Category Archives: spring

Matzo Caffee a la Dad

ON  PASSOVER, WHEN WE’RE FORBIDDEN to eat any of the five grains–wheat, oats spelt, rye, barley — except in the form of matzo,  naturally a number of specific recipes involving matzo developed. I’ve been thinking about all the food traditions I grew up with on this holiday, realizing that I make an effort to keep some of them, fail to keep others and toss some away without regret.

For example, I do make kneidlach (matzo balls) for a chicken or vegetarian soup and matzo brei for a special breakfast, but I don’t make a roasted turkey with my mother’s wonderful matzo-mushroom stuffing. I fail to make an authentic fermented beet borscht as my Baba (my mother’s mother) did — but come to think of it, I don’t remember my mother making this either. Perhaps she made it before I was of an age to remember, and gave it up.  She let Manischewitz handle the borscht-making and served the ruby-colored soup hot or cold, pouring it into bowls in which we’d crumbled matzo pieces and topping it with a dollop of sour cream, great for a Passover lunch.

And despite my fond memories of making sponge cake with my mother for the Seder dinner — besides the matzo meal, nine eggs were required, with silky-beaten yolks and whipped egg whites in the batter, and a frosting of egg whites and honey — I prefer my own custom of making flourless chocolate walnut torte.

One of my favorite Passover matzo traditions  is one that my father introduced,  a simple European treat that he would make nearly every day of the eight-day holiday, starting on the first morning: Matzo Coffee. We knew by its German name, Matzo Kaffee. Or, in a more personal rendition, Matzo Caffee a la Dad.

Matzah Kaffee 1

Passover in Chicago, April 2000. Dad was 89 then.

Dad would break most of a sheet of matzo into his coffee cup, crunching it into small pieces, then adding sugar and milk to the cup.

Matzah Kaffee 2

Finally, he poured hot coffee into the cup, right to the brim.

The result was softened, sweetened matzo floating about in some milky coffee. We made a similar children’s version, Matzo Cocoa, which was simply broken-up matzo pieces covered with hot chocolate. Both Matzo Kaffee and Matzo Cocoa are hybrids of food-and-beverage: you take sips of the coffee or cocoa and spoon out the softened bits of flavored matzo. Mmmmm.

I admit, it’s not for everyone. It has very little nutritional value, and doesn’t hold a candle to a good coffee and buttered toast or a croissant. Most people who didn’t grow up with it look upon it with disdain, as if you had torn up a piece of toast into little pieces and tossed them into a cup of cappuccino.

It’s certainly not an essential food for Passover, but rather a minor tradition, probably born of the monotony of eating dry, unsalted matzo day after day. Whatever others thought, we  loved it and had it (or the cocoa version) often, either for breakfast or for an afternoon snack. Still today, for me the taste and messy consumption of Matzo Caffee ala Dad  carries so many pleasurable associations.

My father — in a play on the word Seder, which means order — insisted there was a also a certain order to be observed when making Matzo Kaffee. On the last Passover of his life, when he was 93, he wrote the instructions for each of us four children in his inimitable handwriting.

Matzah Kaffee order

I love the “WOW!! What a TREAT!!” which captures my Dad’s vitality and almost childlike enthusiasm, while the instruction “Do NOT change order to do it o.k.”  reminds me of the authoritarian side of his character.

Twelve years after he wrote it, this little card is one of my most treasured documents from my father. And, yes, of course, I’m still enjoying that special Passover treat, Matzo Caffee a la Dad.

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Filed under breakfast, Praise for other cooks, spring, Uncategorized

A pie for imperfectionists

Piemaking

Despite that recipe you’ve found for “the perfect pie,” it will probably be imperfect — and that’s just the way it should be!

“PIE SHOULDN’T BE PERFECT,” declared an article on making fruit pie that I’d saved from a Bon Appetit magazine.

Aviva and I could  not have agreed more. While we learned a few things from the article (the butter in the crust should be in unevenly sized pieces) wondered over some pieces of advice (a pie should bake for an hour and a half at 350 degrees?) and  rejected others (really, the crust does not need that much butter!), the philosophy expressed in that simple line is what really struck home.

Aviva making pie

Aviva visits the Toby Kitchen for a pie-making session!

