(Not so) Fast Food

What’s your fast food guilty pleasure?  Mine used to be Chicken Nuggets, at least until I saw Food Inc.  That quickly took them off the table for me. I also adore Friendly’s   peanut butter sauce (which is quickly becoming scarce as they are going bankrupt all over the place).  But in real life, for all of my life, it has been Chinese as the go-to take out or pick up or delivery in a pinch.  As a liberal, reform Jew, it is traditional to have Chinese food on Christmas Eve or Day.  My husband, a Catholic, has said that he likes Chinese food, he just doesn’t like it the way I do.  What can I say?  It is the non-traditional food of my people.

It only stands to reason, then, that I learned how to make some of my favorite Chinese food dishes.  In doing so I have learned that some things just take time.  It’s why they make, say, dumplings in bulk.  Because while the act of cooking the dumpling isn’t bad, it the filling and shaping that takes time.  Lots of time.  Which is to say, here I give you my recipe for dumplings and spring rolls along with a warning- it will take time.  Recruit some friends to help, sit around the table and gab while you each fill dumplings.  Then freeze the ones you don’t cook that day for later when you do want fast(er) food.

Chicken and Vegetable Dumplings and Spring Rolls

Ingredients

1 lb ground chicken or dark meat turkey (traditional uses pork but I prefer chicken)

1/2 head of green cabbage

2-4 carrots, peeled

pinch of Chinese 5 spice powder

Soy sauce- a few tablespoons

hoisin sauce- a few tablespoons or to taste

dark Chinese vinegar- a few tablespoons

sesame and/or peanut oil- few tablespoons (are you sensing a pattern here?)

Chicken broth or water- about a cup.

Dumpling wrappers (square or round) and Spring Roll wrappers

Directions

First, shred your cabbage and carrots.  I use the cuisinart.  You could also save time by purchasing the bagged coleslaw mix.  Set aside for now.

Brown your meat in a saucepan with a little bit of sesame and/or peanut oil.

Add the cabbage and carrot mixture when the meat is mostly cooked through.  Throw in a bit of 5 spice powder (I use about a pinch- it has a strong flavor).

Cook until the cabbage starts to wilt- it will sort of turn translucent.

At this point I usually add a few splashes of soy sauce and vinegar.  If you can find dark soy sauce, that’s even better.  This is the vinegar I use:

Anyway, add those to the pan and let it cook down a bit.  This is also a good time to add some hoisin sauce if you like that.  Taste and adjust to suit yourself.  I end up liking the filling so much that I could eat it all plain.

Once it’s all cooked through and hot, set it aside to cool slightly.  You want it warm but not so hot that you’ll burn your fingers while you’re working.  While it cools, set up your station to fill the wrappers.  You’ll need a sheet pan to put the finished product on, damp towels to cover the finished dumplings as well as the wrapper skins, a small bowl with a bit of water and enough space to spread out and work.  You may also want to sit for this process.

Ok, start with one spring roll wrapper.  Place it on the counter/table so that it looks like a diamond shape.

Place about 2-3 teaspoons (I actually use an espresso or baby spoon) of filling in the center.  Sort of spread it around a bit so that it makes kind of a log shape.

Pull up the bottom corner over the filling while sort of tucking the filing in and the corner under.

Fold the left corner over.

Fold the right corner over.

Now roll up, towards the top corner, while kind of tucking as you go.

Use a little bit of water to help seal the top corner down- put a drop or two on your finger, moisten the corner and press to seal.

Place seam side down on your sheet pan and cover with a damp towel.  You should also cover your opened dumpling wrappers with a damp towel so they don’t dry out.  Basically, air will dry out the wrappers and make them brittle and yucky.

Now, to the dumplings.  Start with a dumpling wrapper and add about a teaspoon of filling to the center.  So there are about a zillion different ways to do this and I do it differently each time.  One method is to brush some water along the edges of the wrapper and then bring diagonal corners to meet each other.

You could also try to crimp but that works better with round wrappers, which I wasn’t using.  Instead, I did a sort of tortellini style.  So, fold in half (pull the bottom to meet the top, making sure to moisten the edges first with a little bit of water- too much and it will be too slippery to hold.)

Now, sort of make a u-shape by making an indentation in the center and bringing the corners up to meet each other.

Press the corners together to seal.

Add to your sheet pan and cover with a damp towel.  Repeat until you are out of filling, out of wrappers or out of patience.

Now, in a large fry or saute pan, heat a few tablespoons of sesame or peanut oil over medium-high heat.  Add the dumplings and let them brown on the bottom (whatever you decide the bottom is)- probably about a minute or so.

