Izzy Eats: The art of raising a gourmand, one bite at a time

Stirring tales of eating, cooking and foraging in my never-ending quest to provide, great-tasting (local and organic whenever possible) EATS for me and my boy(s).

Monday, December 31, 2007

The Perils Of Cooking: In The Kitchen With A 98-Year Old

A visit to Great-Grandpa today revealed yet another reason not to use a microwave (as if exploding eggs weren't enough), especially if you are elderly, forgetful and not too microwave-savvy.

I was puttering about his kitchen when he mumbled something like, "Did I tell you what happened with the microwave?" I assumed he was referring to the exploding egg incident, as he is known to repeat certain tales. Turns out there was an all new, more frightening event. He explained that he had merely placed two small red potatoes in a dish, and put them on to cook in the microwave. He went over to the couch and promptly forgot about them.

The next thing he knew, the smoke alarm was sounding and flaming potatoes were swirling in the oven. He was very alarmed, ran around opening windows, while in some unsafe manner managed to put out the fire. He failed to call my brother (who watches over him) but was quite relieved that my brother just happened to look across the street and notice that something seemed amiss.

He is now back to boiling his tea on the stove (in a pot rather than kettle, don't ask!) and claims to have made some mashed potatoes with mayonnaise that he was quite pleased with. But is a stove really safe for him? I noticed some feathers placed precariously close by, not to mention other paraphernalia that might do better elsewhere.

This incident begs the question: Is there any safe way for an older, slightly forgetful person to cook?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Fairway Fancy


Today was one of those rare weekend days, when I found myself without Izzy. He was being entertained by his Papa and so I had the afternoon off. And where did I find myself? Food shopping on the Upper West Side. First at Zabar's and then at Fairway, not the smartest places to be on a Saturday afternoon but the pull was simply too great to deny.

If you are not familiar with Fairway, you ought to be. I just stopped in for a few items because navigating its aisles on a Saturday can be truly nightmarish. As I glanced around I began to long for the days when it was my local supermarket. If I could pick only one place to fulfill all of my shopping needs it would be Fairway. Since I moved to Jersey City, Fairway has taken a backseat to Union Square and Whole Foods, which are conveniently located in the same area.

The problem is, I NEED to go to Union Square so I frequent Whole Foods by default. Perhaps I need to rethink my shopping routine. Without Fairway, I have been missing out on so many things; like French vacuumed-packed beets, French soft dried fruits, all manner of produce imaginable, an incredible olive bar, amazing cheese, and all manner of new products, olive oils, soaps etc., not to mention the newly renovated organic section upstairs, and all at the most reasonable prices imaginable. The shelves are crammed with goodies you have yet to hear about.

This afternoon, I entered Fairway with arms already full of Zabar's purchases so I was forced to leave with only the container of dried apricots pictured above and a bunch of organic broccoli for tonight's dinner. As I walked toward the subway, I vowed to somehow put Fairway back into my shopping routine. If you would like to join me, let me know!

Friday, December 28, 2007

What Can You Do With A Smoked Turkey Leg?

For years now I have been eyeing the smoked turkey legs, wrapped two to a package, at the DiPaola Farms stand at the Union Square market. I just could never envision myself doing anything except gnaw on them so I just ignored them. Then I read this and was led to believe that they could have a life beyond just being consumed Flintstone-style.

I picked up a package a few weeks ago and tonight they become an ingredient of our Southernish dinner, which was one of A.'s specialities back in his cooking days. Instead of his usual Black-eyed Peas, Collard Greens and rice. I added diced turkey, omitting the sinewy bits, to the peas. I tossed in the bone to add more flavor while it simmered.



Black-Eyed Peas, Collard Greens and Rice (4 large servings)

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups white rice
2 large onions, diced
2-3 squirts ketchup
fresh thyme
2 cans black-eyed peas
1 smoked turkey leg, meat diced (you can also use sausage, kielbasa etc.)
1 bunch collard greens, cleaned, stemmed and chopped.
2 tablespoons butter

1. Put rice on to boil.
2. Saute onion until golden. Add squirts of ketchup and stir. Add peas and turkey, thyme. Simmer for 10-15 minutes.
3. Steam greens with a small amount of water over low heat, for 10-15 minutes or until tender. Drain water and toss with salt and butter over low heat.
4. When rice is finished, everything else should be too!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Very British Christmas



One perk to being Jewish is being invited to someone else's Christmas. After my Thanksgiving debacle and Hanukkah bash, I was more than grateful not to have another holiday meal to prepare.

This year we were invited to my friend H.'s home for her version of a British Christmas. The thought of participating in her Christmas was particularly alluring, especially after H. described some of the dishes she would be preparing. I had all sorts of images of strange fruitcakes, puddings and the like dancing around in my head.

I promptly offered to contribute a dish and somehow ended up in charge of Mince Pies. Now if, several years ago, someone had told me that I would even eat such a dish, let alone prepare it, I would have been shocked as, in my mind, it fell into the category of "awful English food" full of dried fruits, nuts and booze. With the help of Nigella, my mission was easily accomplished (a subject which will surely merit its own post).

My friend led me to believe that her British Christmas would resemble Thanksgiving and in a certain way it did only it was better. For one, she cooked it, not me. But besides that it was full of quirky additions.

Let's start with the turkey. It emerged from the oven perfectly browned and upside down (which didn't seem to phase H. a bit and must certainly be the secret to one of the juiciest, tastiest turkeys I have encountered). The only downside was that the tender, plump breast was not browned which really didn't matter.

