Saturday, April 11, 2009

More Passover Recipes

I am more of a culinary Jew than a religious one. I can not fathom Passover without the accompanying food ritual that I learned from my grandmother, a seder always consisting of chopped liver, eggs in salt water, homemade gefilte fish, matzo ball soup, brisket, matzo kugel, followed by various matzo meal and sugary desserts. It was a cholesterol, diabetes and digestion nightmare. This year I am paring it down to store bought gefilte fish, low sodium matzo ball soup with store bought low sodium chicken soup broth,, and two quick and easy vegetable dishes that I cooked in the oven right along with the brisket, Rosemary and Garlic Roasted Root Vegetables and Spring Vegetables with Lemon & Oregano. To finish off the meal, try this easy recipe I call my Passover Relief Formula accompanied by fresh strawberries. All in all a lighter, more healthful Passover... as if eating that much food in one sitting can ever be considered healthful.

Rosemary and Garlic Roasted Root Vegetables

equal parts sweet potatoes, white potatoes, carrots and parsnips.
fresh rosemary sprigs
chopped garlic, or garlic paste
olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Peel, wash and cut root vegetables into one inch cubed or bite sized pieces. Coat vegetables with olive oil and garlic. Salt and pepper to taste. Place some rosemary sprigs among the vegetables. Cover with foil and bake in 350º oven for one hour. Remove rosemary before serving.

Spring Vegetables with Lemon and Oregano

equal parts zucchini, fennel and onions
juice of one lemon
lemon zest
fresh sprigs of oregano
olive oil

Cut vegetables into thinly sliced three inch strips of approximately the same size. Coat vegetables with olive oil and lemon juice. Add lemon zest and toss. Place some oregano sprigs among the vegetables. Cover with foil and bake in 350º oven for 30 minutes. Remove rosemary before serving.

Both of these recipes can be cooked at higher temperature for a shorter time, but usually, I put in my brisket to reheat and I like to do that at 350º. The spring vegetables can also be prepared in a saute pan on a cooktop if you need more room in your oven.

Nana's Passover Relief Formula

equal parts dried pitted prunes, dried pitted apricots and dried apples (or other dried fruit)
enough water to cover fruit, plus 2 cups
one lemon, cut in quarters with seeds removed
one half dozen cardamom seeds (optional)

Place dried fruit and lemon in a saucepan. Add enough water to cover fruit plus one cup. Bring to a boil then let simmer for thirty to forty minutes. Check to make sure it is not sticking. Add more water as necessary. Add cardamom seeds. Let cool covered. After it has cooled completely, remove lemon pieces and any seeds or pits you may have missed. Can be served chilled or room temperature. Sometimes I serve it with sliced strawberries to accent the contrast between the very sweet stewed fruit and the slightly sour taste of the strawberries

Chag Sameach, ya'll!

To tell me about your seder or send me your recipes, click on the comments icon below.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Passover Preparations

In 1982, I purchased my first video camera, which in those days consisted of a twelve-pound camera connected by cable to a fifteen-pound tape deck, which you carried on one shoulder, while balancing the camera on the other shoulder, all the while making sure that the cable doesn’t get caught say, on a doorknob and ruin the shot. I had brought the camera home for Pesach to record my grandmother’s gefilte fish-making process, a recipe I had heard about and tasted for many years but never actually witnessed… an old family recipe she learned to make as a child. Nana Lena was a natural in front of the camera. It didn’t hurt that I was the operator and, like the youngest child at the Seder, asking all the questions. She entered the room carrying a large white Styrofoam cooler. “Okeydokey, we’re on the way to the fishmaking, and it’s a big thing. This is the fish I got from the market… twenty-two pounds of rockfish, whitefish, and trout, which is about twelve pounds after it’s skinned and filleted, and about another pound that I clean off the bones. All that’s already taken care of. I didn’t want to leave everything to do in one day. Making fish is really a three-day process: a day to shop, a day to cook, and a day to cool.” She took each piece of fish out of the bag and washed it, squeezing off the excess water. “You don’t think I’m an old Bubbie, do you?”

“Of course not, Nana.”

“You see, I put a piece of waxed paper between each piece. Then I sealed it all inside a freezer bag. What are you doing, closing in on the fish? If Pat sees this, she won’t want to eat it.”

“Well, then, I won’t show the video to Pat until after dinner.” I zoomed in on her brown spotted hands, closing in on her big diamond ring. “Aren’t you going to take your ring off, Nana?”