Once they’re crispy on the bottom, add enough chicken broth or water to cover the bottom of the pan and put on the lid.  Let them cook until the liquid has evaporated- this steams the rest of the wrappers.

Serve with soy sauce or just gobble them all up as they come out of the pan.  So much work, for such a quickly disappearing meal.

For the spring rolls, follow the same steps- heat the oil in the pan and add the spring rolls.

Once they’re crispy on one side, turn and let them crisp up on the second side.

You can serve these alone or along with other dishes as a whole Chinese-themed meal.

Grandma’s Potatoes

When I emailed my family and friends a few weeks ago, asking them for their food and fond memories of my grandmother, almost all of them mentioned these potatoes.  Which is funny because, while I remember these potatoes fondly, I don’t remember them being as amazing as everyone else does.  It was one of Grandma’s standby sides, however, and they are pretty easy.  I’m not sure what made them so special except that maybe it was Grandma making them.

Because as I’ve said, it was something about Grandma.  She was able to make everyone feel welcome, comfortable and a part of the family.  When you sat at her table you felt like you were one of the gang, regardless of which particular gang was present.

Which reminds me of a story via my Uncle P.  He had some friends from Canada who were, shall we say, rough. One of them was very big and very tough and very scary-looking.  While I can’t remember his name it was something like “Bubba” or “Killer”.  For the sake of this story, we will call him Killer.  Anyway, P. was living at home but was away for a few days and Killer came to visit.

My grandmother opened the door and was faced with a large, tall, gruff, bearded, tattooed man.  He asked for P. and my grandmother replied that he wasn’t there but Killer should come in and wait for him.  She showed him into the den and brought him food and asked what kind of beer he wanted.  Killer tried to say that he’d just come back later but my grandmother, all five feet of her, insisted.  Two days later, my uncle came home and found Killer, still in the den, still eating and drinking beer.  He asked him why he hadn’t left and Killer replied, “I would have but I was afraid of your mother!” All five feet of her.

That was Grandma- small, powerful and fiercely loving.  She made everyone feel welcome regardless of the color of your skin, the language on your lips or your affiliations, religious, political or otherwise.

So in honor of that, I give you grandma’s unforgettable potatoes.  For all I know, she served them to Killer.

Ingredients

small red (new) potatoes, scrubbed and eyes removed

1 onion, thinly chopped

mushrooms, sliced (optional)

salt, pepper, dill (dried or fresh, chopped, about a teaspoon, also optional- I personally hate dill)

Oil- maybe a tablespoon or two- olive or canola would do

Directions

Keep in mind that I’m making these from memory as I couldn’t find a written recipe.

Wash and clean your potatoes.  (Funny tip, the Hippo uses her fingernails to get all the eyes out. Who knew?)

Put them in a pot and cover them with water.  Put it over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.  Let them boil until they are soft but not mushy.  You should be able to put a fork in easily but without them falling apart.  On my induction burner it took about ten minutes.  It may take longer on a gas/electric range.

Meanwhile, chop your onion.

And your mushrooms.

Heat a large, shallow pan over medium high heat.  I use a wok.  Grandma also used a wok.  If you don’t have a wok, then I think a large, shallow pan will do. Add the onions and mushrooms.

 

Let them cook until they start to brown.

When your potatoes are ready, take them out of the water and let them cool.  Slice them in half.

Throw them into the wok (or pan) with the onions and mushrooms.  Stir frequently but let them get brown and crispy on the outside.

At this point, season the potatoes with salt, pepper and dill, if you’re using it.  Serve alongside whatever you like.

These potatoes are like the perfect mix of crispy and soft. The outside has a slight crunch and the inside is soft and smooth.  The onions and mushrooms add a nice flavor and texture to go along with the creamy potatoes.  If you like dill, it adds a nice freshness to the dish.  Really, you can’t go wrong.

Meatball Memories

Growing up, we had family friends with whom we spent a lot of time.  The couple had two girls, one about my age, and my mother and their mother had taught together with classrooms across the hall from each other.  My father and the other father were both lawyers and had, at one point, shared office space.  It was a family friend coupleship made in heaven.  Y’know, until my parents got divorced and, I assume, it got a little awkward for the parents.  I mean, I never saw it as awkward but I was always just busy playing with the daughters.

At any rate, the mom of that family is an excellent cook- I’ve posted about her food here– and one recipe that I associate with her are these meatballs.  Most people have a version of them that involves grape jelly but I can’t get behind that.  This recipe is surprisingly simple and yet so, so tasty- sort of sweet and tangy at the same time-  and no grape jelly needed.  Not that I dislike grape jelly- at times, it is exactly what I want on toast.  Just not with my meat.

