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

Crepes

Last night I went to meet a jeweler who is doing some work for our family.  Although I had spoken on the phone with Sol several times, I had not had the pleasure of meeting him.  From his accent, I could tell that Sol had grown up in a country where he had spoken French so I was already curious.  As I pulled up in front of his home, Sol was waiting for me outside, tending to some flowers in the garden.  He greeted me as if I were an old friend and put me completely at ease.  Once inside, he introduced me to his wife but before we discussed the reason for my visit we spent some time getting to know each other.  Sol told me that he and his wife were from Egypt and showed me a newspaper article which featured a photograph of the synagogue his family belonged to outside of Cairo.  We talked about his family, his home, his synagogue and his community.  Although Sol’s wife did not say much, she exuded warmth, had great presence and was a gracious hostess.

When I left, I felt fortunate to have met this lovely couple, not only because he was able to do what I came to ask of him, but because I was able to observe the loving and adoring glances that he gave his wife.  She was the mother of his children and he spoke to her in the same gentle manner that he used when speaking with me.  I left with a smile on my face for two reasons. Knowing that our son and soon to be daughter-in-law would have the bands that they wanted,  but being a true romantic,  I was also smiling at the thought of Sol who clearly celebrates Mother’s Day every day, even on an ordinary Tuesday afternoon.

Wishing you all a very Happy Mother’s Day.

Crepes are a perfect food for Mother’s Day Breakfast.  The trick is to make sure your pan is hot before you add the batter.

Crepes

2/3 cup flour

2 eggs

1/2 tsp sugar

3/4 cup low-fat milk

1 Tbs oil

Combine all ingredients in a  large bowl. Whisk until batter is smooth.  If batter is too thick, thin with small amounts of additional milk.  I pour a little bit of oil on a small plate and dip a paper towel in the oil.  I grease a small skillet with the paper towel, and heat pan over high heat.  Take a large spoon and add batter, tilting pan so batter covers bottom of pan.  Cook for about one minute and then turn over and cook on the other side.  I like them with lemon juice and powdered sugar but the possibilities are endless.

Serves 4.

Enjoy,

Irene


Potato Sides

My sister, brother-in-law, and older son came to town this week for my father’s unveiling.  Yes, it was sad and emotional, but it was also a celebration of a life lived to the fullest.  Well they have all gone home and, tonight, when I sat down to write this post, all I could think of was potatoes.  They are the ultimate comfort food for those of us who come from Eastern European Jewish stock. How can anyone resist a steamy, buttery bowl of mashed potatoes at the end of a challenging day?  Potatoes have always been a staple in our house.  Occasionally we had noodles, Kasha or rice, but potatoes reigned.  My mother served them mashed, roasted, fried, and boiled and used them to create dishes like potatonik, chremslech, kartoffel knaidlech and latkes.  One of my favorite preparations was a dish she learned while living in Paris, called Pomme de Terre Sauté.  Potato knishes are another favorite, and although we did not make them at home, we enjoyed eating them in the delis and on the streets of New York.  In Israel I discovered Burekas, a crisp flaky dough filled with tender mashed potatoes, similar to the knish but a little lighter with a more tender crust.

This is a verse from an old Yiddish folksong about potatoes, a reminder that this delicious tuber was eaten daily!

Zuntik bulbes, montik bulbes,
Dinstik uhn mitvoch bulbes,
Donershtik uhn fraytik bulbes.
Ober shabbes in a noveneh a bulbeh kuggele
Zuntik vayter bulbes

Ober shabbes in a noveneh a bulbeh kuggele
Zuntik vayter bulbes

Pomme de Terre Saute

2 Idaho potatoes

1/4 cup butter

4 eggs

salt and pepper to taste

Peel potatoes and slice as thin as possible.  Saute them in a frying pan with butter, over low heat, until they are transparent and starting to form a golden crust. Beat eggs, and season with salt and pepper.  Pour eggs into the frying pan over the potatoes and gently stir. When the potatoes can be easily pierced with a fork, they are ready.

Potato Burekas

1 Pkg pre-cut puff pastry  (this is readily available in most middle-eastern markets and are already cut into squares)

4 Idaho potatoes

2 large onions, diced

1/4 cup oil

black sesame seeds

Egg Wash

1 egg beaten with 1 Tbs water

Peel and quarter potatoes and boil till tender. Drain and mash.  Dice and sauté onions in oil until they are golden brown. Add to mashed potatoes and season with salt and pepper.  In the center of each square of puff pastry place a heaping tablespoon of potato filling. Fold into a triangle and press firmly down along edge. Brush the top of the Bureka with egg wash and sprinkle with black sesame seeds.

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees and bake burekas till golden. About 30 minutes.