“So I won’t lose it? So it can be yours someday? Oy, your mother would kill me. I was just thinking about what Bubbie Sareva would say. Sareva definitely wouldn’t like that. She removed her ring and placed it in the windowsill next to her violets. A huge pot of water heated on the stove. Nana started cuttingthe onions. “I’ve got five large onions here. Some of them go into the stock; the rest I’ll use in the fish later. I don’t measure, so I don’t know exactly how much I’ll be using. I can only tell when I feel the consistency of the fish; then I’ll know if I’ve got it right. “Let’s start with the stock.” She cut the onions, skins and all,right over the pot. “So you take the yellow skins and put it in the stock pot. It makes the fish nice and yellow, golden yellow. Now you’re going to be showing this to your children fifteen years from now, and they’re going to say that this lady must have been crazy putting the peel in the pot. And they probably won’t like what I’m going to do next either,” she said, as she took three large fish carcasses, heads and all, and dropped them into the steaming water. “The fish heads, that’s what gives you a good strong stock.” She looked up at my camera and said with a twinkle, “You know what it smells like?” I shrugged my shoulders. “Fish!” She laughed. “Now I’m going to add more onion peel and celery, and we’re going to put in the carrots. The carrots are cut thick, so you can take them out of the pot later and use a littleslice on top of the fish for decoration. That’s how Bubbie always made it, with the carrot on top. You think I’ll ever amount to being a cook, Amele?”

“You are the best cook I know, Nana.”

“That’s music to my ears.” She wiped her forehead with her elbow. “With that, I’ll tell you another story about when Bubbie was sick; I guess it was thirteen, no, fourteen years ago. It was just this time of year, and I made everything early and took a whole Pesach tray to the hospital to her. She was most appreciative. She took a bite of the fish, and she looked up at me and spoke to me apologetically. “Lena, you won’t mind if I tell you something?” And I said, “No, Mama, what?” She said. “Der fish darf einkoch’n eine halbe sho.” “Do you know what I said?” Nana Lena asked me.

“The fish has to cook about a half hour longer?”

“Very good! Your Yiddish is improving. I knew it had to cook a little longer, but I didn’tthink it was a half hour. I was in a hurry because I wanted to get it over to Mama for her Passover meal before we had our Seder. I took the whole Pesach Seder dinner to her, and I know she enjoyed it. Especially my matzie balls.”

“All my married years, I’ve made gefilte fish for the holidays,and when the grandchildren came along and they loved it as much as they did, I felt that as long as I can stand on these two old legsand make it, I will.”

“You know we love it, Nana.”

“I know.”

That was a glimpse of what Passover preparations were like in Nana Lena's kitchen. I'll always remember the fun we had preparing the seder meal. Tell me about your family experiences and share your recipes by commenting below.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Back on the Blog

Many of you wondered why I stopped blogging.

Sometimes life requires all of your attention. My main source of income had disappeared and I was forced out into the real world to find something new-- something more rewarding and stimulating. I found that in a new job working on a hilarious TV show for Starz called Head Case with an amazing group of people.

During my blogging hiatus, I also needed to address how eating affects my health. Diabetes and high cholesterol run in my family. When I was young, I didn't care and I ate whatever I wanted and eventually developed both diseases. I learned that the food choices I made and my sedentary lifestyle, were contributing to these conditions. I needed to own up to my choices and make better ones for the improvement of my health. I needed to exercise more and eat less, trade healthy food choices for my traditional comfort foods. I needed to rethink my recipes and create new ones that will make me a healthier person. I needed to start looking at food in a new way. Food that is good for me and tastes good.

I want to lose weight and create a healthier way of eating, and I want to share this process with you. Many of you would also like to lose weight and eat healthy while you tame your own medical issues. I want you to write me with your stories and recipes. Share your healthful cooking secrets with us. I want this to be a cooking community, like in Nana Lena's Kitchen. A place where you can chat and cook and cheer each other up.

Please join me every week in Nana Lena's Kitchen.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Spring Cleaning

It was a week before Passover, and I was helping Nana Lena with her annual spring cleaning. She didn’t take a feather and use it to dust out the remaining crumbs of chumetz, as Jewish women are instructed to do before the holiday, with a candle to better see the crumbs, a feather to dust them out of cabinets, and a spoon to catch them with, but she did like to have the house all clean for Pesach. As I dusted each antique cup and saucer she had on display in the dining room, I couldn’t help but notice the piece of masking tape underneath, each one labeled with someone’s name.

“If there is anything you want, put your name on it.”