We ate these in her cozy little dining room which was white with a window at one end and on the side.  She had a sideboard next to the window and that’s where things like the menorah for Chanukah or the gifts that went along with it stood.  You could see both the kitchen, the front door and the window from where I usually sat and when I make these meatballs, I can close my eyes and be immediately transported back there by the smell and taste.  Cozy, warm, safe and comfortable.  Ah, childhood.

Rosie’s Meatballs (I think they were named for one of the daughters)

Meatballs

1-2 lbs ground meat (I use chicken but I think they were originally beef)

1-2 eggs (will depend on how much meat there is, the eggs are helpful binders)

1/2-1 cup breadcrumbs (will depend on the meat as well as how dense you like your meatballs)

salt, pepper and other seasonings (garlic powder, seasoned salt, you make the call)

*note, normally when I make meatballs, I like to add chopped onion and garlic and other good veggies, with these I prefer them rather plain as the sauce is so tasty.

Sauce

1 can cranberry sauce (jelled)

1 jar chili sauce

1/2 jar of water (use the chili sauce jar)

Directions:

Make meatballs by mixing the meat with the other meatball ingredients.  You want it to hold together when you form the meatballs but not be so stiff that they dry out.

Sort of squish it all together with your (clean) hands.  Kind of fun…

You want it all incorporated.  Once it’s mixed you can roll out the meatballs with your hands- about walnut sized or golf ball if you want really big meatballs.  Meanwhile, heat the sauce ingredients over medium heat in a large saute pan.

Doesn’t look very pretty, I know, but the cranberry sauce will sort of melt into the rest, and then it will look better.   Use a whisk to get it all combined.  Once it’s simmering or even slightly boiling, add your meatballs.

Let them cook for a bit before you stir them- you don’t want them to fall apart.  Flip them once or twice so that they get nice and covered in the sauce.  Cook for about 15 minutes or until they are cooked through (you could be fancy and use a meat thermometer (165 F.) but I simply cut one in half).

Serve over rice or egg noodles.  Enjoy and feel a bit like a kid again.  Or maybe that’s just me.

My Week Away

I had a wonderful five days, taking my daughter to visit one of my very best friends and my cousin.  It was fantastic.  We laughed, relaxed, played, saw and touched some unique animals at a nature center (including a chinchilla (soft!), a toad (bumpy!), a snake (smooth!)  and a hedgehog (spiky!)) and ate well.  SO well.

First, we visited with The Hippo, one of my best friends. She served us leftover strata which was so good as leftovers, I can’t even begin to imagine how good it was as breakfast. Then she made us meatball subs with provolone, so cheesy, gooey and delicious. Finally, we had a bread salad and garlicky romano beans.  I can’t even begin to tell you how good it was but I will say that it’s on the menu for tomorrow night here.  It was that good.

Bread Salad with white beans and the garlicky romano beans. So good.

Then, we bid a sad farewell to the Hippo and made our way to my cousin’s house. She, her husband and two boys entertained my darling daughter to no end.  Baby G. adores both her cousins, A. and M., and she had a great time trying to keep up with A. and playing with M.  We ate well there, too, including a lovely dinner out at an Asian place and fabulous homemade chicken soup and curry chicken salad sandwiches.  Remember?  I’ve been craving soup?  There’s nothing like homemade chicken soup.  For dessert?  An amazing cake from a place in their town, Susan Lawrence.   Very yummy.

So yummy. So decadant. So chocolate.

As a result, I’m making homemade chicken soup tonight and will make curry chicken salad and bread salad over the next two days.  Nothing like a repeat of meals that were good.  Of course, without the company, it’s not the same.  But it’s close.

Soup in progress

Stay tuned for the recipes over the next few days.

Oh?  And some great news came my way this week as well.  I promise to post about it soon because, of course, there will be a food celebration!

Also?  I left with many gifts (all of them “belated” birthday ones), including cool grow-them-yourself-marbles, a tablecloth and a new fry pan.

Oooh, so pretty! I'm lucky.

Evolution of a Dinner

4:45pm:  I don’t feel like cooking.  Sigh.  I have nothing planned because it’s Friday and inevitably, in my meal planning I’m out of ideas by Friday so I plan nothing, thinking I’ll add something in later on in the week but never do which often leaves me in this predicament.  Ok, going simple- husband won’t be home for dinner- pasta with butter and cheese.  Excellent.