Enjoy,

Irene

Bialys

This is the first Father’s Day since my father, Harry Graf, passed away.  It feels strange despite the fact that in recent years he was not well enough to really enjoy the celebrations.  He never knew his father and I often wondered what it must have been like for him to grow up without one.  I never asked.  What was most remarkable about my father was his resilience.  He survived his service in the Polish army and he survived the Holocaust. After the war, he and my mother moved to France where they faced a new language and culture.  Five years later, with my sister in tow, they moved to the United States and settled in New York where I was born.  My father had to learn yet another language and adapt to a new country once again.  Determined to have a better life, he studied English and eventually become a stock broker.  Anyone who ever met my father knows that he would shake your hand and then would tell you to “squeeze.”  That word had so much meaning for him.  It stood for strength, determination and a belief that one must live life to the fullest, to squeeze out every drop that you can.  On July 2, 2010 we will have his unveiling and  “squeeze” will be inscribed on his gravestone. May he rest in peace.

One thing that my husband and father had  in common was that they both had Sunday rituals that revolved around the family. When I was growing up my father always made steak and fries on Sundays.  It was his day to cook and it was a treat.  Norm, my husband, has always made Sunday breakfast for our family.  When the children were young, he prepared eggs, hash browns, french toast or pancakes. Now that our children are grown and out of the house, Norm has developed a new Sunday ritual.  He bakes.  He has taken a class with famed artisanal baker Peter Reinhardt and is very serious about his new hobby.  We no longer have big hearty breakfasts but we have bialys, bagels, challahs, artisanal breads, and hazelnut flutes. Both of these men nurtured their families by cooking for them. What a wonderful legacy.

So Happy Father’s Day to all of you and especially to the men who take the time to cook for their family and friends.

Adapted from Peter Reinhardt’s Lean Dough Recipe.

Bialys

2  1/4 cups warm water
2 tsp instant  yeast
3 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
5 1/3 cups bread flour
Flour for dusting
Oil for greasing bowl

Topping:
1 whole onion, minced
2 teaspoons poppy seeds (optional)
1 Tbsp bread crumbs
1 pinch salt

Place minced onion in a bowl and leave on counter for about 30 minutes.  Combine with remaining topping ingredients and set aside.

Combine flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl.  Add warm water and mix thoroughly until dough is formed and comes away from the sides of the bowl.  Allow to rest for five minutes.  Place dough on a floured surface and knead gently for about four minutes. Dough will be sticky.

Shape the dough into a ball and place in a large oiled bowl and turn to coat.  Cover and refrigerate overnight or up to four days.

Take dough out of refrigerator and divide into 16 equal portions, and roll into balls. Gently flatten each ball  into a 3  1/2 inch circle, spacing evenly on a cookie sheet with oiled parchment paper.  Cover with tea towels and allow to rise until puffy, about one hour.

With wet hands, make an indentation in the center of each bialy, leaving a 1″  edge. Then flatten center of bialy with a moistened shot glass by pressing in a circular motion.  Place about 1 tsp of the topping into the hole and press down slightly.

Cover with cloths and allow to rise for another half hour.  Preheat oven to 450°F and bake bialys for 15 to 20 minutes, rotating cookie sheets after 10 minutes.  Bialys are golden on top and crusty on bottom when finished.

Makes 16 Bialys.

Norm’s inspiration to try Bialys came from Mimi Sheraton’s book “The Bialy Eaters: The Story of a Bread and a Lost World”

Enjoy,

Irene

Shakshuka


My parents, Miriam and Harry Graf, were both originally from small towns near Warsaw, Poland, from families who were religious Zionists.  In my father’s hometown of Warka, he and his brothers were active in the Revisionist movement in the 1930s. My mother’s older brother had tickets on a liner to Palestine but the war broke out and he was never able to leave.  After having survived the war, my parents created a home where Israel dominated every topic of conversation.  Their passion and devotion to Israel was contagious and they imparted their love to their daughters and grandchildren.

Last night we were going to a Yom Ha’Atzmaut celebration sponsored by the Israeli Consulate.  Not having much time to prepare dinner and wanting to serve something “Israeli” I made shakshuka.  I don’t remember where I first tasted this dish, but shakshuka is a great way to prepare eggs.

Shakshuka

2 tbsp olive oil

1 clove garlic, sliced

1 jalapeno pepper, thinly sliced

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp paprika

1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes

6 eggs

salt and pepper to taste

Saute garlic and jalapeno in olive oil for a minute or two. Add crushed tomatoes, cumin, paprika, salt and pepper and cook for about five minutes over low heat. Gently crack eggs into simmering sauce, cover and cook for ten minutes till eggs set.

Serves 3

Enjoy,

Irene