Bamitbach

Sharing Food and Memories with Friends and Family

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December 10, 2014
Irene Saiger

18 comments

Schmaltz and Gribenes

IMG_8088Last week Norm lost his Dad, I lost my father-in-law, and my children lost their last surviving grandparent.  We were in Toronto for the funeral but after the first day of Shiva, we returned to Los Angeles for Norm to complete the week here.  We arrived to our home to find that in our absence the mirrors had been covered, the chairs for services had been set up, the furniture had been moved out of the way, the paper goods for meals had been purchased,  and there on the patio table, a pot of split pea soup was waiting for us. The meals were all planned, and just seven hours after our arrival, it began.

Shiva was in motion and while the davening was taking place in the living room and Norm was being comforted by his friends, there was a different kind of comforting in the kitchen.  Bamitbach, women were milling around, telling each other what and how to set things up, more cookies, fewer bagels, fresh coffee.  The comfort that comes from being together, working as a unit, is also the comfort that comes from doing what we do best, preparing food for people we care about.

There was a lull later in the day and my daughter sent me an article from the New York Times about the renewed popularity of schmaltz.  My mother used to make schmaltz and although I don’t remember what she used it for, I do remember the delicious by-product, gribenes, the delicious salty cracklings of fried chicken skin.  After I read the article out loud,  we talked about trying to make schmaltz and Norm said we should make it right then.  I called my friend and asked her to buy a chicken and bring it over.  Within minutes, Shira, Denise, Anna and myself, not unlike hens in a henhouse, were skinning a chicken, cutting off every piece of precious fat, chopping onions and making schmaltz.  We ate the gribenes right away but the 2 tablespoons of schmaltz are sitting in the fridge until inspiration hits us.

This morning at 6:00 a.m. Norm and I were in the living room.  I asked how he was doing and he said, “Shiva, that’s what it’s about, having  Shira here and preparing schmaltz and gribenes during her Zaidie’s Shiva is something that she will never forget.”  I am sure that Norm’s dad, Pinnie Saiger, would have felt the same way.

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Schmaltz and Gribenes

1 chicken, skinned and all fat removed.   (Or collect fat each time you make chicken, freeze, and make schmaltz once you have a larger amount)

1/2 onion, chopped

dash of salt

Dice pieces of fat and skin and place in frying pan over low heat.  Cook till fat is rendered (melted) and skin begins to turn golden brown.  Add diced onion and continue to cook until gribenes are crispy and dark brown.  Strain through sieve and store schmaltz in fridge till ready to use.  Drain gribenes on paper towel and allow to stand for several minutes to become even more crisp.  Sprinkle with salt and eat!   Note:  The article said that in Eastern Europe latkes were fried in schmaltz,  so you might want to think about that for Chanukah!

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Enjoy,

Irene

November 13, 2014
Irene Saiger

16 comments

Short Ribs (Flanken)

IMG_1753For over 25 years I  have prepared a traditional Thanksgiving feast, but truthfully the meal is not traditional in terms of my family’s recipes or origins.

This Thanksgiving I am going to acknowledge my parent’s journey which took them from Poland to Germany to France where they remained till 1952 when they, along with my sister, traveled to Genoa, Italy, and boarded a ship to the United States.  After having recently read that a well-known chef  includes potato kugel at his Thanksgiving dinner,  I’ve decided to include a dish that reflects my roots.  My mom loved Flanken, and since it fits in perfectly with this American meal, in addition to turkey, we are going to have what she called  “gedempfte fleish.”  Braised short ribs, cooked until the meat melts off the bone.  I called my sister to ask for my mother’s recipe, but she couldn’t remember anything other than it included a bay leaf, which matches my memory exactly.

It feels surprisingly liberating to take a break from “tradition” and add something new to the menu, or something old, depending on how you look at it.  My parents loved Thanksgiving, my mom always prepared turkey and sweet potatoes, and even bought canned cranberry sauce.  Although it was never verbalized, I knew how lucky they felt to have survived, and to be in this country.  That’s something that comes to my mind each Thanksgiving and makes me forever thankful.