As for the sides, there was a cranberry sauce and numerous vegetables. Brussels sprouts with bacon and pine nuts, leeks and courgettes in butter (love this), roasted potatoes, roasted parsnips, peas and carrots..

We began the meal by popping open some Christmas crackers, each one filled with a note and a treat. That may have been slightly diverting but it was dessert time that really took the cake. That was when our gracious hostess presented the Christmas pudding, all aflame, flanked by the mini mince pies, which were in danger of going up in smoke.

When the flames died down, the pudding, with heavy cream, turned out to be a fine dessert better than I would have imagined. After dinner drinks were sipped while we nibbled and all in all it was a swell dinner indeed.

Whoever said the British can't cook or don't eat well need just eat chez H. They will be most pleasantly surprised!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

This Bodes Well For The Future: Izzy Washes Dishes


I didn't even ask. I never even suggested the idea but today, as Izzy watched me pile the dishes in the sink he pleaded with me to be able to wash them.

"Mama. Let me wash the dishes. I want to.." Even though the very thought would have never occurred to me, how could I refuse.

He dragged his chair over, requested a clean pop-up sponge and set to work. As he washed he said, "I am washing the dishes so that you don't have to."

How does he know how I hate to wash dishes? Whatever prompted him to do so, may it continue...so that one day he will help someone else wash the dishes.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Provencal Walnut Cookies: A Perfect Addition To Your Holiday Baking




If for some odd reason you haven't finished your holiday baking or you are in search of a new recipe in which time of is of the essence, you must try these Nicoise walnut cookies.

They stand out from the rest in their use of ground walnuts as the main ingredient and by virtue of the fact that they are so quick to prepare. I found this treasure from a favorite old cookbook called Cuisine of the Sun by Mireille Johnston.


Provencal Walnut Cookies (Petits Biscuits Aux Noix)

1 cup fine chopped walnuts

1/4 lb. butter

1/4 cup sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup unbleached all purpose flour

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 tablespoons confectioner's sugar

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees

2. Chop walnuts in food processor (pulse so as not to create butter)

3. Cream butter and stir in sugar.

4. Add vanilla, nuts and flour.

5. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

6. Make teaspoon-sized ball of dough and place on cookie sheets, 2 inches apart.

7. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until pale brown.

8. Remove from oven and sprinkle immediately with granulated sugar. Allow to cool and then sprinkle with confectioner's sugar.

Makes 25 cookies (double recipe, you will be glad you did!)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Post-Traumatic Pastrami: A Visit To Katz's


Having been raised on a weekly diet of pastrami, corned beef and other outrageously unhealthy Jewish deli-matter, how did it come to be that Izzy, now four and a half, had yet to eat pastrami until yesterday? Pig's foot before pastrami, how on earth did I allow that to happen? My grandmother would be appalled.

In retrospect, it all makes sense. Having long been a pastrami fanatic, I gradually kicked the habit as I got older and realized how truly unhealthy it was. I began to notice that although the taste sensation was terrific, the aftermath was less than stellar. I would be thirsty and lethargic afterwards, vowing not to eat it again. I was still lured by occasional cravings which diminished over time. Now if I eat it once a year, that seems quite sufficient.

My recent pastrami hankering was fueled by the news that the famed Second Avenue Deli was reopening. Then I was tempted by a shiksa who photographed this and the craving had to be sated. So when the afternoon found us on the Lower East Side for hair-related activities, just a hop, skip and a jump from Katz's, I realized the time had come, to satisfy my craving and begin Izzy's initiation into the world of pastrami.

So I found myself on a mission, dragging my child along Houston Street on one of the darkest days of the year. We came upon Yonah Schimmel's first, where I decided to pick up a knish or two, continue on to Katz's, get take-out and bring everything home to eat.

But no, by the time we arrived at Katz's, Izzy was already entering the "hungry zone". There was no way I could make it home happily if we didn't eat then. So I waited on line for my hand cut pastrami and ordered a pastrami on rye to stay. The hunk of meat that the cutter forked out onto the cutting board was blacked with spices and looked succulent. Izzy sat down patiently, while I peered over the counter, eyeing our feast to come.

I placed the plate in between Izzy and me and prepared to indulge. Izzy immediately dove for the pickles, while I took a bite of the bulging sandwich. I explained to him that we would be sharing the sandwich yet when I offered him bites he only took dainty nibbles. I broke a piece off and placed it beside him. It remained untouched. Meanwhile he continued to eat his pickles.

Something was clearly amiss, as he hadn't snacked much during the afternoon and was certainly hungry. I suggested he eat some of the sandwich and he shook his head no. I had no inkling as to what was wrong so imagine my shock when he said, "The meat is too salty. I don't really like it."

Somehow I was crushed, having raised my boy to eat nearly everything save one of the major food groups of my youth. Not only that, but the boy was still hungry and it was late. I promised him we would hurry home and have the knishes. It was a long ride home and we were both thoroughly exhausted. Thankfully he managed to eat half a knish and go straight to bed.

I suppose I should be grateful that Izzy did not swoon over pastrami, given the heriditary heart problems in my family, it is one food he doesn't need to eat. On the other hand, do I dare introduce him to The Second Avenue Deli? How can I avoid it? Next time we will order the corned-beef.




Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Wonder Of Homemade Marshmallows



What inspired me to make marshmallows along with all of my other cooking baking you ask? Especially now, during this frenzied time of year?