 

WE ARE NOT perfectionists, we realized  — and glad of it.

Being an imperfectionist (my new word) means you are content with “good enough,” and not devastated by minor failures in the kitchen or other areas of life.

The Bon Appetit article detailed a finished pie’s characteristics: “The filling will spill out, bits of crust will collapse, and it’s only natural for the fruit to shrink as it bakes, leaving a little gap beneath the top crust.”

And these “imperfections” not only don’t matter, but actually add to the pleasure of  making and eating pie.

“That’s the trouble with cake,” Aviva noted (she has a strong preference for pie over cake). “It’s too perfect.”

RhubarbbirthdayPie

The still-warm pie was too juicy to serve it on the fancy plates I’d set out, so we served it in mismatched bowls, with ice cream melting on top. My twisted-lattice crust had become rather skewed and messy, but that didn’t bother us.

 

Just as the article had predicted, my pie had not yet set properly when we served it to friends a couple hours after taking it from the oven (the article advised waiting at least four hours, and added that pie was even better the day after it was baked. But warm-from-the-oven pie is sooooo good!)

We carved out some fairly sloppy slices and ladled them into mismatched bowls with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. We used spoons instead of forks.

No one complained. It was a perfectly delicious imperfect pie and we were all happy.

————————————

Here’s the updated recipe. And for you fellow rhubarb-lovers, here’s some history and more on the wonderful pie plant.

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A day to celebrate

St Pats lemon tart

I decorated a lemon tart with lime and lime zest for St. Patrick’s Day. That was last year.

ST. PATRICK’S DAY IS A BIG HOLIDAY IN MY FAMILY — and not because we’re Irish or even big beer drinkers.

It’s because my father, Eric Sonneman, a refugee from Nazi Germany, arrived in this country on March 17, 1939. He was 28 years old.

When his ship arrived in New York on St. Patrick’s Day, the passengers were greeted by a band playing Irish music at the pier. My father knew nothing about St. Patrick’s Day, but his uncle, a recent immigrant himself who had met my father’s ship, insisted on going to Fifth Avenue to see the fabulous parade.

“I thought this is a wonderful country, to welcome the immigrants with a band and a parade!” my father always said. (A more complete story is here.)

Now I always celebrate St. Patrick’s Day as a day to remember my dad’s wonderful introduction to America.

greenriver

In Chicago, where I grew up, they dye the Chicago River green for St. Patrick’s Day

The traditional food for the day, of course, is corned beef and cabbage, but that has never appealed to me. Something-or-other green (and a little Guinness stout) is enough for me. Last year I was fancy with the decorated lemon tart, but this year I’m lazier, and I’m just making my bright-green parsley soup (the recipe is here, though I now use my hand-blender) and some oatmeal-currant scones. It’s my own little St. Pat’s tradition. Anything green will do, though — even a green salad!

The important thing is the toast.  I’ll be toasting my dad and the country that welcomed him.

ST PATS card

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Fresh from the pantry (almost)

RedLentils

Red lentils are also called Egyptian or Mansoor lentils

THE ENTRY FOR LENTILS in the Oxford Companion to Food follows closely behind the one for lemons — and that seems right, as lemons add brightness to this easy-to-cook-but-sometimes-a-little-dull legume. A recipe on my lemon blog for Lemony Lentil Soup with Spinach (scroll to second recipe) is testimony to this great marriage.

Lentils have been cultivated since antiquity in Egypt, and evidence of lentils has been found in many prehistoric sites in Europe. In India, the largest producer of lentils today, they are an everyday food called dal, often cooked with onion and spices and served with rice. Next to soy beans, lentils have the highest protein content of all vegetables.

There are dozens of different colors and sizes of lentils, each with their own character. Brown or green lentils are fine, but red lentils are very nice for soups as they cook quickly and break down into a puree. And, of course, there’s the color. Some of that lovely salmon color fades with cooking, though, so I was happy to find New York Times’ food writer Melissa Clark’s recipe for Red Lentil Soup with Lemon, which adds carrots and tomato paste to the pot to bring some of the color back. And this time of year, when it’s often grey and dismal outside, I really appreciate a burst of color in the soup bowl.

