Chocolate Babka

IMG_2178I wish I knew something about the Purim celebrations that my parents experienced during their childhood.  They were both from observant families so it is hard to imagine that the holiday was not marked in some way.  On top of which my mother’s aunt owned the bakery in Mogielnica.  Did she prepare Hamantaschen or some other local pastry for the holiday?  What was the filling?  Poppy I assume,  but I will never know.  What I do know is that with only one week to go, I am without a plan as I have decided not to make Hamantaschen this year.

Last week I found myself in a situation where I had to come up with a dessert at the last minute.  Without having planned it in advance, I took part of my challah dough and made a chocolate Babka.  It turned out great and since it was my first attempt, I was pleasantly surprised.  One can only hope that inspiration will come to the rescue, but in the meantime chocolate Babka anyone?  Chag Sameach.

 

IMG_2173

 

IMG_2176

 

IMG_2177

 

Chocolate Babka

Your favorite challah recipe or mine.   I used half the dough to prepare two Challot and half to prepare two Babkas.

Filling for one Babka
1 stick sweet butter or pareve margarine, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 pound semi-sweet chocolate
Pinch of salt
1 Tb cinnamon

Egg wash (optional)
1 egg
2 teaspoons milk, water or soy milk
1 Tb sugar mixed with 1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Coarsely chop bar of chocolate, then finish chopping in food processor till fine.  Add salt, sugar and cinnamon and mix for a few seconds.  Add butter or margarine and mix in by pulsing.

Grease a round pan well.  After dough doubled in size, punch down and roll into a large rectangle.  This takes some time and patience.  Make sure your surface is well floured so dough doesn’t stick.  Make it as thin and long as you can.

Sprinkle the filling evenly over the dough.  Starting from the long side, roll dough as tightly as possible.   Place in pan and let rise for about 30 minutes.   Mix egg with milk or water and brush on top.  Sprinkle with a Tablespoon of sugar mixed with a Tsp of cinnamon.  Bake for about 30 minutes and cool on rack.

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

 

Summer Fruit Cobbler

My father had a story to tell but unfortunately I was not ready to hear it when he was alive.  I know that he was the youngest of seven children and that his father died shortly after my father was born.  I don’t recall my father sharing many stories about his siblings, extended family or even his mother.  Perhaps the loss was so painful that he just couldn’t bring himself to speak of them, or maybe he thought his stories couldn’t compete with my mother’s colorful delivery.  Either way, there are holes in the family history and nobody left to ask.

My mother was a storyteller and spoke warmly of her large family and their lives in the small shtetl of Mogielnica.  We grew up hearing about my maternal grandfather’s tannery, about her aunt who owned the bakery in town and whose sisters were also bakers, about her unruly brothers who she clearly adored.  The meals, the food, the holidays, the memories were vivid and sharp and I can recall many of them to this day.

My daughter recently traveled to Germany and realized that she doesn’t know as much about my family as she had thought.  She has asked me to write down what information I have, but I must admit it is very limited.  It is a tall order and it feels like I am trying to recreate something without knowing all the ingredients.  So instead, I spent the afternoon baking a Fruit Cobbler, in memory of all the family bakers that preceded me, and in honor of my daughter who wants to know more and is ready to ask.

 

Fruit Cobbler

1 stick butter

1 cup flour

1 cup sugar

1 Tb baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 cup milk

4 cups fruit ( I used blackberries and peaches)

1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

Place butter in a large round baking dish and melt in a 375 degree oven.  In the meantime, mix 1 cup of sugar with the flour, salt, and baking powder.  Add milk, stirring gently but not thoroughly.  Pour batter over melted butter but do not stir.

In a medium pot, cook fruit with sugar and cinnamon for just a few minutes.  Pour over batter and sprinkle with more cinnamon.  Bake for about 45 minutes or till golden brown.  There is liquid in the center even when the cobbler is fully baked, just take the juices and spoon over each serving.  Serves 8

Enjoy,

Irene

 