Well I have often toyed with the idea and then I read this post a few weeks ago by David Lebovitz. It became clear that making homemade marshmallows could only heighten the holiday excitement. Besides, they are perfect in hot chocolate which is what everyone should be drinking right now.

I immediately consulted Martha Stewart, for who else could I count on to have perfected the art of making homemade marshmallows? The recipe looked simple enough. I even had the forethought to purchase the gelatin in advance, along with the corn syrup (a product which I am loathe to use but truth be told, marshmallows are not found in the health food section). The only thing missing was a candy thermometer which I found easily enough.

Yesterday afternoon, amidst the cookie baking chaos, Izzy and I set to work. First we dissolved the gelatin in a mixing bowl and then placed the sugar, corn syrup and salt into the pot and set it to boil. The mixture needs to simmer about 10-15 minutes until it reaches a temperature of 244 degrees. Your child needs to be extremely patient and cooperative to watch this, which Izzy was. He stood at the stove, eyeing the bubbling mixture cautiously.



When the mixture reaches the proper temperature, it is time to dump the entire contents of the pot, slowly into the base of a Kitchen Aid Mixer, where the dissolved gelatin awaits. Then simply turn on the mixture at low speed and gradually increase it. Watch as the clear substance turns snowy white and changes texture. Izzy was awestruck, as was I.


After the mixture, which now clearly resembles marshmallow fluff, has tripled in volume, add vanilla and then pour it into a confectioner's sugar coated glass Pyrex dish, 9 x 13 (NOT 8 x 12 as Martha suggests). Sprinkle with more confectioner's sugar and wait til morning. You will awaken to a dish full of firm sticky marshmallow matter which needs to be cut out into squares and rolled in endless quantities of still more confectioner's sugar. Mess aside, everyone will be delighted.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Veritable Barnyard: Farm Animal Sugar Cookies


I found these cookie cutters at Fishs Eddy years ago and I used to use them to make sugar cookies as holiday gifts for my students at the Lycee Francais, where I taught English to second-graders. I had four classes which was a total of between 65-75 students depending upon the year and they each received two cookies. The cookie baking kept me up til the wee hours as it was no small task.

The reward for all of my work was the fact that those seven and eight year old children appreciated the homemade cookies. They would remark upon their delicate lemon flavor and seemed more grateful than one might imagine.

This year I took the cutters out so that Izzy and I could make some cookies for his teachers and start a yearly tradition.
The recipe I use comes from The Cookie Jar Cookbook, which I have used so often the pages are falling out. These are fragile cookies with a subtle lemon flavor, delightfully buttery and crisp.
Animal Cookies (aka Lambies)
2 cups less 2 tablespoons unsifted all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest.
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
2. Sift dry ingredients and set aside.
3. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy.
4. Add egg, vanilla and lemon zest and beat.
5. Gradually add dry ingredients.
6. Remove ball of dough and divide in 4.
7. Put dough between two pieces of waxed paper and roll out. Place in freezer for 15 minutes. Do same with remainder of dough.
8. Remove dough from freezer, one piece at a time. Remove paper, cut out shapes and transfer to cookie sheet.
9. Bake for 8-11 minutes, turning cookie sheets once.
10. Allow to cool and decorate as desired. Or be lazy like me and just sprinkle with confectioner's sugar. I also add one tiny silver dragee as an eye before baking

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Cheese On Toast or Grilled Cheese? Birthday Parties Mean No Sunday Supper

Whatever you call it, Izzy only ate two bites, along with a few pickled green beans and some apple slices, before proclaiming he was full. Why was he full at dinnertime? Because we had just returned from a classmate's birthday party, full of romping and cats as evidenced above. Izzy was truly "weared" out.

I have noticed a pattern with the Sunday late afternoon birthday party. During these parties, the children are fed a variety of foods, which usually include pizza, juice boxes and cake. These items are served between 4-6 p.m. which is more like snack time than dinnertime. Izzy becomes completely riled up and exhausted from the affairs and then I think he will just go home and go to sleep. But no, he always asks for some dinner. I knew tonight that I wouldn't have much to offer.

In the car on the way back, I asked if he would eat some grilled cheese for dinner and he said no. But H., who was driving us said something like, "I am sure cheese and toast will do." Cheese and toast would never do, or so I thought until H. explained that that is what the British call grilled cheese. I didn't think Izzy would want that either but once home he agreed to it, perhaps because he knew he wouldn't actually eat it.



Saturday, December 15, 2007

Meat Doesn't Get More Local or Organic

Unless I kill it myself. Since the likelihood of that is virtually non-existent I have decided to accept the next best thing.

You see, there are advantages to having a "country" brother who lives in rural New Jersey. He has many acres of land upon which graze numerous deer. Although he himself is a vegetarian, he allows hunters on his property. They often offer him part of their bounty which, in the past, he declined. This year, he offered it to me..

At first I felt rather ambivalent about taking the meat. The idea of hunting bothers me. Even though I feel no qualms about eating farm-raised meats, the hunted variety provoked ugly imagery. I have an unfortunate picture of hunters as blood-thirsty, gun-toting rednecks and wasn't sure I could support that. On the other hand, the idea of adding part of a deer to my freezer full of lamb, was infinitely appealing. My brother helped me decide. Turns out that this recently published article, Locavore Get Your Gun, would have been even more persuasive.

My brother G. explained that the hunters on his property use bows and arrows and that hunting deer is a reasonable way to control the ever-burgeoning deer population. His argument, along with memories of venison meals eaten in Paris, convinced me to accept the offer.