P.S. This recipe is nothing like my mom’s ( I am guessing)  but I did include a bay leaf.

 

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Short Ribs (Flanken)

1 1/2 pounds beef short ribs

1/2  teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tbsp olive oil

1 large carrot, diced

1 stalk celery, thinly sliced

1 small onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 cups water

1 bay leaf

Season the ribs with salt and pepper.   Heat a heavy bottomed pot over medium-high heat and coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil.  Add the ribs and let brown, really brown, that’s where all the flavor is.  Remove ribs to a plate and add vegetables, season with salt and pepper to taste.  Saute vegetables for 4 or 5 minutes, scraping up bits of meat from the bottom of the pan.   Lower heat, and add garlic and tomato paste, again stirring for several more minutes but do not let burn.  Return ribs to pot, add enough water  just to barely cover meat, add bay leaf, and place lid on pot.  Put in  preheated 325 degree oven for about 2 1/2 hours.  Check  after about an hour to make sure there is enough liquid, and add water if necessary.  Turn ribs over half way though baking time.  When meat is very tender your flanken is ready to be served.  Take out the bay leaf,  place ribs on the serving plate, and purée vegetables and any liquid remaining in pot in food processor.  Put ribs back into thickened sauce, and  serve.  Serves 2-3

Enjoy,

Irene

October 22, 2014
Irene Saiger

6 comments

French Split Pea Soup

photo-7There aren’t many foods that are more comforting than a simple bowl of soup.  It may not elicit the same oohs and aahs that taking a bite of perfectly cooked steak can, or cause you to close your eyes as you might when eating a decadent piece of molten chocolate cake, but unlike its flashier counterparts, it rarely disappoints.  Without much effort, soup is nourishing, warming, and filling.

We just returned from New York where we spent Sukkot,  and during our visit we made soup three times.  The first night of Yontif, we had a Carrot and Pear Bisque, the pear was a great addition to offset the strong flavor of curry.  Later in the week, we made Tortilla Soup, a family and Southern California favorite.  Finally, during the last days of Yontif, a large number of unused onions called for French Onion Soup, a rich and delicious broth that included wine and sherry, topped with Gruyère and was served with a fresh baguette.

During Chol Hamoed we took a trip to Philadelphia to visit my cousin Micheline.  We spent a good part of the day at the National Museum of American Jewish History, but despite the lateness of the hour, when we returned to Micheline’s home we were served a full meal.  It included a split pea soup that was so silky and full of flavor that I was sure it had some secret ingredient.  The recipe was from an old French cookbook that she owned, and as she read it to me, I was surprised at how simple and how few ingredients there actually were.

My youngest son’s girlfriend Anna has an expression that she uses every time we share a meal together.  She exclaims that she is “soooooooo full.”   Her Mom had a lovely interpretation of the expression, saying her daughter is full in the best sense, happy and content.   That’s how I  felt after our trip, and that’s how I felt tonight, after making this soup at the end of a long day.  Happy after I finished the first bowl, and content after I finished the second.

 

Beautiful Soup, so rich and green,
Waiting in a hot tureen!
Who for such dainties would not stoop?
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!
Beau—ootiful Soo—oop!
Beau—ootiful Soo—oop!
Soo—oop of the e—e—evening,
Beautiful, beautiful Soup!