Red Lentil Soup

We are weeks away from Passover and I am starting to feel the pressure. What is it about this holiday that brings out an obsession with cleanliness in a way that is totally and completely out of character?  I approach the task with a vengeance, a virtual attack on that lurking piece of hametz that might otherwise be missed.  Each year this personal struggle re-surfaces.  When does my preparation for Passover morph into my being possessed by Passover?  There are those who have said that when people are less knowledgeable regarding the rules governing Pesach, they have a tendency to go overboard.  Is that really what it boils down to?  Ignorance?
I remember my mother sharing memories of her family’s preparations for Passover in pre-war Poland.  Her home was whitewashed each year, linens were boiled and pillows were opened and re-stuffed with additional feathers from ducks and geese that were freshly slaughtered. (The fat was rendered and put away for Passover to eat with matzoh) My own childhood memories of Passover preparations thankfully did not include the killing of ducks and geese but I do remember my mother spending hours on her hands and knees polishing parquet floors with Johnson Paste Wax.  She insisted on cleaning our apartment windows and I can remember watching her perched outside the 4th story window with nothing to keep her safe other than the double hung window pulled down tightly across her lap.  Only her legs were dangling inside the apartment and, as a child, I held onto them for life.
So here I am in the weeks before Pesach contemplating what the next few weeks will bring and wondering how successful I will be in my pursuit of moderation.  This past week I took my first step as I gingerly approached the pantry.  I looked inside and pondered the contents.  I still have hope that some interesting recipe will inspire me to prepare the freekeh I recently purchased but the matzoh meal from last year had to go.  Some things will be used over the next few weeks, leaving less to pack up and sell.  Standing in front of the pantry I realized that, for me, all this preparation is a way to impart the importance of Passover and it’s traditions to our children in a non-verbal way, as it has been done by women for generations.  What better way to convey the seriousness in which I approach the holiday and all that it stands for.  The hard work, attention to detail and the pursuit of that last piece of hametz is my personal way of telling the story of Passover. Ultimately we hope to create memories that our children will recall and pass on to their own children.  We hope that the lesson is well learned and joyous and as for moderation, it is probably overrated.
Here is a recipe for a soup that I made using the red lentils I found in the pantry.

Puree of Red Lentil Soup
2 Tbs  olive oil
2 Tbs. butter
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 cup red lentils
2 tsp. Spanish smoked paprika
3 1/2 cups cold water
1/2 cup whole milk
salt and pepper to taste
Heat olive oil in soup pot till hot and then sauté chopped carrots, onions and garlic until soft or for approximately five minutes.  Add lentils and stir well. Add salt and pepper and paprika.  Pour 2 cups water over lentils and bring to boil.  Reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook till lentils are very soft, about 30 minutes.  When done, let cool slightly and add butter and milk.  Then purée contents and serve.
Serves 4-6.
Enjoy!

Irene

Cholent

Travelling to New York City in February may not be ideal but there is this internal “tug” that draws us to visit “the children” no matter where they are.  Of course, my children are no longer children, but adults.  Yet, they still have birthdays and that is as good a reason as any to visit.  Two of my children now live in NYC, the city of my birth.  My youngest is in Israel and though I have not yet visited him, I spend many hours contemplating that trip.  So, what do you do when you go see your children in the dead of winter and know that your visit will span Shabbat?  You plan to make cholent.  I am a traditionalist when it comes to cholent.  In other words my oven has never seen a veggie cholent, chicken cholent, tofu cholent or any of the other variations that are currently in vogue.  As a daughter of Polish Jewish immigrants I remember the stories that my mother told me of what Shabbat was like in Mogielnica, a small town outside of Warsaw.  Her aunt owned the local bakery and apparently each household would bring their cholent to the bakery before Shabbat and place their pots in the commercial oven from which they were retrieved the next day for lunch.  I have often wondered how people recognized which cholent pot belonged to their family.  So, I am off to NYC and in my “carry on” luggage there will be 5 Lbs. of frozen short ribs for the cholent, from Doheny Kosher,  3 packages of Jeff’s Sausages and two frozen layers of carrot cake, ready to assemble for my son’s birthday. Here is the basic recipe for my mother’s cholent.

Manya’s Cholent
Pre-heat oven to 250 degrees
I large onion, left whole
1 1/2 cups small white beans
1/2 cup pearl barley
4-5 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut in eighths
4 or 5 strips of short ribs, cut up
salt and pepper to taste

Place onion, beans, barley and potatoes in the bottom of a heavy pot.  Add short ribs and enough water JUST to cover.  Season with salt and pepper. Bring cholent to a boil, cover with lid and then place in a 250 degree oven overnight.  I normally cook this for 12-14 hours.  DO NOT STIR.

Enjoy,
Irene