So the day came a few weeks ago when my brother called to say that he would be delivering the goods to my door step. I had no idea what to expect. What I got was several packages wrapped in plain white paper and labeled in black like this one...
I put the packages in the freezer and haven't gone near them until yesterday. I decided it was time to experiment so I defrosted the stew meat. When I explored potential recipes, I discovered that I was lacking many of the recommended ingredients but figured I could whip up something reasonably simple.

I marinated the chunks of meat in red wine with shallots, thyme, and bay leaf, hoping for the best. After eight hours in the marinade, I seared the chunks of venison in olive oil and set aside. Then I sauteed onions, carrots, and shallots, seasoned with thyme, salt and pepper. I added 1/2 lb. of shiitake mushrooms, sauteed 5 minutes more and then returned meat to the pot and added a cup or so of red wine and a cup of water. I brought this to a boil and allowed to simmer for 1 1/2 hours. I served this on a bed of bowtie pasta ( for lack of a better noodle around the house) and sprinkled with coarse salt. It was a warm, comforting meal on a cold night.

Izzy was a most accommodating assistant, and for the first time, wielded the tongs to remove the meat from the pot. He also sauteed the vegetables, stirring them so that they wouldn't stick. He was intent upon inspecting the raw meat, asking questions about the blood, though that is another story.

I was quite pleased with my first foray into the world of venison (as was Izzy who had three helpings, not to mention his papa who ate the rest of the pot) but next time hope to add a greater complexity of flavors to the dish.
There is much more to be said about venison which is so different in flavor and texture from other meats. I will regale you with tales from cookbooks and the like soon or during my next venison experiment.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Sour Cream Scene: Tears and Sulking Included



Izzy: I want bananas and sour cream for snack.


Me: Okay. Go get the sour cream from the fridge while I slice the banana.


Izzy: I don't see it in the fridge.


Me: We only have the kind from the farmer.


Izzy brings it to the table and we open it up. Admittedly, this batch is not nearly as tempting as the first one we had received, definitely one drawback of small farmed goods, wild variation in flavors and textures from one week to the next. The sour cream is buttery yellow in color and ultra-thick, with a hint of cow. Izzy eyes it suspiciously.



Izzy: I don't like that kind of sour cream. I want the other kind.


Me: That is the only kind we have right now. I know it doesn't taste as good as it did last time but I can add some cinnamon sugar to it and that will perk it up. You could also have yogurt instead or even some heavy cream.


Izzy; No. I don't want any of that. I am not eating it. I don't want anything. Why didn't you buy the regular sour cream?


He proceeds to leave the table. Tears well up in his eyes and his face reddens as he folds his arms in a huff and plops down on the couch (an Oscar-worthy performance to say the least). I see him watching me and then he gets up and comes back into the kitchen. We examine the sour cream together. I totally understand his point and I think we can remedy the situation..so I tell him I have a great idea.

Me: I am going to mix heavy cream with the sour cream to make our own special sour cream.


Izzy watches with great interest as I stir the mixture which begins to look remarkably more like regular old industrial sour cream and eliminates the cow-like odor. I spoon it over the bananas and add a touch of cinnamon sugar. Izzy eats it up, musing about whether or not we can make homemade sour cream one day. Meanwhile I am wondering how we are going to use up the rest of that sour cream.

p.s. I had to dump the sour cream after A. sampled it and said it tasted like fish.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Loose Ends: Giveaway Winner And Granny Cart Update



Giveaway News

I am pleased to announce the winner of the Izzy Eats First Giveaway. Micaela of Mindful Momma will be the recipient of a lovely, organic Dillie T-shirt or onesie. Remember to check out the Dillie Tees at Sparrow and Bull where Izzy Eats readers can get a discount (great idea for those last minute kiddie gifts!) Just use the code DILLIEXO when ordering.


Granny Cart Update

Breaking three granny carts in less than two weeks can sure put a damper on shopping expeditions. After the last week's episode, I brought the damaged cart back to the shop on 14th Street (just east of 6th avenue) one of those strange electronics and other unrelated products shops. They were more then willing to exchange the broken cart for my last hope..just a simple, sturdy blue metal cart. It was the same model that had lasted for a few years so I am hopeful. I managed to bring it home in one piece and will show it off soon.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Pigs In Blankets: An Enduring Allure


Pigs in Blankets at a Hanukkah party? To my goyish husband's ears that sounded indecent. For the record, they were cows, not pigs at our party because although I am far from kosher I like to keep pork out of Jewish holiday celebrations. No prosciutto latkes in this house.

What my husband did not realize is that cocktail wienies have been standard Bar Mitzvah fare for ages and that lately they have been making a comeback on the cocktail party circuit. They would suit our Hanukkah party just fine.

The inspiration for preparing my these little cocktail wienies came from this article which appeared in The New York Times last year. The only thing I found problematic was finding an organic cocktail wienie. My search was unsuccessful so instead I fashioned my own out of Applegate Farms Great Organic Hotdogs, cutting them in thirds. Worked like a charm, following Martha Stewart's foolproof recipe and using Dufour Puff Pastry which is the other essential ingredient.

Rolling the wienies is the perfect job for little hands. Izzy was a whiz at it and made quick business of the entire batch, making 50 of them in no time at all. We only had twenty or so guests but fifty wienies magically disappeared in less than 30 minutes. Next time we will make 75! Long live the cocktail wienie!

Monday, December 10, 2007

This Smells Funny...