5:00pm: Pot of water on to boil.  Open fridge and survey.  Cheese?  Check.  Uh-o.  Mushrooms about to go bad.  Cherry tomatoes.  Onion, garlic. Maybe I should use all of this.  Then it won’t be simple pasta.  Sigh again.  Hate wasting food.

5:15pm:  Chop onion, garlic and mushrooms.  

5:17pm:  Olive oil in pan, onions in.  Realize that the pan is likely too small for this endeavor.  Feel cranky and decide to go with it so there are fewer dishes later.

5:20pm:  Garlic and mushrooms in pan. Salt boiling water.  Wonder if maybe I should add the spinach so that we have something green.  Decide against it due to the size of the pan and feeling like a kid who doesn’t want to be healthy.

5:30pm:  Open pantry door and realize there is not enough mini-ziti to make a meal.  Get grumpy.  Realize it’s my own fault since I’m the only one who cooks.  Realize that this does not make me feel better.  Peel crying toddler off my legs.  Take out spaghetti and make do.  Put spaghetti into boiling water.  Fight with induction burner as it turns off- why?- and stir the mushroom mixture.

5:35pm:  Add some butter to mushroom mixture.  Debate adding sherry.  Decide against it.  Quarter cherry tomatoes.  Throw ones that are rotted or mushy into disposal.  Give cranky toddler a cracker in response to her repeated statement, “ak-er.  ak-er.”  Laugh when she eats it and then starts repeating, “akk, akk.” Realize she is quacking because the duck book is in the kitchen.

5:40pm:  Decide that while sherry wasn’t the right flavor, the mushrooms need…..something.  Drop a splash of sweet Marsala wine to the mushroom mixture.  Stir spaghetti.  Add cherry tomatoes to mushroom pan.

5:42pm:  Place parmesan cheese into mini-food processor and grind.

5:47pm:  Drain spaghetti.  Check mushroom mixture.

5:48pm:  Put spaghetti back into pot and add mushroom mixture.  Mix.  Get more cranky because it would have been better with ziti.  Add slightly more butter and the cheese.  Mix.  Taste and decide it doesn’t need salt or pepper.

5:50pm:  Sit down to dinner that started as pasta with butter and cheese and admit that this was probably better.

Longing For Summer

Right about now, if you live in New England, you’re tired of the gray, cold, windy days.  The huge mountains of dirty, icy snow that are so high you can’t see over them into the street.  Having to put on boots, gloves, a hat and a heavy coat, just to run outside to get the paper.

But then the sun comes out.  And it starts to get warmer.  Not warm, mind you, just warm-er.  Somewhere in the 30’s.  Or 40’s, even, if you’re lucky.  If you’re a native New Englander this is considered “shorts weather”.  You go out and jog, walk, bike, recklessly throwing your scarf, gloves and hat aside.  After a few minutes you reconsider and put on a hat.

It’s during this time that I start to long with a deep, painful, soulful pining, for summer.  Glorious days of sunshine, warmth, sunblock and fresh veggies.  Luscious fruits.  Cooking on the grill.  Somehow, because it’s warmer, it makes it all the more obvious that is it not yet spring, let alone summer.  If it’s deep in the depth of winter, I don’t long as much because it seems so far away.  But now….  it’s just around the corner, right?  (Nevermind the prediction of snow tomorrow)

Summer is always a brilliant season for us.  We swim, laze about in the sun and enjoy everyone’s company.  Because everyone visits when you have a pool and ample parking.  As well as a second beer fridge in your basement.  Summer for my Grandmother meant more houseguests, lots of family and farmer’s markets.  Summer for my grandfather meant tomatos.

My grandfather ate tomatos like most people eat apples.  He’d bite right into it, core and all.  Or slice it and add a little salt.  It was his go-to snack/meal every summer.  Over the years, he tried to grow tomatos in the yard and was never really successful.  “Too mealy,” he’d declare, or, “Not sweet enough.”  So Grandma would buy them at the farmer’s market and he’d taste and consider and compare.  I’m pretty sure he never really met a tomato he wouldn’t eat.  I don’t eat tomatos now without thinking of him.

The growing of perfect tomatos has continued, though not in my backyard.  My friend S. (who I’ve written about before) and my friends J&K both grow enormous gardens.  Since I am a fresh produce whore and since they often grown more than they can use, it works out well for us.  A win-win.  Imagine my delight when, in having tea with K the other day, she announced that not only do they have plans for a bigger! even more varieties! garden this year, but that she has also started a blog so as to chronicle her adventures in gardening.  This was delightful for me- K is insanely funny and the stories she tells of her weekends with J as they work in the yard and garden always make me laugh.  I’m thrilled she’s going to share them with the world at large.  You can view the first few posts- they’re gearing up, so to speak- here.

