Friday, February 26, 2010

Good Gravy

When I got married, my cooking skills didn’t go much beyond boiling hot dogs and scrambling eggs. My attempts from cookbooks were honorable but sadly lacking. To my husband, who is Italian, a meal of macaroni, meatballs and gravy is almost a religious experience and because of that I proclaimed early on in our marriage that I refused to attempt it. I was young and my ego couldn’t handle failing at that one! So, if he wanted macaroni, he would be the one to cook it. And so he did for several years. Thankfully my cooking skills improved greatly and over those years I paid close attention to the process of preparing that sacred meal. Feeling much more confident, I was finally ready to give it a try. The beginnings weren’t great but according to my husband, my gravy and meatballs are now better than his mom’s (sorry mom)!! For me it’s not only a personal triumph but also a huge compliment - my mother-in-law is a great cook! Oh and for those who may not know, once you put the meat into the tomato sauce it is no longer a sauce, it is gravy.

Nancy R.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Some Memories Are Better Off Forgotten

Looking back I realize that not all food memories are pleasant. When I was about twelve, my family drove up to Boston from Connecticut for my cousin’s bar mitzvah. One of my uncles was very generous and decided he would treat us all at a special French restaurant. I don’t think I’d ever had French food before and I remember tasting many different dishes that night. In those days, French cooking was very rich, heavy, and full of cream and alcohol; in fact, I think there was alcohol in almost everything I ate. Needless to say, by the end of that meal I was not feeling at all well. I’ll spare you any more details but let's just say it was many years before I entered a French restaurant again.

PS. My mom just reminded me of the rest of the story. On our way home from Boston we stopped for lunch at a Howard Johnson's restaurant. She remembers three kids looking deliriously happy, holding the giant menus and devouring french fries and burgers

Leslie

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Monkey Soup

In 1974 my friend and I were crossing from west to east Africa by road; or should I say dirt track? We had thought from the map that the way leading to the river and crossing from Central African Republic into what was then Zaire was a bridge! But the only way across was dugout canoe. That meant the only transport would have to come from the south and return. Nothing came for days. We camped by the river and then near the village chief’s hut. Huts made of mud and foliage that grew in the dense forest all around us.

The morning our cans of sardines, bread and tomatoes ran out, everyone started shouting and running away from the river down the track. We couldn’t figure out what was going on. Fearing that the river might be the problem, we ran with them passed the huts on either side of the dirt track. We noticed people were picking up sticks and stones and other objects. We knew many of the people by now so we didn’t fear them. But what could be happening? After running passed the village huts, and further into the forest, people stood about shouting up into the trees, while other climbed them.

Turned out a troop of monkeys were swinging through the trees and the villagers were intent on catching at least one for dinner. This is now known as bush meat. I didn’t know back then but this is the main reason for the reduction of animals in Africa, not overseas Hemingway-style hunters.

Once we saw what was happening we retreated back toward the river. Near the chief’s hut a fire was started and two men brought a large dead monkey with a spike through it and turned it over the fire to burn off its hair. We went on to sit at our favorite spot by the river.

That evening a large old metal pot with a soup-like mixture was brought to the chief’s hut. Many people arrived with their containers, everything from the husks of plants to clay bowls, but mainly old one-quart oil cans. We all got a ladle of soup in our containers. We sat and crouched to relish our monkey soup. Everyone had at least a couple of small pieces of meat swishing around in the mixture. It didn’t taste too bad, mainly very bland. I mentioned this to my friend. A light went off in his head. He went over to his backpack and took out our saltshaker. We put some in our bowls and it tasted great. Everyone’s eye’s lit up and he went from person to person shaking salt into each container with appreciative, ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs,’ as people mixed in the salt and re-tasted it. What there was of it, I remember the monkey meat tasting a little like goat, which is a bit like dry lamb. The saltshaker was virtually deified that evening as it stood there on a rock near the hut.

The next day a little one-ton 1930s truck chugged into the village for a short stay before heading south. We agreed on a small price to take us as far as they were going. We stood in the back waving to the villagers as we jostled off down the road.

Tony B.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Grandmother is Never Far, When We're Tasting Her Food!

My Grandma Es (Esther) was a fabulous cook. We always looked forward to her visits because we knew we were going to eat well! (That wasn’t the only reason we looked forward to her visits!) My grandparents lived in St. Paul, Minnesota and my family lived in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, a five hours drive. I can still picture them bounding into the driveway as they arrived in their Pontiac....we three kids jumping up and down, waving.

I remember one story when she called the butcher and asked him to send her a really fresh turkey. A tall container arrived. Imagine her surprise, when she opened the box and a turkey stuck his head out, looking in every direction!

We weren’t the only ones who looked forward to our Grandparent’s visits. Grandma Es had three children, my mother and her two brothers. All my cousins loved Grandma Es and her culinary treats! Years later, when I was visiting my cousins in California, we started talking about all the dishes Grandma would make.