Would you taste it? Of course I would because it goes without saying that stinky foods require a second opinion. I know this because growing up, the following scenario was all to familiar to me:

My grandma, mother or stepmother would remove the milk, cream or whatever from the fridge, open it, sniff and then ask whoever was loafing about the kitchen to give it a sniff or taste. Makes perfect sense to me. What if their olfactory senses were just not working to full capacity that morning? What if they already had an "off" aroma from something else. I was always more than happy to help out, which saved milk from being poured down the drain.

For years now, I have been unable to get any help in this realm; married as I am to a man who cannot conceive of the idea of sniffing potentially rancid dairy products (What happened during his formative years? Was he served sour milk and expected to drink it?) Whenever I ask my husband to sniff or taste, he regards me as if I were crazed and replies, "Why would I need to taste that if you think it stinks? Do I need to get sick too?" Now I ask you, is it really going to harm him to take one little whiff? What is the big deal?

The sniffing and whiffing of my youth took place in the days of the milkman, when milk didn't really last for more than a few days anyway. With ultra-pasteurized milk available, milk seems to last for an inordinate amount of time, as do other dairy products, but they eventually do turn, which is when the sniff test is necessary, which hasn't been that often.

All this changed once I started buying raw dairy products. Now I find myself sniffing, whiffing and sampling daily to reassure yourself that the milk, cream or butter has not turned sour or rancid.

What I have discovered is that often, when there is an off aroma, it is just a small amount of cream that has congealed at the mouth of the bottle but the contents within are still fine. I discovered that I am not the only one who dares serve potentially rotten goods to her family. At least now I have Izzy to confirm whether our dairy supply is fresh or rotten. He is more than happy to serve as the resident nose, sniffing every product on demand.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

OY: The Joy and Pain Of Latkes..In celebration of Hanukkah

Hanukkah just isn't Hanukkah without latkes.

Latkes. The basic potato latke recipe includes grated potatoes, eggs, matzoh meal salt, pepper and plenty of oil. The ingredients sound innocent but achieving latke perfection is a challenge. I blame this on the potatoes which, once grated, have a mind of their own. They change colors and exude liquid. You need to work quickly in order to prevent this but with a large batch of potatoes that isn't as easy as it sounds, especially with a pint-sized assistant who slows things down.

For today's party, I needed to prepare about 8 1lbs. of potatoes . First off, a food processor cannot hold that many potatoes so it has to be done in batches. And the longer the process takes the greater the risk of the potatoes changing colors. Trust me, pinkish brown or gray potatoes do not a pretty latke make.

With Izzy at the helm, pulsing those potatoes took longer than usual and the color change was difficult to avoid. To add insult to injury, I decided to add more oil to my pans than usual, creating a deep-fried burnished latke, certainly not to my liking but nothing a little applesauce couldn't fix. My preference would be for a golden brown latke, slightly crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. Which is how they came out last year..when someone else was frying my batter..was my batter different or the frying staff better..?

My only saving grace was that I decided to prepare the latkes early, before the guests arrived. In fact I started at about 12:30 and finished about 3:30..It was a messy and drawn out endeavor to say the least but it was over and I was able to shower before the party began, removing the oily residue which clung to my clothing and hair. All showered and ready, there were still a few things left to do. Latkes were not the only thing on the menu, which looked like this:

Hanukkah Menu 2007

Appetizers

Spiced Nuts
Pigs in Blankets (cows in this case and I modify the recipe)
Salmon Rillettes


Main Course

Brisket
Latkes and Applesauce
Apricot-Glazed Chicken Legs
Steamed Green Beans


Chocolate-Chip Cherry Rugelach
Brownies
Cheesecake


For once, everything was prepared in advance and I managed to have the hors d'oeuvres out when guests arrived. And even though the latkes were not perfect, everyone ate them anyway. My dad and Izzy liked them and Izzy even ate them cold, for lunch. This applesauce was just what they needed.

But I still crave the perfect latke so I might even make a small batch of them later on in the week, just so I can have one that is cooked the way I like. Otherwise I will wait until next Hanukkah.

And in case you were wondering, my brisket, which I will share on another occasion, must have been wonderful because, I., who is notoriously picky, was seen gobbling it up!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Of Skating And Chapati: Izzy's Afterschool Adventures

Izzy can't stop talking about his friend J., so imagine his excitement when I told him that we would be skating and then dining with him and his family.

Yes, an ice rink has opened in our neighborhood and Izzy has been itching to go there since he heard about it. Not only would he get to see his friend J. but they would skate too..Izzy nirvana to be sure.

I remember skating as a kid. I tagged along with my brothers to the local duck pond which froze over (yes that used to happen here in New Jersey, way back in the 20th century). I had two-rudder skates which worked just fine on the tiny pond. All I had to worry about was sinking into a hole.

