadig

Rice was a staple in my mother’s kitchen. Always prepared in the most basic way, it was never the centerpiece of the meal but occupied the role of ” the starchy” side dish.  My mother bought Uncle Ben’s and cooked it in salted boiling water.  Period.  There were two ways that it was served, with hot milk and sugar for a dairy meal, and in sort of a sticky mass for meat meals.  The rice didn’t elicit any response when it came to the table, it was like eating white bread, just sort of there.  My mother was a great cook so I attribute this lack of imagination to the fact that she grew up in Poland where I am sure she was raised eating potatoes (which she always prepared well and in numerous ways) but, of course, my sister disagrees.

The first time I tasted Persian rice with Tadig was when my children began attending a Jewish Day School in Los Angeles that had a large Persian population.  The special preparation of this dish produces a tender, fluffy and fragrant rice that is covered with a thick, pale yellow crust (tadig).  The crust is both chewy and crunchy, and since there is only one layer of it, everyone wants to get an even share. 

I was determined to learn how to prepare Tadig and so over the years I have tried various recipes, this being the one that I now use.  For those of us who live in Los Angles, Persian rice is not a particularly unusual or exotic dish, but for those of you who live in other parts of the country, I encourage you to try this.  It may take a little getting use to, but I promise that it’s worth the effort.  You’ll never be satisfied with a bowl of Uncle Ben’s again.

rice after soaking in water

rice formed into a pyramid

rice with lid wrapped in tea towel

 Persian Rice with Tadig

2 cups Basmati Rice

salt

4 cups water

4 Tbs corn oil

1/4 tsp turmeric

2 Tbs water

Rinse rice and place in bowl.  Submerge rice in warm water and let stand for 30 minutes.  Drain and set aside.  Bring a wide-bottomed pot filled with 4 cups of salted water to a rapid boil.  Add the rice and cook for 8 minutes. Drain.

Wipe pot dry with a paper towel.  Place 3 Tbs of the oil in the pot, add the turmeric and stir.  Tilt pan to cover entire bottom with oil.  Pour rice into pan, making sure that the bottom of the pan is covered with rice.  Then gently pull extra rice towards the center to form a pyramid.  Sprinkle rice with remaining oil.  Cover lid with a dish towel and tie on the top.  Cover pot, and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes.  Then lower heat ( as low as possible)  and cook for at least 30- 45 more minutes.  Crust will form on bottom.  Invert and serve with crust on top.  Serves 6-8 people

Enjoy,
Irene

Sweet Couscous

It was in the early 1980s when Norm and I decided to build our first Sukkah.  Neither of us had grown up with one, and so we had no family traditions to help guide us.  We had to create our own, discover our own way, and find traditions that we were comfortable with.  One year we used fresh fruit to decorate the Sukkah, fruit that began to decompose over the course of the week.  It seemed out of sync with the festive atmosphere we were trying to create, not to mention the waste, and so we switched to plastic fruits.  Over the years we experimented with the size of the Sukkah, materials, lighting, choice of plants for schach, and decorations.  It has always been a work in progress, and from year to year it changes slightly, as we do.

Each year my mother would come to our Sukkah and reminisce about her childhood in Poland, recalling how her father would insist on eating all of his meals in their Sukkah.  She said that even if it was pouring, he would sit there, the rain streaming down his face, though his beard, and into his soup.  That story was repeated to us each year and out of that shared memory a new tradition grew.  We realized that when my mother spoke of her father it was almost as if he was with us, sitting in our Sukkah.  Now, each year we go around the table and ask our guests the following question. ” If you could invite anyone to join you in the Sukkah, who would that be?”  We have had kings and politicians, musicians and celebrities, family members who have passed away and family members who are just far away.  Along with the Ushpizin, all of our guests, present and imaginary, make this holiday magical.  Chag Sameach.

This recipe is adapted from Claudia Roden’s  The Book of Jewish Food.

Sweet Couscous

Prepare 1 lb. of couscous by placing grain in a large bowl.  Using a total of about 2 1/2 cups of warm water, add a few tablespoons of water at a time and let it absorb into the couscous.  Using your fingers, plump up couscous, breaking up any lumps. Repeat till couscous is soft but not wet. Couscous will double in bulk.

To this basic recipe add:

1 cup golden raisins, soaked in warm water for about 20 minutes,  and chopped up.

1 cup dried apricots, thinly sliced

1/2  cup pistachios, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup pine nuts

1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds

1/4 cup sugar combined with cinnamon to taste

Shape couscous into a cone and decorate with lines of cinnamon mixed with sugar.

Enjoy,

Irene