Back to my summer longing.  To help get me by, I splurged and bought tomatos at Whole Foods.  I knew they wouldn’t be as good as those farmer’s market tomatos or S.’s or J&K’s tomatos but, in a pinch, they’d do. And do they did.  I made my simple tomato cheese salad and for one night, with the heat on full blast, I could imagine it was June.

Tomato Salad

Ingredients

Tomatos (any kind you like, I tend to use heirloom or cherry or grape)

Fresh mozzarella (one large ball of which you can slice or small ones)

Balsamic vinegar

Salt and Pepper

Fresh Basil, avocado (both are optional but both are good!)

Directions

Slice the tomatos.  If using cherry or grape, I tend to cut in half.  Slice your cheese.  Again, much like the tomatos, if I’m using the small balls of cheese, I cut them in half.Arrange the slices in a pretty way on a plate.  Or throw it all into a bowl, in a disorganized, unpretty but oh-so-tasty way.  Season with salt and pepper.You can eat it this way or dress it up.  You can add the fresh basil leaves or sliced avocado at this point as well.  If you want to dress it up, you can simply take a 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar and put it on the stove.  Bring it to a boil and let it reduce by half.  Then drizzle the resulting syrup over the tomatos and cheese like so:You can also make more of a dressing with some mustard, salt, pepper, sugar and balsamic vinegar but that’s for another post.

Take a bite, think about sun, sand and calm, warm breezes.  Sigh.  Open your eyes and realize it’s still February.  Repeat until gone.

Full of…. Everything!

What a wonderful weekend!  There’s little I like more than being surrounded by my friends and family.  When you add good food and cute babies, well, I think that’s heaven.  So this weekend I had all of that.  The Hippo came to visit and we spent Saturday with one of my oldest and dearest friends and her family.  My mom came along to visit as well and we sat in the family room, watching all of the babies play.  We snacked on homemade cornbread (someday I’ll give you this recipe along with a pretty good story) with strawberry jam, fruit, cheese, crackers…yum.  The baby had her first strawberry which she decimated, despite being toothless and the adults drank wine and laughed.  It was a weekend that left me full in all senses of the word- physically, emotionally, mentally– but all in that warm, comforting way.

Saturday night we had steak, sweet potatos, green beans, artichokes- a veritable feast! The steak was in honor of the Hippo- if you read along on her blog, you know her husband doesn’t eat it, whereas my husband would eat it every day forever if allowed.   No photos or recipes from that one- really  simple and straightforward. We roasted the sweet potatos, steamed the green beans and artichokes and used a grill pan for the steak (which I marinated in a little soy sauce, Montreal steak seasoning and olive oil). All very basic cooking and nothing that exciting about which to blog.  But Sunday…oh, Sunday….

We spent the day Sunday cooking up a storm.  Molasses cookies, fresh bread, chicken meatballs and Italian wedding soup.  I’ll have all the recipes for you in the next few posts but today I’m going to start with the bread.  Wonderful, homemade, fresh, yeasty bread.  Think you don’t have time to make bread?  Yes, you do.  Think it’s too much hard work, all that kneading?  Nope, it’s not.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the No-Knead Bread that swept the internet a few years ago.  (There’s a link here.)  That version is fantastic and so easy but takes 12 hours to rise plus prep time and second rise- it’s a low yeast, high rise time ratio.  So, more recently it was updated to shorten the rise time- more yeast added and only 4 hours rising time (plus about another hour of prep and second rise combined).  That’s an afternoon.  Throw the dough together at breakfast and when you come back after lunch, you can bake it up.  Or throw it together at lunch and bake it off for dinner. Brilliant.  There are whole wheat versions but I haven’t tried those.  I’ve alluded to this recipe before (here) but didn’t share it with you.  Now I will.

Quick-er No Knead Bread

Ingredients

3 cups white flour

1 packet yeast (this is 2 1/4 teaspoons)

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons white sugar

1 1/2 cups water (lukewarm, not too hot)

Directions

In a bowl, combine the flour, yeast, salt, sugar and water.  Mix together by hand until you have a sort of shaggy dough.  It will not look pretty.

Shaggy dough. In fact, this needed a little more water. Your dough should look shaggy like this but not so dry.