“I’m serious. Tell me now, and we’ll put a tape on it.”

“I can’t.”

You’ve got to speak up to get what you want. Go ahead. Pick one.”

I point to one of the cups and saucers, Victorian with yellow roses. “I like that one. It reminds me of you.”

“A good choice. I was always partial to yellow roses.” She showed me another cup in reverse colors. “Take this one, too; they go together.”

That was the tradition in our family. If you wanted something, you wrote your name on a piece of masking tape and stuck it on the bottom of the item.

“I don’t want you and your sisters fighting over my things when I’m gone.”

“But Nana, you’re not going anywhere for a long time.”

“Only God knows what’s in store for me. Now you remember what I said. No fighting after I’m gone.”

“I promise, Nana.”

“Good; let’s eat. How about a nice corned beef sandwich? I need to use up all the bread before Pesach.”

We sat in her kitchen eating corned beef on rye piled high with sauerkraut, which Nana Lena thoroughly enjoyed. “Now that’s a good sandwich! Pass the pickles.”

It's been many years since we ate our pre-Passover corned beef sandwiches together. I was doing my spring cleaning, dusting all the tea cups in my breakfront, including the ones with my name on them on little pieces of yellowed masking tape. There was silver to polish, including the candelabras that used to sit on the breakfront in my Nana's dining room, and the silver wine cup for Elijah. There was Aunt Poogie's glass bowl and Aunt Goldie's cake plate and all the items that had been passed down to me. So this year, when I make the seder, I will have my family around me in spirit and memory.

And I know if they have a seder in heaven, Nana, you'll still be cooking for your family up there and thinking of the rest of us down here on earth. Happy Pesach everyone.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

A Little Bit Nuts

I remember one Passover when my mother, grandmother and great-aunt Goldie shared the kitchen together. It was 1982 and I had just purchased my first video camera. We were in my mother’s kitchen, which by all rights was her domain, but my Nana Lena was a real balebuste in the kitchen and she was always in command. Then there was my Great-Aunt Goldie, two years older than my Nana, she pranced and preened in front of the camera like a Southern Mae West. “Get me. Get me, I’m the prettiest.”

“You are not!” Nana Lena elbowed her sister.

“Yes, I am.” Goldie leaned into frame. “We are the cooks of 1920.”

Nana Lena added, “Or earlier.”

“1920, I wasn’t old enough to cook.”

“You were born in 1900 and you weren’t old enough to cook in 1920?”

Goldie flaunted her age proudly, “I was born in 1911.”

Nana Lena thought a minute. “I suppose you’re right. I was born in 1912.” Nana Lena didn’t like it when Goldie was right, so she quickly changed the subject. “Watch me make the haroset, Amele. I’m making haroset, but I never make it this way. I always grate it. But your Mama insisted on putting it in the blender.”

“It’s the modern way, Nana.”

“Blender’s in,” Goldie quipped.

“But your Nana’s not modern. She’s old fashioned.” Nana said.

“Blender’s in, grater’s out.” Goldie continued.

“But Nana, you used a blender yesterday to beat the eggs?”

“That was a blender; this is a food processor.”

“That’s right, processor is in, blender is out,” Goldie rolled her eyes.

Nana turned to the camera. “Now I don’t hear anyone saying, be careful Nana, you’re going to cut your hand.”

Goldie mimicked her “Be careful Lena, you’re going to cut your hand.”

My mother chimed in from across the room. “You wouldn’t cut your hand if you used the processor, Mother.”

Nana Lena turned toward her daughter, then back toward my camera. “I started to say something, Elayne, but Amy’s got the video on.”

“What were you gonna’ say, Mother?”

Nana Lena looked straight into the camera, and in her best Southern drawl said, “Shut up.”


Nana Lena rolled her eyes for effect. “Elayne, you said you had some open honey?” Mom brought her the honey, Nana poured it in.

Goldie leaned in and whispered to the camera. “I’m watching so I’ll know how to make it when I make it next time. But I won’t make it this way, I’ll make it good.”

Nana Lena teased her, “You won’t make it this way, you’ll make it good, but you’ll watch me to learn how to make it?”

“Smart ass.” Goldie turned away,

Nana stirred in the nuts. “Shit arayn. That’s what Mama used to say.”

We all joined in saying “Shit arayn,” not because it is a blessing, or anything, we just like the way that it sounds, like throw some shit in, when shit just means to shake or pour. Nana Lena poured a little wine into the mixture, then stirred, handing the spoon to her daughter, “You want to be the Official Taster?”