Skating here was a different story at this bright and shiny new rink. I rented a pair of silvery skates with velcro closures for Izzy and similar ones for myself. Izzy walked fine on them but when he hit the ice the real show began. Watching him plop down was like watching a slapstick comedy. He kept leaning backwards and falling on his bottom. Or, he bravely clung to the sides of the rink. When that wasn't working he would try to pull me along in such a way that I felt we would both go tumbling down. And then he became frustrated and said he had had enough of skating and his leg hurt. Turned out one of the skates had pinched him leaving an awful open wound. OUCH.. The reward for all of our skating efforts was our dinner at J's house. His mom and grandma had prepared some Indianish foods with Mexican accessories. The highlight was the chapati made by J's grandma. Izzy chewed on one along with his dinner. The kids had dessert and just as we were about to leave, Izzy announced that he was still hungry, which he has a habit of doing at home but has yet to do at someone else's house. I tried to steer him toward getting his coat on and then he whispered, "Bread" and I knew he was looking for some more chapati. I mentioned this to our hosts to let them know how much he had enjoyed it and before I knew it, J's grandma was back at the stove, preparing another batch for Izzy..
Izzy was fascinated by the preparations and I had to hold him up as he watched her knead the dough, roll it out, slap it and cook it on the stove-top. When she had finished, she gave one to Izzy which he devoured on the spot, and then presented the others in a package to take home. We left feeling very spoiled...

p.s. Izzy ate his chapati for breakfast with cream cheese on it!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Izzy Must Eat Chinese: Hysteria Averted

My friend L., who hosted the Nutcracker brunch, also happens to live near the most incredible Chinese restaurant. Since the Nutcracker ended close to dinnertime, I thought we could squeeze in a visit there, on our way home with friends H. and I.

When the ballet ended earlier than we had anticipated, H. said it was too early to eat. Given that she was not raised with a Chinese food obsession of sorts, she didn't understand the devastating effect this pronouncement would have on Izzy. When I told him the bad news he immediately burst into tears. He must have been dreaming of the food for days, since I had promised him we would go there. I must say I was pretty disappointed myself.

Eventually, H. had the presence of mind to suggest that we get take-out instead which calmed him down. When we got there we decided it was late enough to eat after all and Izzy happily scrambled out of the car.

In the past we have only eaten there with L., who knows exactly what to order. At first I wasn't sure I would remember all of the dishes we liked but I figured it out quickly enough. Izzy and I were as smitten as ever but I am not sure if H. and I. took a fancy to it. In fact H. had even said that they rarely eat Chinese food and that I. had not really eaten it that much.

I worried that I. wouldn't like it but she seemed willing to try. If nothing else, she did manage to eat a few bites of "pink fish" (shrimp shumai) and she was also inspired to try her hand with chopsticks. Who knows what the future will hold? As for Izzy and me, we were just glad to get our fix!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

My Granny Cart Fell Apart... I've Got The Food Schlepping Blues

The day before Thanksgiving, my trusty blue metal granny cart, finally gave out. It was done in by the 15 lb. turkey plus at least 15 lbs. of other ingredients. I had bought it for Izzy so that he could accompany me to the supermarket but I discovered that it was perfect for sliding through subway turnstiles so I borrowed it for my weekly jaunts.

Monday's mission was to purchase a new granny cart. I wanted a cute plaid one like I used to have ages ago. So I bought the only one they had on 14th Street. It wasn't exactly what I had in mind but for twenty bucks it would do the trick. Off to the market I went, stuffing the cart to the brim. It wasn't as easy to navigate as my old one and then, as I bumped it down the Path train steps, one wheel popped off. Just what I needed, to be saddled with a cart stuffed with at least 30 lbs. of groceries and one wheel, not to mention my purse and two extraneous shopping bags. Yet somehow, some way, I dragged everything home, disgruntled all the way.


I unpacked the sad-looking cart and parked it in my vestibule, wondering as to its fate (garbage night or return?).
Today I carried it back to the shop and they were quite willing to give me a different model. I really just wanted another blue metal one but all they had to offer was a sporty model which is truly not my style. But what is a girl to do? I needed it right then and there to get my 8 lbs. of brisket and 10 lbs. of potatoes home. So I bought it. I stuffed it and guess what happened??


The Path train steps did it in as well. As I bumped it down the steps I heard a funny sound and saw a piece of cart hanging off. I am not quite sure what it is, sort of a fender. This minor mishap did not prevent me from getting everything home but I am beginning to feel granny cart cursed.

I have no idea where to get a snappy, sturdy granny cart but I do need one desperately. Any city readers have any ideas for me? I think I bought my city one at Zabar's and I just may have to get myself over there soon.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Happy Hanukkah To All

Tonight was the first night of Hanukkah and we did not make or eat latkes. Instead, Izzy lit the candles. Then we listened to some Hanukkah music while he danced around the living room. It was a relaxing evening. This after an afternoon of intense preparations.

Izzy and I have been working since Monday to prepare for our Hanukkah celebration this weekend. Today we worked on the rugelach dough and a noodle kugel to bring to Great-Grandpa tomorrow. Lots to do but I am determined to have everything under control. I am keeping my fingers crossed. Stay-tuned for menu and recipes.

Homemade Applesauce: Easier Than Pie

The only time I make applesauce is for Hanukkah. For me it is the only accompaniment to latkes. Other than that, I can definitely live without it for the rest of the year. Izzy, on the other hand, is a different story. He has had a hankering for applesauce for several weeks, brought on no doubt, by some school snack.

On Monday,I finally broke down and hauled home 7 lbs. of apples from the Greenmarket so that we could make a giant vat of it for our latkes. Until fairly recently, I thought that making applesauce was far too much effort for something I wasn't wild about eating. Then I discovered the most marvelous secret. You don't need to peel or core the apples. Simply cut them and throw them into a pot with a few other ingredients. Simmer 20 minutes and then have your under age helper mash them up for you like this:

What I think is an awful chore, he thinks is great fun. "No mama! Let me do it.!" This food mill and my ever-willing little helper do all of the work, separating the skin, pits and core from the sauce. What is left is a lovely, pink-hued sauce. You can make huge vats of it and freeze it. Or serve it to a band of hungry latke eaters..which we will be doing soon.
Applesauce ( From The Joy Of Cooking)

3 lbs. apples (2 to 3 varieties)
1/2 cup apple cider
6 tablespoons honey
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
cinnamon stick
nutmeg


Directions

1. Place apples and cider into a large pot.
2. Simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Stir in honey and spices.
4. Discard cinnamon stick and pass through a food mill.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Good Taste, It Starts Early...From Pregnancy To Starting Solids


If you read my blog, you know that I revel in the fact that my son eats most everything. It is my belief that this did not happen by accident. There are many things a parent can do to help their children eat well. Current research is only beginning to support this and I hope to see further related studies.