“Beautiful Soup! Who cares for fish,
Game, or any other dish?
Who would not give all else for two
Pennyworth only of beautiful Soup?
Pennyworth only of beautiful Soup?
Beau—ootiful Soo—oop!
Beau—ootiful Soo—oop!
Soo—oop of the e—e—evening,
Beautiful, beauti—FUL SOUP!”
-from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

 French Split Pea Soup

1 pound bag of split peas, rinsed

10 cups water

2 Tb olive oil (or butter if you want to make a dairy version)

1 sprig parsley

2 sprigs thyme

2 bay leaves

1 medium onion

2 carrots

2 stalks celery

dash of baking soda

2 1/2 tsp salt

Place split peas in a large pot, cover with water and bring to a boil.  Allow to cook for a few minutes and then drain and wash pot.  Dice carrots, onion and celery and add mirepoix to clean pot along with olive oil or butter.  Saute for several minutes but do not brown.   Add peas, water, salt and cheesecloth containing parsley, thyme and bay leaves.  Add a pinch of baking soda.  Allow to cook, uncovered on a low heat, for about 45 minutes depending or till peas are very tender.  Remove herbs. Puree and serve warm.   If dairy, add a dollop of creme fraiche. Serves 6-8.

Enjoy,

Irene

 

September 19, 2014
Irene Saiger

6 comments

Chicken Soup for a Crowd

photo-7Recently my sister asked me if I ever think about our mother.  I was more than slightly surprised by the question, but Anita explained that I don’t often bring her up in our conversations.  She’s right, I don’t speak of her very much, but still she is never far from my thoughts, especially around the holidays.  My mom did not have her own “signature scent,”  and although she owned one bottle of perfume, Joy, that she purchased before she left Paris in 1952, I don’t ever remember her using it.  She wasn’t one of those women who you associate with the scent of tuberose or jasmine.  Women who I pass on the street of a certain age don’t ever remind me of my mother because she didn’t share their love of hats, statement pieces of jewelry, or the latest fashion.  Mostly, I think about my Mom when I am in the kitchen, when the house is filled with the scent of cinnamon-laced cookies baking in the oven,  of onions frying on the stove-top, of chickens, smothered in garlic, roasting in the oven, or when a pot of chicken soup is simmering for hours at a time releasing that specific smell that announces its’ unmistakable presence.  Those were her signature smells,  and every day she wore a different scent.

Was my mother’s chicken soup unique?  Maybe not, but we loved it.  For us, chicken soup was everything my mother had to offer, concentrated in a bowl.  A dish that was simultaneously nurturing, warm, inviting, and filling.  So Anita, yes, I think about Mom, and right now, while a pot of chicken soup is simmering on the stove, the house smells like her too.

This morning my daughter mentioned that my chicken soup recipe was not on the blog.  There are hundreds of chicken soup recipes but she wanted mine and so here it is.  It is based on my mother’s, but has changed over the years.  This one is large enough to serve a crowd for Rosh Hashana.  In our home we serve kreplach on Rosh Hashana and Matzoh Balls  on Passover.

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Chicken Soup 

12 pieces of chicken, all thighs or a combination of thighs and breasts

2 cloves garlic, left whole

2 large brown onions, washed but not peeled, and left whole

1 large turnip

4 small parsnips

6 stalks celery, leaves left on, cut in half

2 medium zucchini left whole

2 Roma tomatoes, left whole

2 leeks, white and pale green part only, washed thoroughly, and cut in half lengthwise

2 large carrots, cut in large chunks

1 large bunch Italian parsley

1 Tb kosher salt

freshly ground pepper to taste

20 cups of water or enough to cover

Osem chicken bouillon if needed, about 1 Tb.

Place everything in very large soup pot (this recipes is 5 quarts of water without veggies) or divide into two pots.  Bring to a boil, remove scum from the top, reduce to the point where bubbles are breaking the surface, but nothing brisker than that.   Allow to simmer for about 3 hours.  Drain vegetables and chicken and serve golden broth with kreplach or matzoh balls.  Serves 15-20.   NOTE: Some chickens are less flavorful than others and so sometimes I need to add some chicken bouillon at the end but use sparingly because it clouds the broth.

Enjoy,

Irene

 

 

 

 

September 12, 2014
Irene Saiger

2 comments

Moroccan Fish Balls (Boulettes De Poisson)

photo-4My daughter Shira and one of her oldest and closest friends Alex, have been traveling through Morocco for the past two weeks.  Shira has sent  detailed e-mails about their adventures, and this one was perfect to share just before Shabbat.  As we begin planning our Rosh Hashana menus, I love the idea of having something “new” on our table, and thought you might too.  Shabbat Shalom.