Cover with plastic wrap and let it sit in a warmish place (i.e. NOT the fridge or outside) for 4 hours.  It will expand and get sort of bubbly on the surface.  It will also be quite sticky.  After four hours, lightly flour a clean surface (I use a plastic cutting board) and dump the dough out onto it.  Sort of fold the dough in on itself a few times, adding just a sprinkle or two of flour (don’t be heavy handed or your bread will be too dense, I really do mean just a sprinkle).  Don’t knead it but shape it into a ball.

Cover with parchment paper (or a towel) and let it rest (again in a warmish place) for about 30 minutes.

While the dough is resting, put a heavy pot with a lid into the oven.  I use my Le Cresuet pot but I’ve also been successful with Corningwear casserole pots. 

With the pot and lid in the oven, heat the oven to 450 degrees for about a half an hour (see how it’s just as long as the bread needs to rise again? Clever, no?).

After the 30 minutes, carefully take the pot out of the oven and sort of dump the bread into it.  Shake it around for a second to distribute it but don’t get too worried- it’ll spread as it bakes.  Put the lid back on and put it back in the oven for about 20-30 minutes. (I have a terribly uneven oven so I check mine every fifteen minutes or so).  It will be done when it’s a nice toasty color on top and makes a hollow sound if you tap it on the bottom (the bread, not the pot). 

It’s important to let it cool before you slice it both because it is so hot and because it will be sort of squishy right out of the oven and won’t slice well.  Oh, but when it’s ready?  Mmmmmmmm.  NOTHING like fresh bread.  Nothing!

Baked

It has snowed here, a lot.  Perhaps you’ve heard.  It’s something like the 3rd snowiest winter on record and we’ve just entered February.  It’s the first winter I can remember in which we’ve had so many snowdays.  It’s just been, well, brutal.

So what to do when you’re so tired of the snow that you just want to scream?

Answer?  Make Magic Bars.  They’re sticky, sweet and pretty forgiving.  Easy to throw together and almost no measuring required.  Don’t take long to bake and can be made with things kept in the pantry.  Or at least, things kept in my pantry.

The story behind these?  As you know (if you’ve been reading along), I spent some time in Israel after college.  I ended up cooking on a kibbutz, for 200 people each day. It was fun and I really enjoyed it. Upon returning to the States, I decided that perhaps I wanted to go to culinary school.  So before jumping in, I found a job as a baker for a bakery about a half hour away from where I lived.  It was hard work and I encountered a number of characters there.

There was the manager who was, frankly, quite gross- an older, Jewish guy who was married with kids but often bragged about his young, beautiful, Portuguese mistress.  I must have heard at least a million times how she would say “thank you” after they had sex.  Eeew.  There was the baker that trained me who was short and sort of weasel-like who was constantly high (or baked, as it were) and who would still speed around the bakery at break-neck speed, muttering, “fucking Konditor Meister” under his breath (he had worked for Konditor Meister but had left under, um, not so great circumstances).    His brother worked at the bakery as well and where the baker was small, the brother was enormous.  The counter staff was a varied group- part-timers, college kids, high school drop outs.  The back of house staff were all recent immigrants from Brazil or other parts of South America and they were extremely hard workers.  (Sounds like the stereotype, I know, but it was true).  One, E., had three jobs, a wife and several children at home.  And yet?  He was the friendliest one there.

But my favorite was B.  He was the pastry chef and he was…. well, he was hot.  Tall, sturdy, reliable and bald- just my type.  He was smart, had gone to college and was an amazing pastry chef.  He was careful and precise and spent a great deal of time teaching me.  Sadly, he was engaged and lived with his fiance who was also his high school sweetheart.  This made him even more appealing.  As did the giant tattoo on his back- it was of an angel and it covered his entire back. So sexy.

I eventually left the job mainly because I grew tired of the monotony and because I hated the hours (I worked from 2am-10am).  I was also losing my love of cooking and didn’t want that.  I wanted to be able to bake and cook at home and enjoy it, not feel like it was  a task after a long day.  My other story from that time is a bit creepy- before I left, I trained my replacement (as the small baker had done for me), an older man who I am pretty sure had spent time in prison.  We were alone in the bakery in the morning and he was constantly crowding me, with the excuse that he was just trying to learn.  Right.  I would go into the walk-in, grab a tray, turn to back out and bang into him.  Creepy.  I took to carrying one of the big knives around with me, just in case.  Icky.