As I have noted before, the French have already conducted research with breastfeeding mothers, showing a correlation between what they ate and their babies' preferences. The mothers who were given an anise-flavored beverage had babies who preferred this flavor. This comes as no surprise since breast milk varies in flavor, depending upon the mother's diet.

More recent research seems to indicate that a mother's diet while pregnant may also influence the child's tastes later on. I know that many have anecdotal evidence which doesn't support this theory. They claim to have children who dislike the foods they ate during pregnancy. I would love to delve a bit further into their claims.

Although I do believe that what a mother eats during pregnancy and while nursing can have a profound effect on a child's tastes, I think that shaping the palate requires more than that. It is the introduction of that food when the baby begins eating solids, which helps cement the child's relationship to it.

Often mothers will introduce a food and find that baby is not interested in it. They may try a few times and give up. Many mothers don't realize that it may take at least 12 exposures to a food before a baby is interested in eating it.

A few things to keep in mind when starting solids:

1. Start slowly: Introduce new foods one at a time. Continue to offer that food for about three days.

2. Make your own baby food if possible: It is truly more appealing that what you will find in a jar and it really helps prime your child's palate for clear, healthy flavors.

3. Be persistent: If your baby doesn't seem to like a food after a few days, give it a rest. Then reintroduce it in a few weeks, alongside something she does eat. If you are nursing, be sure to eat the food the day before offering it.

4. Eat when your baby eats. Babies are social eaters and will be more inclined to eat if they see you enjoying food.

5. Take a lighthearted approach to mealtime. Food should have positive and fun associations. Children should look forward to eating.

There are many more ways you can encourage your children to have a positive relationship with food. Sprinkled throughout this blog are ideas to help you get started. After all, eating is one of life's greatest pleasures and hopefully it will be for your children too!









Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Nutcracker: A Holiday Tradition In The Making

I remember attending the Nutcracker at Lincoln Center with my grandma when I was a little girl. I don't think it was a yearly tradition but I remember it as a very special occasion. Something that could have been a great winter tradition but for one reason or another, never quite made it.

Thanks to my dear friend L., I was able to turn this fond memory into a real tradition for Izzy and me. Her daughters dance in a local performance of the Nutcracker and a mighty professional one at that. Izzy and I have been attending for the past three years. We started when he was two and half and have been going ever since.

L. has added her own twist to the tradition by preparing a hearty brunch for all of her friends and family who attend. She puts together an ample buffet, including salmon frittata, chive biscuits, french toast, yogurt with fruit and granola, and homemade sausage patties. My scones, served with clotted cream, added a sweet note to the spread.


This tradition must live on because not only is brunch my favorite meal but eating all of these rich dishes before the performance seems to keep Izzy calm and attentive throughout.

P.S. The Izzy Eats First Giveaway will be extended until Monday night. Don't forget to comment to be eligible to win an adorable tee!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Saigon Cafe: Vietnamese On A Cold Day

Today was the first really cold day of the winter season. The kind of day where staying indoors with a cup of tea would suit me just fine. We had plenty of things around the house to nibble and I could have rustled up something for dinner too. We did have plans to go ice skating but they were sidestepped by a chore I had to tend to which ended up taking more time than I thought. This, quite understandably, threw Izzy into a snit. I rarely ever break my promises to him and I had to make it up to him.

I suggested we go out to dinner. That perked him up and at his request we went for Vietnamese. Our old stand-by, Saigon Cafe, has gotten a makeover. Some superficial decorative changes were made and the dishes have gotten pricier and smaller. Other than that, things are pretty much the same.

He and I both love the Spring Rolls and Summer Rolls so we started with those. Then we veered from the tried and true and ordered the Tamarind Soup, something I have never eaten. It contained okra, tomatoes, bean sprouts, pineapple and tofu. Rice was served on the side.


It was sour broth with a spicy kick. We both ate it happily enough but it didn't measure up to the comforting goodness of the Napa Cabbage Tofu Soup we usually order. When we were warm and full Izzy asked, "Why did we have to get a new soup?" He had so quickly forgotten that he had thought it was a good idea in the first place. I explained that it is fun to try new things because we might discover something we really like.

What do you order when you go out to eat? Tried and true or something new?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Birdbath Bakery: Sweet Eats And Sweet Tees: Izzy Eats First Giveaway!


It is official. I have become a Thursday regular at Birdbath Bakery on 7th Avenue at Charles Street. It is easily the cosiest place to park myself while Izzy is at clay class. They offer a small selection of City Bakery treats which seem to increase weekly, as well as the vegan selections I mentioned awhile back. Marshmallows have made an appearance this week. Who knows what else is in store?


The best part about this small eco-friendly spot is that I can sip my shot of hot chocolate and shop for original gifts without moving from my seat. I discovered this a few weeks ago when I walked in to find these sweet organic tees and onesies by Dillie, strung up as an eye-catching display.