Lemonsqueeze

When cooking any kind of lentils, don’t forget the lemon

Another thing to love about this soup is that (as long as I’ve got the red lentils in the pantry), I usually have all the ingredients on hand. Lemon, onion, garlic — check. Cumin, chile powder or cayenne, tomato paste — check. I don’t always have fresh cilantro, but parsley or even chives will do in a pinch.

Truth be told, I very rarely follow a recipe precisely (often not even more-or-less) but this one was so simple and easy — and didn’t call for any unusual ingredients — that I didn’t have my usual tendency to depart from it. (That is, aside from adding an extra carrot for more orange flecks, and a good squeeze of lemon juice in the serving bowls for brighter flavor.)

I made some popovers and a green salad to go with it, and called it supper.

RedLentil soup

 

 

 

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Filed under Praise for other cooks, soup, spring, vegetables, winter

Taste of Sicilia

sicilia insalata_0001As we’re getting ready for a trip to Sicily, I was reading through a little travel journal I kept from a visit there eight years ago, when I went to research lemons. I came across this page with a tuna-lemon-olive oil salad with artichoke hearts and green beans that I made in a lemon orchard agriturismo above Sicily’s Lemon Riviera, on the eastern side of the island (we are going there again!). We usually had a kitchen in Sicily, so we could shop in the markets, and we ate some variation of this salad nearly every day we were there — and with tuna so good and produce so fresh and delicious, we never tired of it.

This salad (with variations) became a standard once we were home, too. You may have to substitute Meyer lemons or preserved lemons for the Sicilian lemon if you want to eat the lemon peel, but otherwise –except for the gorgeous views of Mount Etna and the Mediterranean — it translates well, especially in the spring.

tuna insalata

I’m sure we always had bread or breadsticks with “My Sicilian lemon insalata (good for il prazo–lunch–or antipasta). The bottom line reads: “good with Etna red or white, iced tea or lemonade.”

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Summer’s salad days

faro, asp, bean, chive salad

Farro, asparagus, navy beans and chives

Summer is certainly salad season, with its rich selection of fresh vegetables and herbs. Nearly every salad I make has a simple basic dressing: olive oil, lemon juice and salt. Sometimes I use another oil (a little walnut oil, perhaps?) or vinegar or even lime instead of the lemon, and sometimes I add a little mustard, garlic, lemon zest  or Parmesan to the dressing — but I never get tired of the basic threesome of oil, lemon and salt! Here are some of the salads we’ve been enjoying recently.

chives

Karen’s chives

It’s so nice to have fresh herbs in the garden (or in a pot). These chives belong to my generous next-door neighbor, Karen, who lets me cut all I want. I’m growing thyme, oregano, tarragon, mint, basil and dill, and they often find their way into my salads.

My basil harvest

My basil harvest

broccpotatosalad

Broccoli, potato, red pepper, basil

broccpotatodill

Potatoes, rapini, carrots and dill

Many of the vegetables are from the farmers’ market or fruit and vegetable stands.

rapini

Rapini looks like broccoli tops but is actually a member of the turnip family. Go figure.

Here’s a good article about how the Italians cook rapini.

salmoninsalad

Green salad with sockeye salmon, eggs, beets, cannellini beans and fresh herbs.

It was difficult to save a piece of the Copper River salmon from dinner the night before, but we restrained ourselves and had this great salad for lunch the next day.

tunaandbeans2

Tuna with cannellini beans, preserved lemon and green onions, on lettuce. Tasted better than it looks.

I see I’ve been making a lot of salads with white beans, cannellini if I can find good ones, or navy beans. cannellinibeans

It’s not much trouble (but takes a little planning) to soak them overnight in some salty water, then drain the next day, cover with cold unsalted water,  a bay leaf and a  couple cloves of garlic and cook until tender. But it’s easier and also fine to use canned beans.

brocc, bean salad

Broccoli, white beans, and red onions

blackbeanandcorn saladAnd today’s lunch: The salad was black beans (from a can) and corn kernels, with chopped red onion, raw chard, a little bit of chicken and lots of cilantro and lime. It was nicely set off with a corn-flour tortilla and a couple of slices of melon.