At any rate, as a bakery we often had lots of leftover scraps of cake.  This is due to the enormous amounts of cakes that are made- you have to level them off so you end up with all these strangely shaped scraps.  Rather than throw them out (or eat them all), B. made magic bars.  Now, to be fair, at home I don’t often have “extra” cake around but…  After making the cousin 3.0 trifle, I did have some leftover cake which I threw into the freezer.  A few days later, I wanted something easy and sweet (remember all. that. snow.?) so I pulled it out to let it thaw.Magic Bars

Ingredients

Leftover unfrosted cake scraps (or, go ahead, make a whole cake, eat half and save the rest for this) or ground up cookies (oreos or graham crackers work well)

Butter (if using the oreos or graham crackers)

Chocolate chips

Nuts (your choice)

Shredded Coconut (I hate coconut, so I always leave this out)

Mini-marshmallows

Any other candy you might have on hand- white chocolate chips, m&m’s, etc.

1 can sweetened condensed milk

Directions

Preheat oven to 375.  Line a cake pan (I always use a square one but I hear that some people don’t truck with square cake pans) with parchment paper.  Set aside.

Put the cake crumbs in a food processor and grind them up.  If you’re using cookies or crackers, do the same but also melt a few tablespoons of butter and mix that in as well. You want enough so that they stick together but not so much that they soak it up and become greasy. Dump the crumbs into the cake pan and press down.  You want to make a pretty even layer that has some depth to it.  Sprinkle all you toppings evenly over the cake/crumbs.  For this one, I used some milk chocolate chips, some bittersweet mini-chocolate chips, mini-marshmallows, pecans and some white chocolate chips.  It was all stuff I had leftover in our pantry.  Once you’ve spread everything, open the condensed milk and pour it over evenly.  It will sort of coat everything and then start to sink into the cracks between the toppings.  The cake will soak it up and get really gooey.  Bake until it’s all a nice golden brown and sort of bubbly around the sides.  I have to say, the marshmallows got too brown too quickly for my taste so I ended up putting foil over the top so that the rest could bake and the marshmallows didn’t burn.  Once you take it out of the oven, let it cool before you try to cut it.When you do cut it, be careful- it will be very oozy and gooey and sticky.  Oh, and of course, yummy!

Quick and Easy Comfort Food

Some nights you just want comfort food.  Easy, quick, not hard to make, comfort food.  Tonight was one of those nights.  No particular reason- we had a nice day and even took the baby swimming (Which was so. cute.)- I just wasn’t up to complicated and healthy.  Tonight I wanted easy and not so good for you.  So, chicken quesadilla and rice krispie treats it was.  And how good they were…

Chicken Quesadillas

Ingredients:

Flour tortillas (2 per quesadilla)

cheese (I used a mix of cheddar and Colby jack)

chicken (already cooked, I used part of a rotisserie chicken I’d bought today but in the past I’ve sautéed some boneless skinless chicken thighs or breasts)

olive oil

Directions:

Shred your cheese.  I use a food processor for this because I’m lazy.Shred some of your chicken into small pieces. Match up your tortillas by size- you’re going to make a kind of sandwich so you want them to be roughly the same size.  Layer some cheese on one tortilla- be generous (this is comfort food, not health food).  Place some chicken over the cheese.In a large frying pan, heat a little bit of olive oil over medium heat.  Add the tortilla with all the stuff (stuff side up) and top with the tortilla that matches it in size.  Let it brown a bit (you may need to press down with a spatula) and then carefully flip it.  Cook until browned on the opposite side and the inside is all melty and gooey.  Keep it warm in the oven on a sheet pan until they’re all done.  I kept my oven at about 200.  Cut into quarters and serve with salsa, sour cream and whatever else you might like on your comfort quesadilla.

Rice Krispie Treats

We ate these a lot in high school because they’re easy to make.  As a bonus, they can even be made in the microwave.  Which happened many a night. In fact, we often made rice krispie treats around 1am, so I have very vivid memories of tupperware, melted marshmallows and wooden spoons.

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons butter or margarine

1 bag of marshmallows (about 40) or 4 cups of mini-marshmallows

6 cups rice krispies (try it with cocoa krispies for a chocolatey treat)

Cooking spray (like Pam)

Directions

In a saucepan over LOW heat, melt the butter (or margarine).Add the marshmallows and let them cook until they melt down.  Stir a few times.  Once it’s all melted, add the rice krispies and stir until they’re coated.  Press them into a square pan that has been sprayed with cooking spray (I used Pam). They’ll be realllly sticky and hot so be careful!  (I like to eat them at this stage, before they get all crunchy)Let them cool and then cut them into squares.  Do your best not to get the entire pan all at once or you will be rewarded with a stomach ache.  Make sure to cover them tightly so that they don’t get stale too quickly.  Of course, you could also just eat them all over the course of 24 hours which would also solve the going stale problem….