The soft fabrics and simple animal graphics are sure to please all of the young'uns on your list (moms too!) (sizes 3 months - 6 years). (Though he doesn't know it, Izzy will be sporting the Whoo Owl shortly. ) Not only are these tiny garments easy on the eye but they also fit in with the eco-conscious spirit of Birdbath. They are fabricated from unbleached organic cotton down to the tags and they are hand silkscreened with plant and vegetable based inks.

Dillie is the creative brainchild of Kate Boyle, New York City based graphic designer and mom. Her inspiration comes from her three year old son and muse, Dylan. In her words, "I believe in responsible, smart and beautiful design and want the future to be as bright as it can be for our children."

The shirts are available at the store or on the web at Sparrow and Bull. Readers will get a 10% discount by using the code DILLIEXO when ordering, thru 1/31/2008.


Not only does Birdbath carry those adorable tees, but they also have a well-chosen display of eco-friendly gifts, including books, honey, syrup, and candles. I can't think of a better way to combine effortless holiday shopping and snacking.

P.S. One lucky reader will be the recipient of a free Dillie T-shirt or onesie, their choice of color and size. To enter, just answer the following question and post a comment. Where is your favorite place to snack and shop (could be two different places)?


I will accept comments up until Sunday, December 2, 2007. Send this post to your friends too! I will post the winner next week.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Dinner At The Mall? Not At All...

At least not if I have anything to do with it. You see although I went through a mall-rat phase in my pre-teen years, I now can't bear the places.

And the idea of eating in the one ? Unimaginable, despite those years of scarfing down the delights of Chick-Filet (is that the name?). We do live just steps from a rather large mall that we often need to walk navigate on our way from here to there. Other than that and the occasional last minute gift, I try to stay away.

So tonight, when my friend H. mentioned that she was planning on taking her girls out to the mall to have dinner, I had to intervene. She said she didn't feel like cooking and it was on their way home. Before she had mentioned the mall, I had thought we might join them. After declining the offer, I hung up the phone and felt somewhat remorseful. It seemed sad that I would let terrible food get in the way of a friendly dinner.


It only took a couple of minutes for me to offer the solution. I would just make an impromptu dinner for them. My fast food had to be better than the mall fare, right? So I just boiled up some water. I made the simplest pasta with tomato sauce, green salad on the side. Izzy chose the tri-color fiore shape, which he had selected from the supermarket.

Everyone was a winner. Izzy was happy to eat with his friends. H. didn't have to cook and I didn't have to suffer through a mall supper.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

(Olive) Bread and Jam For Izzy


Bread and Jam For Frances is one of Izzy's and my favorite storybooks. If you haven't read this story with your child, start now. The way Frances' parents handle picking eating is priceless and, I might add, astonishingly effective. We have been reading it since Izzy was tiny and I am convinced it has helped him learn the possible consequences of being a picky eater.
Izzy does adore bread and jam but thankfully not to the exclusion of all else. In fact, yesterday he created his own spin on it, requesting olive bread with butter and jam. Certainly seemed like an outlandish combination to me but he insisted I give it a try and it did have certain appeal. Salty, buttery and sweet. It certainly is an easy snack to keep around the house. Hey, if it works for him, it works for me!


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Secret Soup (The Last Of The Turkey Chronicles)

My mother-in-law makes a mean turkey soup. The first time I had it was around Christmastime, in England, where she had been spending a year. It was warm, rich and satisfying, perfect for that damp British weather. I remember watching as she carefully removed every last bit of turkey meat from the carcass and later on having the soup appear on the table after a long walk. I didn't actually see what went into it but it had the usual suspects, carrots, celery, onion with some other mysterious ingredients.

Since then, I have had the soup on a few other occasions. Each version has been slightly different, depending upon what is in her fridge. It always maintains a certain unctuosness that I have difficulty recreating. What was the secret? I had to find out.

After making several attempts on my own, and preparing what my husband termed, "Jewish turkey soup", I decided it was time to request the recipe. What surprised me was that the ingredients were very similar to what I had put in the soup. My MIL was clearing keeping a soup secret. A family recipe she was reluctant to give up? My soups always come out clear (like my grandma's chicken soup) and hers seem dark and full of mysterious tidbits.

After actually trying her "recipe" and still coming up short, I asked yet again. This time she mentioned using some of the pan drippings. Yet how is that possible when they are used for gravy? I tried a second time but still my soup was not the same.

When it was time to tackle this year's turkey carcass, I went hunting for the latest recipe but couldn't find it so instead I made this...


The best part was that Izzy helped chop up all of the vegetables.


Mama and Izzy's Turkey Soup

Ingredients

Turkey Carcass (Cover with water and boil for two hours, skimming the fat)Remove every last meaty tidbit and reserve.
2 onions, chopped
3 leeks, chopped
1 cup chopped parsnip
6 stalks celery, chopped
6 carrots, sliced
tablespoon fresh thyme
1 cup leftover stuffing
3/4 cup alphabet pasta
salt/pepper to taste
olive oil


1. In a large stockpot, saute onion in a slick of olive oil til translucent. Add other veggies and cook five minutes.
2. Add reserved turkey and then pour in about 1/2 the stock (8-10 cups. You can freeze the other half or double recipe.
3. Simmer for about an hour, then add pasta. When pasta is cooked through, add stuffing.

This may not be MIL Soup but Izzy couldn't stop eating it. As for my husband, he wasn't home to critique it. But the stuffing may be the missing ingredient.