Lentil Soup with Matzoh Balls

On some cold winter days when there was not much to do, my sister would take me downtown to wander around a museum.  I only remember visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Museum of Natural History, not The Frick, Guggenheim, or MoMA (maybe she thought I was too young to appreciate those) but the Met was always my favorite and still is.  We would stop and look at whatever interested us, or go watch a Fred Astaire/ Ginger Rogers movie when they had free screenings.  I think my sister felt responsible for my cultural well-being.

In any case, I loved going, mainly because It felt like a very grown up thing to do.  Even the approach to the Met was exciting, with all those stairs to climb, and then, once you reached the entrance there were crowds of people milling around, taking off their overcoats and shaking off the chill.  The foyer is impressive at any age, but particularly to a young child, and of course you had to get by the solemn guard stationed at the hall leading to the galleries.

My sister was an enthusiastic teacher who at the time was taking an art history course at Hunter College and was eager to share her knowledge.  I credit her for my appreciation of museums and to this day I try to visit the Met when I am in NYC.  I never really thought much about it but earlier this week my younger son called and mentioned that it was really cold day, and to my surprise, my immediate response was to tell him to “go to a museum.”

At the end of the day we would take the train back to The Bronx and of course my mother would have dinner ready and waiting.  Hot soup and warm memories are perfect for cold days.  Thanks Anita!

Lentil Soup with Matzoh Balls

1/ 3 cup olive oil

1 large onion, chopped,

2 stalks celery, thinly sliced

2 carrots, diced

3 cloves of minced garlic

1 pound brown lentils

8 cups chicken broth

1 Tb cumin

1 Tb Paprika

1 1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper

1 bag baby spinach leaves

In a large pot, sauté  chopped onion in olive oil for a few minutes, or  till translucent.  Add celery, carrots, garlic and cumin and sauté for several more minutes.  Add lentils, chicken broth, paprika, salt and pepper.  Cover, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook for about one hour. Add spinach and serve.  Prepare Matzoh Balls and add one to each serving.  Serves 6-8

Fluffy Matzoh Balls

4 eggs

1/2 cup oil

1 cup Matzoh Meal

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp baking powder

Process all the ingredients in a Cuisinart for about 10 seconds. Place mixture in fridge for about an hour.  Shape into balls and add to a large pot of salted, boiling water.  Cover and cook matzoh balls for about 45 minutes.

Makes 12 matzoh balls.

Enjoy,

Irene

Sheila’s Perfect Beef Ribs

In a world where things are not very predictable, it is nice to know that there are some things you can always count on.  Isn’t that what comfort food is all about?  We crave what is familiar to us, a taste of something that reminds us of a particular time or place.  How pleasurable is that moment of recognition when we walk into a kitchen and instantly know which dish is simmering on the stove.  When I was growing up, I knew that if we visited Tante Marisha there would be the smell of wonderful nut cakes baking in the oven, Fanny could be counted on for the best Tzimmis, the “Mima” always made white bean soup and Micheline, well there are too many things to mention but her Creme Caramel was always my favorite.  Those associations may not be as long-lasting as an old photo but they can be just as wonderful.

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.

Happy New Year to all of you.  I hope that  2012 is filled with good health, good friends and good food. 
Sheila’s Beef Ribs
10 Beef Ribs

1 1/2 jars of  Char.B.Que Sauce  (20 oz. size)
Place ribs in a large pot and cover with cold water.  Bring water to a boil and then reduce to medium heat. Cook ribs for about 1 1/2 hours.  In a roasting pan, cover bottom of pan with half the amount of Char. B. Que Sauce.  Layer ribs on the sauce, side up, and cover with remaining sauce.  Cover pan with silver foil and bake at 325 degrees for 2 hours.  Serves 5
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

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

Beef Stew

You can usually differentiate between a weeknight meal and Shabbat dinner by what’s cooking in the kitchen.  On a Friday afternoon there is the hint of yeast from freshly baked challot, mingled with the spicy smells of some kind of side dish (often made with large amounts of garlic), and the scent of slow roasting beef or chicken.  Sometimes there is the subtle but definitive aroma of chicken soup simmering on the stove.  Somehow all of this sets the mood for Shabbat, like a forshpeis (appetizer) for the senses.  For me Shabbat dinner means being with family or friends, and good food and wine always enhance the experience.