From Shira…

On Friday, once back at our riad in Marrakech, we relaxed for a bit before heading to Shul around 7:30. We went to the synagogue in the Gueliz area (the new part of town) — there is another older Shul in the medina as well. The crowd was sparse, with no more than 11 or 12 men. We were the only women, and were sitting behind a curtained area. I’m not the biggest Shul-goer but it was really interesting to hear some of the Moroccan tunes for Kabbalat Shabbat, and see the different prayer style — the congregants, who were sitting throughout the room, would take turns singing the verses of the prayers. The men appeared to be arguing a bit here and there about whose turn it would be to go next, and spoke in Arabic among themselves, which I found interesting as well.

After services, we walked with Monsieur Ohayon​ ​(our host for Shabbat dinner) to his apartment, where we had dinner with him, his wife Bloria​ (​who did all the cooking​)​ and their youngest daughter, Shirel.​ ​The table was huge, and when we sat down it was already laid out with a large variety of ​vegetable ​salads and fish.​ Carrots, beets, eggplant, potato ​salad ​with eggs and​ ​cornichon, olives and taktouka (tomatoes and peppers). There were three kinds of fish ​as well ​– small whole river fish​ with many bones​, fish steaks that looked like salmon but were whit​e-f​​​leshed and ​fish patties​ that had a slightly yellow hue​. ​I​ tried them all but liked the fish patties the best.

Then came the main course​: ​chicken on the bone​, sliced beef, and of course ​couscous with a variety of vegetables, prunes and chickpeas. The food was ​delicious​ and it was fun to be able to try so many different things. ​For dessert we had grapes, plums and nectarines. We spoke in a mix of Hebrew and French and it was interesting to learn about the Jewish experience in Morocco (their families have been living there for as long as they know), how life has changed over the years, and that the once flourishing Jewish community of Marrakesh numbered ​at ​32,000 and has diminished to a community of 120. Monsieur Ohayon runs a store in the mellah (the old jewish area of the medina, where he and his wife also grew up), selling raw materials to artisans. They aspire to move to Israel one day once their children are all grown up and taken care of.​ But as my traveling companion, Alex, pointed out to them, who will host the Jewish travelers of Marrakech for Shabbat dinner if they are no longer there?

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Fish Balls   (adapted from one of my favorite cookbooks) Sephardic Cooking by Copeland Marks

1 pound boneless and skinless fish fillets

1 small onion, sliced

3 garlic cloves, sliced

1 handful each of  fresh cilantro and parsley  (about 1/2 cup each)

1 tsp salt

1 tsp black pepper

1/2  tsp paprika

2 eggs, beaten

2 Tb flour

Vegetable oil for frying pan

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Either hand chop or process all ingredients, except eggs and flour, till you have a smooth paste.  Put mixture in mixing bowl and add beaten eggs and flour.  Mix well.  Pour enough oil into large frying pan till it is about 1/2″ deep.  Prepare round small balls and fry over medium heat for about 5 or 6 minutes per side.  This made about 12 fish balls.  6 servings.

Enjoy,

Irene

August 31, 2014
Irene Saiger

6 comments

Lemony Zucchini Ribbons

photo-2With the New Year approaching, it was time to spruce up my blog with a “new” look.  A BIG thank you to my son Micah who made it happen.  Hope you like it!!

Several weeks ago my daughter was visiting when she wanted to make a salad that she had eaten at the home of family friends in the South of France.  I was very skeptical when she described it to me, but the results were surprisingly delicious.  My doubts were based on my inability to imagine that zucchini could actually be transformed with just a touch of salt, lemon and olive oil.   I made the salad again this morning and fed it to my son’s girlfriend Anna, who looked at it with the same skepticism that I had initially felt.  After one bite and an “oh my g-d,” she asked for more.  You will too!