 

Festival of Lights, Last Night

It’s the last night.  So, I’m sure you’re all wondering about the beautiful, intricate hannukia I’ve been featuring.  Well, I’m glad you have been because it’s a really good story…

My grandmother’s cousin, Roska, lived in Israel.  She was married to Myrim.  Roska and Myrim were two of the founding members of the kibbutz on which they lived, Kfar Menahem. Myrim got to Israel, as the family story goes, by walking from what is now Poland (then Vilna) to what is now Israel (then Palestine).    That’s right, walking.  Myrim and Roska used to tell stories about how they had one egg a week to share among the six (or was it eight?) founding members.   And stories about how their friend Unice, the son of an Arab sheik who lived in the next village over, used to come through the fields to warn them when the Arabs were going to raid.  And stories about getting stabbed in another town a few miles from the kibbutz and going to the hospital but pretending to be someone else so he wouldn’t be deported.  So many stories- all of which sound too much like fiction to be believed but if there was one thing Myrim was, it was honest.  Helping to found the kibbutz meant that Myrim was talented in many areas- farming, fighting and metalwork, just to name a few.  He could fix just about anything that was broken and was able to build different machines to help the kibbutz farm and do chores more efficiently.

Myrim and Roska had three children, Amatzia, Kohevet and Gavri.  I’ll tell you all about Amatzia and Kohevet another time.  Gavri was the youngest and he was born right around Chanukah.  Myrim loved his children more than anything else in the world and he took great delight in them and their accomplishments.  They grew up on the kibbutz which means they grew up separately from Myrim and Roska- seeing them at meals and visiting with them but living in the children’s house, not at home with them (I remember when I first learned this about the kibbutz, I was horrified.  Of course, I was five at the time and couldn’t imagine living apart from my parents.  As an aside, the kids of my generation were the last ones to live in the children’s houses.  Now on most kibbutzim the children live with their parents.).  Gavri was a bit of a favorite, being the youngest.

Gavri grew up and went into the army, as all 18 year old Israelis do.  There was a lot of conflict in Israel at that time- it was just after Israel had been declared a country and they were fighting at the borders all the time.  Gavri was fighting during the Yom Kippur war.  Not a long war, actually, but a war nonetheless.  When the war was over, no one had heard from Gavri.  Roska and Myrim began to get nervous.  As the family story goes, Roska went into the desert where Amatzia (the oldest) was engaged in top secret military manuevers and demanded that he find his brother.  To this day, no one knows how Roska found him.

Sadly, when they did find Gavri, he had died.  It is thought that he and his fellow soldiers died within the first few days of fighting.

Myrim and Roska were devastated.  People deal with grief differently and Myrim turned to the metalwork he had been doing.  He began to create beautiful hannukias in memory of Gavri since he had been born around the time of Chanukah.  He made so many that people began to take notice.  He became a minor celebrity and some of his hannukias can be seen in different places like the the White House.  The one in the photo is one he made just for me, using my initials. I have some beautiful metalwork from Myrim and the objects and jewlery I have are among my dearest possessions.

When I met Myrim I was two years old.  He adored me and the feeling was mutual.  He drove me around the kibbutz on his motorbike in the little sidecar.  I did cartwheels on the lawn in front of his house.  He took me to his metal shop and to the dinning hall.  Each time I visited Israel, Myrim was there to show me around, hug me and make me feel special.  In 1996 my cousins and I went to Israel and stayed with Myrim in his little house on the kibbutz.  He got up in the morning to make us breakfast and it was the best egg and onion scramble I’ve ever had.

Myrim passed away a few years ago and right up to the end, he was sweet, kind, giving and generous.  The nurses that took care of him adored him and if I close my eyes, I can still see his face when you gave him happy news. He’d open his eyes wide, smile and say, “yofi” which in Hebrew means “wonderful.”  I can still hear his voice and feel the warmth of his hug.

Roska, Myrim and my grandparents in Eliat in 1987

 

Myrim’s Eggs and Onions

Ingredients

1-2 eggs

1/2- 1 onion, chopped

a few spoonfuls of milk

oil

Directions

Chop the onions in small, thin pieces.

Heat oil in a frying pan and add the onions. 

Let them get crispy and brown over medium-high heat, stirring once in a while.  Don’t let them burn but let them get close.

Mix the eggs and milk in a small bowl and then pour over the onions.  Yours may look a bit yellower than mine as I had an extra egg white to use up from a previous recipe.Sort of stir it all around until the egg is cooked through.  Enjoy with a little bit of salt and some toast, if you wish.

 

You can read about the hannukias in Myrim’s own words and see photos of them here.