We recently spent Shabbat at the beach house of our friends Sheila and Alan.  Arriving on Friday afternoon,  the first thing you noticed was the wonderful smells coming from the direction of the kitchen.  Something, yet unknown to me, was cooking but you could identify the red wine, garlic and beef.  It was Beef Stew, a version of Boeuf Bourguignon, a daunting dish to prepare, mainly because of its long association with Julia Child, and then more recently with the movie, Julie and Julia.  It is a dish I have never attempted to make in this traditional French method, mainly out of fear that it could never meet my own expectations or anybody else’s.
And here is the beauty of preparing Shabbat dinner for friends.  It affords you the opportunity to stretch yourself in the kitchen.  If you are going to spend hours cooking, you want the end result to be equal to the effort.  This dish met our expectations and more, especially in light of the fact that Sheila doesn’t eat beef, she couldn’t correct the seasoning or enjoy the dish herself.  Her reward was simply seeing the smile on the faces of her guests.  Shabbat Shalom.

Boeuf Bourguignon

Sheila adapted a recipe by Ina Garten.  Her suggestion was to use a  REALLY, REALLY good bottle of  Cabernet.

2 1/2 pounds chuck beef, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes

1 bottle Cabernet

3 whole garlic cloves, smashed

3 bay leaves

2 cups all-purpose flour

salt and pepper to taste

olive oil

2 yellow onions, chopped

1 pound carrots, peeled and cut in 1 1/2-inch chunks on the diagonal

1/2 pound white mushrooms, thickly sliced

1 pound small potatoes, halved or quartered

1 tablespoon minced garlic  (3 cloves)

2 cups chicken  broth

1 large piece of fresh rosemary

1/2 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1 10-oz package frozen peas

Place the beef in a bowl with red wine, garlic, and bay leaves and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, preheat the oven to 300 degrees.  In a bowl, combine the flour with 1 tablespoon each of salt and pepper.   Lift the beef out of the marinade with a slotted spoon, discarding the bay leaves and the garlic, but saving the marinade.  In batches, lightly dredge the cubes of beef in the flour mixture.  Heat 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large Dutch oven and brown the beef (only half the beef at a time so it browns well) over medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes, turning to brown evenly.  Remove beef and set aside in a bowl,  and continue to brown the remaining beef, adding more olive oil as necessary.

Heat another 2 tablespoons of oil to the Dutch Oven and add the onions, carrots, mushrooms, and potatoes.  Cook for 10 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally.  Add the garlic and cook for 2 more minutes.  Remove and set aside.  Add 2 1/2 cups of the reserved marinade to the empty pot and cook over high heat to de-glaze the bottom of the pan, scraping up all the brown bits with a wooden spoon. Remove liquid.  Add the beef back to the pot and cover with vegetables.  Add the chicken stock, rosemary, sun-dried tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, 1 tablespoon salt, and 2 teaspoons pepper.  Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables and bring Dutch Oven to a simmer over medium heat.  Cover the pot and place it in the oven to bake it for about 2 hours, until the meat and vegetables are all tender, stirring once during cooking.  If the stew is boiling rather than simmering, lower the heat to 250 or 275 degrees.

Before serving, stir in the frozen peas and season to taste.

Note: A perfect dish for a Rosh Hashana meal.

Enjoy,

Irene

Stuffed Peppers

My first home was an apartment on the corner of 183 St. and The Grand Concourse.  2274 Grand Concourse was a brick pre-war building, a walk-up, with two wings and a center courtyard (perfect for playing handball.)  The apartment had wonderful architectural features that I was too young to appreciate but which clearly made a lasting impression.  There was a dumb-waiter in the kitchen, beautiful French doors that opened into my parents’ bedroom, and parquet floors throughout the house.  The street was lined with Art Deco buildings, one of which was our synagogue,  Concourse Center of Israel.  Others included The Concourse Plaza Hotel, Dollar Savings Bank , and Lowe’s Paradise Theater.   Today, Concourse Center of Israel is the First Union Baptist Church, Dollar Savings Bank is now Emigrant Savings Bank, the Concourse Plaza Hotel is a senior citizen’s residence and Lowe’s Paradise has become a venue for concerts.

