Saturday, 23 March 2013

Passover Sponge Cake

It's that time of year again...Pesach (Passover) is right around the corner, and I am racking my brain trying to think of a menu that will satisfy the diverse palates and dietary restrictions of our Seder guests.

We have 2 people who should not have too much sugar or salt, a vegetarian, 4 meat lovers, 2 who prefer poultry, 1 who is allergic to fish and another who loves it...toss in the fact that this meal needs not only to be kosher, but also kosher for Passover and you can see why I am approaching this holiday with a looming sense of dread!  

Every year Mom and Ethel (1 of her 2 best friends) would engage in a Passover exchange - Mom gave Ethel a bottle of her home-made wine and Ethel brought a KLP (Kosher for Passover) Sponge Cake which Mom would serve for dessert with compote.  Last year I made my first attempts at sponge cake, the first was alright, but the second fell on one side and was a lop-sided disaster.  

This year I will try my hand, again, at making sponge cake, which I will serve with what I always knew as Mom's compote, but it is originally Aunt Adele's Strawberry Rhubarb Compote, and I think it is rather fitting that the family sponge cake recipe I am going to try - for the first time, I might add - is also from Aunt Adele.  Which brings me to a funny story...

This past week I had an appointment with Mom to see about continuing treatments to ease her ever-stiffening arms and hands.  I always walk into Baycrest with mixed emotions...I am happy to see my mom, but heartbroken by the pain and suffering that my beautiful, vital and loving mother has to endure every day.  I walked into the clinic in a bit of a fog, passing a woman in her 50s who was in a wheelchair.  We exchanged a brief smile, and I settled in to wait for Mildred to bring Mom down from lunch.   As I sat there an older woman came in and joined the younger woman.  Stuck in a stare, I thought to myself that this woman looked so familiar, even if just from behind.  As they walked off to their appointment, I made the connection and asked the secretary if the lady that just left was named Lil...she was!  I was taken was my long-lost great-aunt Lil, one of the authors of the mushroom brown rice recipe we all love so much!  

With the staff's permission, I went to the back and asked to speak with Lil.  It has been years since I last saw her - my uncle Harold Z"L died in Regina in the late 1980s when I was still a teenager.  I introduced myself and saw the light of recognition come on in her eyes.  She said she wouldn't have recognized me...then my cousin Mindy came out and we all took a few minutes to reconnect, after 20+ years.  We exchanged numbers and agreed to say goodbye before either of us left.  

Mom is quieter these days, and communicates more by expression than with words. Her smile still lights up her whole face, and brightens a room.  When her aunt Lil gently caressed her face and greeted her warmly and softly, I saw that smile, and she was happy.  Then Mindy recalled the amazing Yom Tov meals Mom used to make and I told them about this blog, and the Golden Recipes book I have with all the matriarchs' recipes.  I mentioned Aunt Adele, and Aunt Lil told me that Aunt Adele was the baker of the family.  You cannot imagine what a gift that little tidbit of information was...I often feel like I am lost on this journey, stumbling along and grasping at any little hint that may give me insight into the world that I've lost.  Aunt Lil started to recall anecdotes and it all felt so nice, so warm and haymishe, so comforting.  Another connection to the past that I thought was long gone and never to be rediscovered.  

Since I originally wrote this post, we agreed that Dad would bring a pareve KLP (obviously!) Strawberry Shortcake to our Seder because he knows our girls love it...and Aviva is bringing fruit...I will make meringues and that would likely be enough, but something is pushing me to bake Aunt Adele's Matzo Sponge Cake and make Mom's Compote...I suppose it it my way of having them with me at the Seder, even if it is only in my heart.

From my family to yours, I wish you a happy Passover - filled with family, friends, fun and fantastic food.  B'Tayavon,  Buon Appetito and Chag Sameyach  חג כשר ושמח.

Sponge Cake Success!!

Aunt Adele's Matzo Sponge Cake 

  • 8 egg yolks
  • 1½ C sugar
  • 1C sifted matzo cake meal
  • 8 egg whites - beaten stiff
  • ½ lemon - juice and grated rind
Preheat oven to 350˚.  Beat yolks until light.  Add sugar and beat again.  Add pinch of salt, lemon and matzo cake meal.  Lastly, fold in egg whites (that have already been beaten stiff, but not dry).  Bake in spring form  tube pan or in 2 layers for 45 minutes.  