“I thought that was my job, Nana?” I teased from across the room.

Nana Lena turned right to camera. “Well, who do you think was the Official Taster before you?”

“You got a point,” I answered.

Mom took a bite. “It needs more honey. No, it’s good.”

Goldie elbowed in. “Let me have a taste. Let me taste it.” She took a bite off the same spoon. “It needs nuts. All I tasted was apples.”

“We need a lot of nuts in this family,” my mother added.

“We have enough nuts already.” Nana Lena concluded as she dumped the rest of the chopped pecans into the bowl. “To hell with the expense. Give the bird another seed. I’ll use them all.” She took another bite. “Now it needs more honey.”

* * *

Haroset is one of the symbolic foods on the seder plate that we eat on Passover to remind us of the bricks and mortar that the Jewish slaves used to build the pyramids of Egypt. Haroset is usually made with walnuts, but being Southern, Nana Lena made hers with pecans. I love to eat it as a snack. This recipe should serve 8 to 10.
4-6 apples
1 cup chopped pecans
¼ cup sweet red Passover wine
½ cup honey

Peel and core apples. Dice into small pieces the size of a kernel of corn or a raisin. Chop pecans into similar sized pieces. Add wine and honey. Combine ingredients. Taste. Add more wine or honey or pecans, to taste. Store in refrigerator until seder. Serve with matzo.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


I was in New York for Purim which is my poor excuse for not writing this sooner. I attended a most unusual Purim Party, a formal masked Bat Mitzvah high atop New York City. The mother of the Bat Mitzvah did an amazing job of producing the event. The Bat Mitzvah girl was equally amazing as she chanted the whole megillah in a tasteful yet elegant pink tulle BCBG gown with the New Yorker sign in red letters above her in the sky. Whenever she mentioned Haman's name we all booed and shook black hamantaschen rattles my friend had made for the occasion. Later that evening, the caterer served the real thing, although his hamantaschen did not compare to Nana's Lena's. I only remember her baking hamantaschen when we were little. After that she bought them at a bakery.

When I returned from my trip, there were a bevy of emails including one from my college suitemate Carol who enjoys using my book as a basis for her own culinary creations. She wrote:

“Nana Lena really knew her hamentaschen crust! WOW! I made some filling from cherry/prune/stuff I mixed up and used Nana Lena's crust with a stick of butter and equal amount of butter flavored shortening "NO TRANS FAT". Joel took one bite and he really said, Oh My GODDDDdddddd. Thank you for a perfect tea time snack." --Carol Breitner--


Hamantaschen are small triangular pastries with a sweet filling, a Purim treat. Also known as Haman’s hats, after Haman, the evil prime minister of Persia, who plotted to exterminate all the Jews. The plot was foiled, so when we symbolically eat his hat, it has a “happy ending”-- a sweet filling, often poppy seed, prune, or apricot. Nana Lena made hers with prunes.

3/4 cup sugar
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup vegetable shortening (*or 1/2 pound butter or margarine)
1 beaten egg
2 Tbsp orange juice

Sift dry ingredients. Work in shortening. Put orange juice into beaten egg. Add to dry ingredients. The dough will be very sticky. Cover. Chill 4 hours.

Roll out dough on well-floured board. Cut into rounds using the plastic top of a coffee tin. Let rounds sit for 15 minutes before forming into cookies.

Prune Filling
1 pound sweet prunes (no pits)
3 slices of orange
1/2 lemon
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp oil
dash of nutmeg

Cook prunes with 3 thin slices of orange, half a lemon (use both rind and juice), sugar, oil, and nutmeg, over a low heat until jam-like. Or skip all that and buy puréed prune filling.

Forming the Cookies
Spoon a teaspoon of filling into each cookie. Fold up three sides to form a triangle, pinching the corners, like a three-cornered hat. The filling peeks through only the center of the cookie. Bake at 400º for 10-15 minutes.

Add your comments below. I always love to hear how it turns out. --Amy

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Poor Fish (Part 3)

(For those of you who are just joining this
story in progress,page down to read Parts 1 & 2
before continuing with Part 3.)

"Ever since then, I’ve made gefilte fish for Passover,” Nana Lena stood at the counter, up to her elbows in fish mush, as she formed the balls and dropped them into the bubbling liquid. “Not so big. Like this.” She showed me her fish balls, smooth and uniform, about the size of a golf ball. I make them round, you see. But sometimes people make them like this.” She reshaped the ball in a few strokes into a more oval shape. “Boat shaped.”