 

 

Lemony Zucchini Ribbons

4 small zucchini

1 Tb good quality extra-virgin olive oil

juice of one small lemon

1/2 tsp salt

freshly ground pepper

shaved parmesan cheese

 

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Using a wide bladed peeler, discard first peel of zucchini.  Then with not too much pressure applied ( so you can thin ribbons) continue to peel zucchini into ribbons.  Toss in a bowl with remaining ingredients and serve with shaved parmesan.  Serves 4 as a side dish.

Enjoy,

Irene

 

August 17, 2014
Irene Saiger

13 comments

Cinnamon Buns

photo-2Last week I dreamt about my Mom for the very first time since she passed away over a decade ago.  In my dream I was laying in bed and she was sitting on the edge looking down on me, reassuring me that “everything was going to be alright,” an expression that I don’t remember her using when she was alive.  The whole dream was unsettling, but I decided that her message was worth holding on to, and so during this particularly stressful summer, I have tried making an effort to weave some childlike innocence back into my life, at least during August, my birthday month.  It’s easy to remember what it was like when world news could not be farther from my thoughts and the biggest worry I had on any given day in August was deciding which flavor I would pick from the Italian ice cart as it made its way down the Grand Concourse on those hot summer days in the Bronx.

So what have I done this summer?  We had lunch at the original Farmers’ Market which consisted of a delicious grilled cheese sandwich at Short Cake, with a tall glass of iced blueberry lemonade (blueberries were a very important part of my childhood summers).  We saw How to Train a Dragon 2, during which I treated myself to a childhood favorite, Malted Milk Balls.  Last Sunday was spent at the beach with Shira and Norm, and enjoyed the feeling that with each set of receding waves, another set of worries were being washed away.  Shira and I spent an afternoon at a Korean Spa, (o.k. that is not from my childhood) an experience so relaxing that I fell asleep while having a spa treatment.  And then today.  Today is my actual birthday and so after my daughter-in-law arrived in town we went to Joan’s  On Third for breakfast, definitely a favorite of mine, and I ate two soft-boiled eggs, something my mother often made for me and always served in shot glasses.  Joan’s makes them just the way I like them, 4 minutes, not 3 which produces a runny white, and not 5 which makes the yolk too hard.  It has to be four, four is  the perfect number to achieve the right balance between too soft and too firm.  We then drove over  to the Hollywood Farmer’s Market, came home, ate fresh (peaches and cream) corn, brushed with melted butter and a sprinkling of sea salt.  Elizabeth and I, her close friend Rachel and baby Orly, retreated to the den and Norm “put up” some pickles, and baked a batch of cinnamon buns for dessert.  They should be ready in a few minutes and I expect that when I bite into that rich yeast dough, and all I smell is that quintessential childhood combination of sugar and cinnamon, that I will remember my dream, and the words of my mother, and I too will be sure that everything will be alright.

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Cinnamon Buns

1) Make a half recipe of your favorite Challah dough, using about  3 1/2 – 4 cups flour.   (Click on the link for my recipe)

2) Mix dough and allow to rise at room temperature till double in bulk.  While dough is rising, make sugar and cinnamon combination.

3) Combine 3/4 cup brown sugar or a combination of brown and white sugars with 3 Tb good quality ground cinnamon. Whisk together till smooth, and lump free.

4) Sprinkle counter with flour, punch down dough,  and roll out to a large rectangle, till thickness is about 1/4 inch.

5) Melt 2 Tb butter and using a pastry brush, paint surface of dough.

6) Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar combination leaving a 1/4 inch border around the perimeter of the dough.

7) Roll dough into a tight log, starting with the long side.  Slice into 16 equal portions.

8) Grease a 9″ square pan and place buns, spiral side up, snugly into pan.

9) Allow to rise for about 2 hours.

10) Preheat oven and bake at 350 for about 20-25 minutes, rotating after 1o minutes, till rich golden brown.

Make a fondant or cream cheese glaze of your choice.

Serve slightly warm.

Enjoy,

Irene

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