Monday, 18 March 2013

House of Chan and Pickled Tongue ... a favourite restaurant and an acquired taste

Mom`s handwritten recipe
for Ethel`s Pickled Tongue

The other night Carlo and I were chatting as I prepared dinner.  I realized that 20 years later, I've grown into  a pretty efficient and quick cook...nothing like the cook I was when we were dating and first married. I guess you could that the way to his heart was not always through his stomach.

Mom was the same.  Although she was raised in a very traditional 1950's household, where my grandmother was the quintessential housewife and hostess, cocktails were a pre-dinner staple and you always left a finger of wine in the bottom of your glass (I am not kidding!), Mom was not a fantastic cook when she was a newlywed!

She loved to tell the story of when she and Dad were first married and she decided to make a fancy "tongue"  dinner for him.  She seasoned the meat, put it the oven and set a lovely dinner table.  As they sat down to this picture-perfect meal, Mom proceeded to carve the tongue.  

The look on my father's face said it all...are you imagining how shocked he was that she had prepared such a meal to serve him?  If so, you're right.  But it's probably not the look you are imagining - it was a look of horror, as the tongue was still raw, and the juices flowing were bright red.  She had only cooked it for 20 minutes!  Poor Mom, she was so disappointed, and embarrassed.  Kudos to my sweet Dad, who said not a word as he got up and got her coat, then took her for dinner to House of Chan, for a steak, served medium! The joke went that this was the night my Mom really learned what to make for dinner - reservations!

House of Chan: this is the way it looked 47 years ago,
 and still does today!  In fact, I remember sitting in those booths
for a surf and turf dinner with my parents, Davie and Carlo!

While I can only remember Mom making tongue once in my lifetime (and sorry, but it was one time too many for me!!), I can remember many evenings spent at "Chan", as she and I called it, waiting at the bar while Mom had her gin and tonic (Beefeater or Tanqueray only), dry with a twist, and we waited for a booth to open up.  I remember how she loved the side dishes as much as the main meal - the sliced vegetables to start, the home style potatoes, sauteed vegetables and the French fried onions...there was never a morsel left on the plates. 

This all came back to me as I perused her Golden Recipes book and came across a recipe for Ethel's Pickled Tongue, written on a calendar page from Tuesday September 17th, 1968 (not even 1 month after I was born).  Ethel is one of Mom's 2 best friends.  They share a birthday and a lifelong friendship.  They shared meals, recipes and many memories.

While I have no intention of making this recipe, I just loved the back story and wanted to share it with you, and her grandchildren - for whom I write this blog as a record of our family recipes and memories. 

If you like meat, and enjoy preparing more "exotic" dishes, you may want to try Ethel's Pickled Tongue.  Above is the original recipe, written in Mom's hand.  If you like lobster, steak or Chinese food, you will definitely want to try the House of Chan, just make a reservation first!

Until next time, I wish you a wonderful day filled with family, fun, friends and fantastic food.  B'Tayavon & Buon Appetito!

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

From Sugo to Sauce...

My home-made sauce
After I finished my post about our adventure in pasta-making I realized that my Sugo 101 post gives you step-by-step directions on turning tomatoes into sugo, but does not tell you how you get from Sugo (boiled, crushed Roma tomatoes) to sauce...

OK - it is soooooo easy!

Naomi's Tomato Sauce

1 jar of tomatoes
1 jar of passata
2 tbsp canola or olive oil
1 tbsp margarine
3 - 4 slices of onion (cooking is fine)
1 tsp garlic (I used frozen cubes - they don't burn)
salt to taste

In a medium saucepan, combine oil, margarine, onion and garlic.  Saute until translucent (careful not to burn the onion and garlic).  Then add your home-made jarred sugo.  If you don't have home-made sugo, you can used canned or jarred crushed/pureed tomatoes otherwise known as passata.  In fact, to stretch our sugo stash, we often add passata to our tomatoes and prefer La San Marzano brand (you can buy it at Costco).  Season with salt, to taste.  Let it reach a soft boil, and then reduce the heat to low, leaving your sauce to simmer - the longer the better!

* there are a variety of variations to this sauce - sometimes we add something to simmer for added flavour: a few carrots (sliced into smaller pieces), meatballs or stewing beef.

* if I have time, I might even prepare the sauce, let it simmer  for an hour or 2 on the stove, and then put the sauce in a crock pot to simmer, unattended, for hours.  Yumm!