“I’m not very good at this, Nana.”

“You just need practice. Yes, that’s much better. See.”

“You’re not just saying that?”

Nana Lena smiled and wisely did not answer.

“It seems like an awful lot of trouble to me.”

“It’s a lot easier now. You can buy fresh fish without having to kill it yourself. Sometimes you can even get the butcher to grind it up for you. If you do it yourself, you know what you’ve got. Remember that, write that down. I am telling you important things.”

“Yes, Nana.”

“I love you, my Amele.”

“I love you too, Nana. But the jarred fish is good enough, and it’s a lot less work.”

“Good enough? Yes, I suppose it is good enough…for a stranger, perhaps. Good enough, when there is no time for anything else. But the way I look at it…is it good enough for my family? Is it the healthiest, freshest gefilte fish I can make? Is it as filled with love? Then…it’s good enough, farshtéyst?”

I looked at my Nana, who, at seventy-five, had to be the wisest person on earth, dropping her little balls of love into the bubbling waters of life, and I nodded.

“Yes, Nana, I understand.”

* * * * * * * * * *
Gefilte Fish

This is a loose translation of Nana’s fish recipe. It’s a lot of work, and requires a fish grinder, a tool not found in every modern kitchen. You can use a food processor with a chopping blade if you don’t have a fish gringer. Nana didn’t measure; she did everything by touch and taste. All I can say is that if you are brave enough to make this recipe, “Ess gezundhayt”: “Eat it in good health!” And invite a lot of people. This recipe feeds 20–30 people.

Ask the nice man at the fish counter to filet 20 lbs of Rockfish, Trout and Pike. This yields about 9–10 pounds of fish meat. Keep the heads and bones, and scrape the remaining meat from the bones. (Don’t be wasteful! This can yield up to another pound.) The fish heads will be used to prepare the stock and give it a strong flavor. If you aren’t making the fish the same day, you can buy it in advance and freeze it, separating the fish filets between pieces of waxed paper. Make sure the fish is completely defrosted before grinding.

Fill a large 5-gallon pot about 2/3 full with water. While you are waiting for it to boil, add the following ingredients and let them simmer for about 1/2 hour.

2 onions, cut up, including skins
3 fish heads
3 stalks celery
4–5 carrots, peeled and cut into thick chunks
salt and white pepper to taste

Skim off the brown foam that accumulates on the top of the water. After broth has achieved golden brown color, remove the carrots and set aside for later. Carefully remove the fish heads, and strain all remaining items from the broth, twice. Return the clear broth to the large pot and bring to a boil.

Fish Mixture
3–4 onions (no skins!) a dozen eggs
2–3 stalks celery (peeled) 2 cups water
fish filets from above, and bits salt and white pepper
of fish culled from the bones. matzo meal

Before you begin to grind the fish, check one more time for bones and bits of skin. Rinse each piece and squeeze off the excess water with your hands. Set up your grinder. Nana Lena had the oldfashioned kind you clamped onto the kitchen counter, the kind you could take apart and clean thoroughly before and after making the fish. You’ll need a large mixing bowl positioned under the grinder, and a small pushing tool. Alternate inserting the three types of fish with pieces of onions and celery until all the fish has been ground. Mix it well so that there are no dark areas or white areas, just a uniform mixture of fish, onions, and celery. Beat up a dozen eggs in the blender. It makes them fluffier this way. Alternate adding the eggs and the water to the fish mixture.

Mix thoroughly. Salt and pepper to taste.

Now add 1/2 cup of matzo meal and mix well. Keep adding a little at a time until you feel that the fish is firm enough to shape into balls. Nana would pick up a handful, shape it into a ball, and, if it were too runny, she’d add a little more matzo meal until it was right. Somewhere between 1 and 2 cups, you will find the right texture.

Shape a golf-ball-sized “tester” and drop it into the boiling stock. If you see a flake or two rise to the top, that’s okay, but if you see the ball break up into several parts, then you don’t have enough matzo meal. Keep a dish of water handy to dip your hands in between balls. Drop the balls in one at a time. At first they will fall to the bottom, but eventually they will rise to the surface. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 2 1/2–3 hours. Shake the pot from time to time so that the balls don’t stick.

Carefully remove the gefilte fish from the broth with a slotted spoon. Store in airtight containers in the refrigerator. Serve chilled with a slice of carrot and a sprig of parsley on top, and a dollop of horseradish on the side.
* * * * * *
Happy Passover ya'll. Post a comment to let me know how it turns out.

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