Although she would make all the same dishes at each of our houses, we realized as we got to talking, that we each had our own personal favorites! I loved her cheese dreams, which have the same filling as blintzes, except they are made with puff pastry dough. They are round in shape and baked to a flakey golden brown. Like blintzes, they are served with sour cream.

My cousin Melissa, loved my Grandma’s blintzes. She couldn’t get enough of them! And her sister Janie thought Grandma’s knadelah were the best—in her homemade chicken soup. Once we realized that we each preferred something different, the obvious became clear! We would get together and make all three dishes in honor and memory of Grandma! (And just a little for our taste buds!)

We decided to meet at Janie’s house, where we rolled up our sleeves and got to work. The first obstacle was looking at Grandma’s recipes in her own handwriting and figuring out what a “handful” of this amounted to and a “little” of that! Nevertheless, we had such a good time—what a once in a life time event!

Hours later, we sat down to a sumptuous meal. Each one of us happy as we tasted a long missed food we remembered from our childhood. We decided Grandma would be proud of us! Everything tasted wonderful and it felt like Grandma Es was with us once again.

Dale Ann A.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Long Way from Baked Potato and a Salad

I became a vegetarian more than 25 years ago. In a way, it was a gradual transition in that the idea percolated in my head and heart for a few years, but once I made the decision I went “cold turkey” as they say. In those days, eating out in restaurants (or even at other people’s homes) as a vegetarian was an often boring and frustrating endeavor. I often had to make due with a baked potato and a salad—not much diversity or protein there. I guess I was lucky if I got to go to a Chinese restaurant that had tofu but then I had to make sure there was no pork mixed into the dish. Life got exciting when vegetarian restaurants started opening up, and I often made the rounds. The problem was that in many cases they all served the same “hippie” food as the next guy and even more often they soon went out of business.

Fast forward 20 years and there are now many exciting vegetarian dining options available in all different price ranges (just Google “vegetarian restaurants” in the location you’re interested in). This past summer my husband and I were in Philadelphia visiting friends and we all went to an awesome, upscale vegan restaurant called Horizons. Now, I was always jealous of the places I’ve seen featured on the Food Network—I wanted to go to a restaurant where delicious food is plated in beautiful towers with delectable sauces. Horizons was this and more. There were so many interesting selections on the menu that it was hard to choose. Luckily our friends like to order a wide variety of dishes when they dine out so between us I think we were able to taste seven or eight dishes including Jamaican BBQ Seitan with j√≠cama slaw, smoked chile dip, Vietnamese Tacos–crispy lemongrass tempeh, sriracha mayo, daikon, cilantro, carrot, & chile, and Grilled Seitan with yukon mash, grilled spinach, horseradish cream and roasted red pepper tapenade. Now, those of you who are not vegetarian might not appreciate the excitement these upscale dishes bring to our taste buds, but let me tell you that we were talking about that meal for weeks. I really think that any omnivore would be more than satisfied with any of the dishes on that menu. In fact, I invite you to give this place or any other vegetarian restaurant in your area a try—you’ll probably be very pleasantly surprised. You can visit Horizons website at http://www.horizonsphiladelphia.com.

Leslie

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A Taste of the Past

The holiday of Passover was an event when amazing culinary feats occurred in my childhood home. This holiday’s preparations required considerable effort including the making of gefilte fish, horseradish, chicken soup, matzoh balls and many other culinary delights. Everything was made from scratch including the gefilte fish, (fish patties) served with hand-grated horseradish.

There were no food processors to do the work, just old fashioned elbow grease! To make the fish, my Father bought 30-40 pounds of whole carp fish. The fish was filleted and ground, spices and other ingredients were added. Then the mixture was formed into balls, and cooked in a large pot with carrots, and broth. My Mother had her special tasters. One of her cousins would come to our home to sample the delicacy and give his opinion. The creation of this delicacy really became an event that took several people to complete.

Eventually, each fish patty would be refrigerated and cooled and later served with a very spicy hand-grated horseradish condiment.

My Father bought the horseradish root and sat outdoors with his grater and grated the pungent root. The aroma made one cry it was so strong. This is why it was done out-of-doors. Grating this root was a tough job…a man’s job. When the grating was complete, I recall that he added beet juice to it which gave it the red color. My father also made sour pickles and sour green tomatoes from scratch in big wooden barrels. I remember giant springs of dill, bay leaves and numerous other spices.

I have many other memories of making Jewish culinary delights like blintzes, kreplach, and preserved fruits. These activities were often done helping my Mother, her aunts and cousins. How wonderful it would be to have these wonderful recipes and experiences documented and preserved for future generations! Those days are gone and people do not make these foods any longer. It really is a part of history that has been lost.

My Mother told me of the days when she used to make braided challah bread with her grandmother every Shabbat. They would paint the bread with egg white to give it a nice shine. The aroma of the baking bread would permeate the house with a very pleasing feeling. It brought the entire family together weekly in celebration of the Shabbat.

Debbie W.