* this sauce freezes well, and keeps for months!  We often freeze smaller batches of sauce for a quick pastina fix (broth with small cooked pasta and a hint of sauce), and larger batches for a meal on a rushed night.

Combine oil, margarine, onion and garlic in medium saucepan.
Saute on medium heat until onions and garlic are translucent.

Add your home-made sugo
(2011 - it was a good year!)

Add passata 

Bring to soft boil, then reduce heat and simmer...

I hope you enjoy our sauce as much as we do.  Until next time, I wish you a wonderful day filled with family, fun, friends and fantastic food.  B'Tayavon & Buon Appetito!

Friday, 8 March 2013

Plutzing for Panzerotti!

The February blahs came late this year, and landed in my lap this first week of March.

Becca and I were pretty pooped after returning home fresh off our competition high following a whirlwind weekend in Hamilton.  Lucky for me, I have a wonderful husband who is also a wonderful cook.  As I sat with my cousin Kate in a darkened theatre, shepping nachas (reaping pride/pleasure) over our dancing daughters, I received a text from Carlo telling me that sauce was simmering on the stove already.  What a relief.

But that only took care of Sunday!  Being away all weekend meant that I did not plan the week's meals, nor did I shop for the ingredients to make them.  As a controlling Leo, this spelled disaster!

Monday was a tough one...ultimately I did away with the meatless theme, opting instead for Chicken Cacciatore.  As Sara helped me prepare dinner, I decided to kill 2 birds with 1 stone and we made a chili for the following night.  Phew, one less thing to worry about!

Then, in the blink of an eye, Wednesday crept up on me and I had to come up with a dinner idea....again!!!  Remember, ideally dinner in our house should be transformable into the following day's lunch fare (our kids are not sandwich fans).

What about pizza?  No way!  Sara does not like my pizza - which, by the way, I love!  It is all gooey and saucy and cheesy like the pizza in Eat Pray Love {{sigh}}.  I was craving pizza and trying to figure out how to sneak it in for dinner when a light bulb went off - panzerotti!  I was sure that it would pass muster with Carlo and the girls...and so I started scanning Pinterest, and I found a recipe for baked panzerotti.  I reviewed the baking method and decided that this was something I could do on my own.

After work I rushed to my local No Frills and picked up the few missing ingredients (including prepared pizza dough from Nino D'Aversa) and off I went to try my hand at making panzerotti.

As Carlo sat with me and grated the mozzarella (I told you he was wonderful!), I preheated the oven to 425 degrees, kneaded a double recipe of dough and separated it into 6 balls.  As my chunky tomato sauce bubbled on the stove, I chopped green pepper and green olives and then it was time to assemble dinner.

First I rolled the dough into a circle, on the counter top.  I then layered it with sauce, cheese and veggies.  After one quick flip and a whole lot of pinching, my panzerotto was ready to be transferred onto a greased cookie sheet.  I quickly learned that transferring a full panzerotto from counter to baking sheet is not so easy...the next lesson I learned is that placing a dough circle on a hot pizza stone drastically limits the time you have to fill it before flipping and sealing - the stone starts cooking the dough on contact!!  By my sixth, and final attempt I think I ironed out most of the kinks (by making a new mistake with each one).  Here is what I learned:

1. Fill your panzerotti directly on the baking sheet/pizza
stone; that way you avoid transfer spillage!

2.  It is better to use an unheated baking sheet/pizza stone;
that way the outside doesn't start to cook
before you've had a chance to seal it!

3. Make sure to leave enough space at the
edge of your dough for successful sealing
-and -
4. Do not use "wet" sauce, the thicker the better
to avoid leaking and ensure successful sealing
6. To ensure a tight seal all the way across, pinch at least twice! 
5. Size matters - smaller is better for the personalized panzerotto! 
7. Use a lower oven temperature (350 degrees) and
bake for longer (25 minutes or until golden brown); crispy crust is nice , but you don't
want to  have to use a saw to cut it!!

All in all it was fun to make these panzerotti, and Carlo, Dad and I enjoyed them.  Sara and Becca were not so impressed, but then again, they are not pizza fans these days.  Oh well, you win some, you lose some!

Until next time, I wish you a wonderful day filled with family, fun, friends, and fantastic food!  B'Tayavon & Buon Appetito!