The Concourse was modeled after the Champs Elysee but there were no outdoor cafes or brasseries.  It was the Mom and Pop places that dominated the street, and the pizza parlors by far outnumbered the Kosher delis.  If my mother wanted to serve something special, she had to make it herself.  We knew that certain dishes, the ones that were more labor intensive, were only prepared on special occasions or for the holidays.  Dishes like sweet breads, miniature knaidlech with sautéed mushrooms, kreplach, favorkes, gefilte fish (starting with the fish in the bathtub) and stuffed peppers.

Prepared food is readily available in our neighborhood in Los Angeles, but this past Friday, on a quiet summer afternoon, with nobody coming for dinner and no reason to spend time in the kitchen, all I wanted was to leisurely prepare my mother’s Stuffed Peppers while reminiscing about The Bronx.  I must admit that even this recipe has changed.

Stuffed Peppers 

7 assorted red, yellow and orange peppers

2 1/2 pounds ground turkey

2 tsp salt

1 tsp black pepper

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 eggs, beaten

2 Tbs olive oil

3 cloves minced garlic

1 tsp cumin

1/4 cup quinoa

1 1/2 cups Ketchup

Mix ground turkey in a large bowl with all of the other ingredients. Combine well.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add whole peppers. Boil for about 10 minutes.  Remove peppers, allow to cool, then core and seed.

Stuff peppers with ground turkey mixture.

In a pot just big enough to snugly hold peppers, drizzle some olive oil on the bottom of the pot, place peppers in pot upright.  Add water to come half way up the side of the peppers and then add ketchup.  Gently stir ketchup into water and baste peppers.  Bring to boil, lower heat and cover pot.  Simmer for about 1 1/2 hours.  Serves 7.

Enjoy,

Irene

Greek Lemon Chicken

I met Maria P. at the Shoah Foundation about 15 years ago, when she was hired to catalogue  the testimonies of Greek Jews.  A petite woman, with dark, medium length hair and olive skin, my mother would have described her as being made of “fire and flame.” Maria was from Saloniki and had a Mediterranean temperament.  Warm, passionate, and full of life, she had many of the qualities that I admire.  We once invited Maria to join us for dinner during Sukkot and, when she arrived, she walked into my kitchen and took charge.  I remember her taking off her shoes, donning an apron, and then… she began to cook.  She had the ability to make herself at home in such a way that you never wanted her to leave.  I lost touch with Maria but the dish that she made that night was memorable.  Maria didn’t bother measuring anything, she placed peeled and quartered potatoes around whole chickens  and poured fresh lemon juice and olive oil (half a bottle) over the entire thing.  An hour and a half later we had a delicious Greek dish in a Sukkah in Los Angeles, and tonight, I am serving it for Shabbat.

 

Greek Lemon Chicken

2 whole chickens

juice of 3 large lemons

1/2 cup olive oil

2 Tbs dried oregano

salt and pepper to taste

Place whole chickens in roasting pan (breast side down)  and rub salt, pepper and oregano into skin.  Pour lemon juice over both chickens and then drizzle olive oil over top. Refrigerate overnight or for at least several hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and roast chickens for about 1 1/2 hours.  Turn chickens breast side up after about 45 minutes.

Serves 6-8

Enjoy,

Irene

Sweet and Sour Turkey Meatballs

I have always found graduations moving.  Just hearing that first note of Pomp and Circumstance makes my eyes well up with tears, but listening to a young group of male and female rabbinic students, including my older son, walking in to their ordination ceremony singing Ozi v’Zimrat Yah was stirring.  We were watching a new generation of rabbis marching down the aisle, stepping forward to carry on the traditions.  As wonderful as it was, having family and friends join us to witness the occasion, made it even more special.

Being in New York City was great, even during a week when the sun rarely shined.  Taking long walks each day, exploring the city and, of course, eating.  Here were some of the highlights.  An exhibit at the New York Public library celebrating the 100th anniversary,  going to the High Line in Chelsea, breakfast at Clinton Street Baking Co. , a wonderful brunch at my daughter’s new apartment in Williamsburg, and dinner at Pulino’s.  The post-graduation dinner was a success, catered by The Kosher Marketplace ,  it included Sweet and Sour Turkey Meatballs, one of David’s favorite dishes.