I’ve also been making some salads with bulgur as well as classic cucumber salads with vinegar, dill, salt and a touch of sugar. I just bought some beautiful green beans, fennel and purple carrots from the farmers’ market. . . so I am thinking about the next salads.

purplecarrots

Let the vegetables be the inspiration. Purple carrots with orange insides would look great with a deep green of broccoli or green beans.

What salads have you been making? Happy 4th of July and enjoy these salad days of summer!

Also see:
Salads, salads, salads (and a riot of color)
Road trip salads

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Pie plant season

rosyrhubarb

Thank you, Maggie, for the rhubarb!

It’s the season to celebrate rhubarb once again — and what better way than pie? After all, its nickname is pie plant, and every spring I seem to write about rhubarb pie — so why break the tradition? This time I decided to just take some photos along the way and show you how I spent my Sunday afternoon, along with some simple instructions if you’d like to make a delicious late-spring pie.

chopped rhubarb

Chop the rhubarb — you’ll need 4 cups or a little more for a small 8-inch pie — and make enough pie dough for a double crust, pat into two circles and refrigerate for an hour.  Then go for a walk while the dough is chilling.

Sunday afternoon was the perfect time for pie making.

rpie2

To the chopped rhubarb, add a cup of sugar, 2 tablespoons flour, some orange or lemon zest and a squeeze of lemon juice and a pinch of salt.

making rhubarb pie

Now roll out a little more than half the pie dough into a circle that overlaps the edges of the pie pan, and ladle in the filling in a mound.

Dot with butter

Dot  the rhubarb with butter

Roll and cut the dough into strips

Roll out the rest of the pie dough and cut into strips. A pasta cutter makes a fancy edge, but is not necessary.

Weave those strips into a lattice top

Weave those strips into a lattice top. My lattice was  a little funky, but who cares? Brush the crust with milk and sprinkle on some sugar.

Bake at 400 degrees for about 40 or 45 minutes

Bake at 400 degrees for about 40 or 45 minutes. Oops, that crust looks pretty dark.

Serve, preferably with a dollop of vanilla ice cream, and eat on a late Sunday afternoon. Skip dinner. Perfect.

Serve, preferably with a dollop of vanilla ice cream, and eat on a late Sunday afternoon. Skip dinner. Perfect.

 

See more posts on rhubarb:

Fruit or vegetable?
Return of the rhubarb lover

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Filed under baked goods, dessert, fruit, spring

All-in-one supper

allinoneThe one-dish meal is usually a pot of soup or stew (and sometimes a salad) but another way I’ve found to do this is an all-in-one supper roasted in the oven on a cookie sheet. (The clean-up is super easy too if you line the cookie sheet with foil.)

Because asparagus is in season, I’ve been making this meal recently with roasted potatoes and onions, asparagus and fish.

Lately, Dover sole is the least expensive fish on offer at our favorite fish store, and I’ve found that it’s so quick and easy to cook it in the oven.

Simply rub a little oil on top of the filets, then season with salt and pepper and a scattering of herbs if you like (I used fresh thyme here; dill or chives or parsley would be fine too) and a squeeze of lemon juice. It takes only five minutes or so to cook the thin fillets.

doversoleandlemon

I like to top the fish with lemon slices, caramelized in a skillet with a little butter or oil. It’s an extra step, but worth it.

The only trick to this all-in-one meal is the timing. I heat the oven to 400 degrees, start with the potatoes (tossed with a slick of oil), and then (when they’re getting soft), add the onions (also with a bit of oil). About 20 minutes in, I’ll add the asparagus (yes, a little oil and salt) and finally (when everything is about 5 minutes away), the fish, which cooks very quickly. If you are making this meal for more than two people, you will likely need two cookie sheets.

The potatoes and asparagus are forgiving (a little extra time in the oven won’t hurt) but check the fish often, as you don’t want to overcook it! It won’t hurt to open the oven every minute or two. If the filets are very thin or small, they may even take less than five minutes. As soon as the flesh turns white and flakes apart when touched with a fork, it’s done.

soleandasparagusAnd so is supper. All you need is a plate and a fork.
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Beets and potatoes (and grandmothers from Russia)

beetspotatoes1A few days ago, I was talking on the phone with my cousin Yael–an Israeli, though she’s lived in the United States for decades now–about the traditional foods we had on Passover.

Our grandmothers were sisters — from the village of Shumsk (or Szumsk) in Russia (though sometimes the region was part of Poland and currently it’s part of the Ukraine) — and Yael and I discovered that both of us grew up with potatoes on the seder plate, either instead of parsley or alongside it. Why? Because in Russia (or Poland or Ukraine or whatever) there were no fresh vegetables growing in April.

raddishes

I found radishes at the farmers market here, but it might still be too early for them in the Ukraine. Or Russia. Or Poland.

Passover foods generally involve a lot of potatoes, but beets are also traditional, especially for Jews from Eastern Europe, as it was another root vegetable available in early spring.

Yael told me about a sweet-sour beet salad she makes for Passover, and that reminded me of beet borscht. On Passover, my mother always served it a special way with an egg whipped in the soup tureen, turning the borscht from wine-red to a frothy deep rose color. Yael’s family made it that way too, she said.

Baba (Edess Kanfer Arshack)

Baba (Edess Kanfer Arshack)

My mother told me that her mother (my Baba) always made rossel (or rossl or rosel), which is sour or fermented beets, a kind of starter for genuine beet borscht.  She started the fermentation six weeks before Passover, putting cleaned and peeled chunks of beets in an earthenware crock and covering them with water, checking every few days. The women neighbors in Rock Island, Illinois, where my mother’s family lived, would come to the house and take a cupful of Baba’s rossel so they could make their own borscht.

Looking around the Internet, I noticed a couple of things about rossel. For a long while it fell out of favor as it takes quite a bit of planning and some attention. (Even my mother, who kept so many food traditions, never made it.) Plus people’s tastes had changed and sour fermented beets didn’t sound so appealing –although kosher dill pickles, which are fermented cucumbers, never lost their fans.

But recently, it’s having a bit of a come-back (though one couldn’t exactly call it a resurgence) as fermented foods are becoming more popular. Now I am seriously thinking of making rossel next year (my Jewish cookbook says three or four weeks ahead is sufficient), and perhaps some of my trusty readers will try it too. As Levy‘s bakery famously said, “You don’t have to be Jewish . . .”

In the meantime, I tried Yael’s beet salad with lemon juice and a touch of sugar, which captured the flavors of our shared history.

It made me think of the freedom our grandparents found when they left the Old Country, and that, along with the marvelous color, made me happy.

Ship postcard

The ship that my grandmother took to America

Sweet-and-sour beet salad

beetinfoilYael boils the beets. I baked them, wrapped tightly in tin foil, on a cookie sheet. Either way, if they’re large, they’ll take a while.

(By the way, I first removed the beet greens and steamed them, for another use. Don’t throw them away!)

gratingbeets2When the beets are cool, you peel them and grate them. I think next time, I will under-bake them just a little. These were a bit too soft.

Once they’re grated, add lemon juice, sugar (I’d go easy on that) and a little salt, to taste.beetsalad
There are many ways you could serve this salad, of course, but I thought it looked nice against the green of romaine lettuce leaves. You could fold the leaves around the salad and eat it as a finger food. It looks like a new Passover tradition for me!

For more on beets: A valentine vegetable

For more about Passover:
Edible, tangible memory
A cake for all seasons
Time for quinoa

 

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Filed under Praise for other cooks, salad, soup, spring, Uncategorized, vegetables

Luck and a dream

shamrockbread

Saint Patrick’s Day is my family’s day to celebrate my father’s “Irish luck.”

Immigration ID 3.17.39Seventy-five years ago, my father arrived in America, having escaped Nazi Germany.

Please read more of the story here, published online in Tablet Magazine.

shamrocks

Shamrocks growing outside my apartment

I don’t make anything fancy for the day (though I have been known to make S-cookies with green sparkling sugar) and I’m not a corned-beef-and-cabbage fan, so I’ll probably just make a variation of my emerald green parsley soup (thought I’d add some leeks to it this time) along with some Irish soda bread or maybe oatmeal scones.

And if there’s a beer around (it could be root beer or ginger beer or practically anything)  I’ll make a toast to my dad and all those who helped him and his family come to America.

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