When it came time to return home, I found it incredibly hard to say goodbye.   The gloomy weather reflected my mood.  Just after arriving at the airport in Newark we bumped into Stephanie S. whom I had met in Houston earlier this year, close family friends of my soon to be machatunim.   Travelling with her family, she had one child asleep in the stroller, another child in tow, and was overloaded with bags, toys and drinks.  We chatted while standing in the security line, and as I watched her I was flooded with memories of travelling with my own children at that age.  I wanted to tell Stephanie to cherish the moment because I know something that she doesn’t, that in the blink of an eye she will be attending her children’s graduations.

David’s Favorite Meatballs

2 lbs. ground turkey

1/2 cup bread crumbs

3 large eggs, beaten

2 cloves minced garlic

salt and pepper to taste

Mix ingredients and make golf ball sized meatballs.

Sauce

1 can whole cranberry sauce

1 jar chili sauce (about 1 1/2 cups) or ketchup

2-3 Tbs dark brown sugar

2 Tbs fresh lemon juice

Combine sauce ingredients and cook for about 10 minutes.  Add meatballs and cook over low flame for about one hour.

Serves 6-8.

Enjoy,

Irene

Shredded Chicken Tacos

Last week, in the middle of an ordinary Tuesday afternoon I received a call from my close friend Susan S. who said, ” you are going to be jealous. ”  Why?  Susan was just sitting down to have lunch, a warm blue corn tortilla, (that her mother-in-law had brought from Mexico City) filled with shredded chicken and topped with homemade guacamole.  I shrugged off her comment but guess what, I could not get the image of that blue corn tortilla with the green Haas avocado and the soft well seasoned shredded chicken out of my mind for the next two days.   Is it the power of suggestion or am I still the same little girl who craves what everyone else has for lunch.  I wanted to eat exactly what Susan was eating, but my mother is not here to complain to, and she wouldn’t know how to make chicken tacos anyway.  So I made them myself, but I did have to substitute the pretty blue tortilla for a white one.

Shredded Chicken Tacos  (adapted from the New York Times)

1 whole chicken

1 large white onion, peeled and quartered

5 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 bunch cilantro

Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a soup pot and add water to cover.  Turn heat to high, bring to a boil, and skim off foam that rises to the surface.  Partially cover and lower heat to a simmer.  Cook until chicken is done, about 30 minutes.  Remove chicken from soup and cool.  Take the chicken meat off the bones and remove skin.  Shred chicken with fingers. Add about  2 Tbs of chicken stock to shredded chicken and season to taste.  Serve with guacamole and salsa.  Serves 4-6

Enjoy,

Irene

Moroccan Salmon

My mother always hummed when she cooked.  Typically, the small radio on the kitchen counter was turned to the Yiddish radio station, but if not, there was always a station that played sentimental music, lots of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.  I loved knowing that when I came home, music would be in the air and dinner on the stove.  She didn’t like the sound of silence and I must admit, neither do I.  My ritual is almost identical, with a modern twist.  I walk into my kitchen and head straight for the radio, or my IPOD, and only then do I begin to cook.

I have family members in three different countries this weekend, and so here are my plans for a quiet Friday afternoon.  A glass of wine, some music, and Moroccan Salmon.  It’s raining outside and So Far Away is playing on the IPOD.  Not too bad. Shabbat Shalom.

Moroccan Salmon

1 pound of salmon fillets

salt and pepper to taste

4 thin slices of  lemon

1/2 onion, thinly sliced

1/3 cup mayonnaise

1 tsp. lemon juice

1 tsp. harissa

1/4 tsp. smoked Spanish paprika

2 tbs. orange juice

1 can garbanzo beans, drained

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Drizzle some olive oil in the bottom of a small baking dish, large enough to hold fillets in one layer.  Sprinkle the salmon with salt and pepper, and place into the baking dish.  In a bowl, mix together the mayonnaise, lemon juice, harissa, and smoked paprika.  Spread the mixture over the fish, then cover with the lemon and onion slices.  Add drained garbanzo beans to dish.  Pour the orange juice around the salmon.
Bake in preheated oven for about 15 minutes.  Turn on broiler and broil the fish for a few minutes to brown.
Enjoy,
Irene