Posts Tagged 'Jewish'

Hotel Potluck Adventure

Only a crazy person makes goodies for a potluck in her hotel room.  I have been traveling, and I wanted to check out a possible congregation to join when I move to Baltimore later this year. Online, it said that their service was to be preceded by a potluck. Taking this as a good sign (naturally I want lots of potlucks), I decided to attend. But I was staying in a hotel, seriously limiting my gourmet cooking capacity. And of course, I would NEVER just go out and buy a pre-made dish. Shame!

The hotel had a refrigerator, meaning something cold was in order. These stuffed peppers were more assembling than cooking. I bought a bag of those assorted multi-colored little sweet peppers, and three cheese spreads: artichoke garlic, sundried tomato, and cream cheese with chives. I also picked up some nice deli olives.  In my suitcase, I brought a small sharp knife, plastic spoons, and a few paper plates to use as cutting boards. I cut and cleaned the peppers in the bathroom sink, spread a bath towel on the coffee table and let the assembling begin.

I cut up bits of olive, and some thin bits of the peppers for decoration. I needed a sturdy tray, so I borrowed the square tray from under the hotel ice bucket – less than elegant, but utilitarian.

These probably have about 3 grams of fat/piece – I used lighter cheeses.

But then the fun began.  I looked up the address of the event, which was in a building called the Interfaith Center. I plugged the address into Helga, my GPS. Appropriately dressed and with a “home-made” offering, I sailed out into the dark and rainy night. Helga took me to a shopping center. When I roamed around trying to find anything that resembled an interfaith center, she shrieked “recalculating” in her stern and disapproving tone. For 40 minutes I roamed up and down Cradlerock Road, where said building was supposed to be. I was getting madder and madder. Finally, I grabbed my cell phone and called up Google to save me. Sure enough, it identified my position and pointed to a spot behind the shopping center and above a gas station and a McDonald’s. I honed in on my object.

There were several things going on in the building. I saw a room with people eating – Jews! Of course, by the time I got there, people were finishing off the remains of what had been there (it smelled good, though). They ate quite a few of the peppers leaving me with the remains for breakfast.


The True Adventures of Mock Chopped Liver

Each year my congregation has a community seder at Passover. About 80 people attend. We hire a caterer for the main course, but members are assigned traditional foods, such as the haroset or the matzoh balls to put in the soup.  This year they requested that I make my famous chopped liver, using my mother’s age-old recipe. But they also asked if I could possibly make a “mock” chopped liver for the vegetarians among us, or those who don’t like liver in any form.

Now I’m not sure why anyone would mock chopped liver. It is a high fat food of the gods, which should be treated with utmost respect.  And, I am not going to include the recipe for chopped liver as if it were healthy and low fat, although I’ll tell you the secret formula at the end of this post.  Just so you know the difference:

The chopped liver is to the left – the mock is to the right

But what would mock chopped liver consist of? I decided it should be essentially like chopped liver – braised onions lending their caramelized sweetness to the same mix of hard boiled eggs, chicken-flavor broth crystals and …what?  I decided to use mushrooms in place of the chicken livers, in the exact same proportion as the chopped liver.

The recipe is:

For each pound of mushrooms, sliced (I used ordinary button mushrooms) use
1 hard boiled egg
1 fairly large onion, sliced vertically
1 Tablespoon canola oil
Chicken-style (vegetarian) soup mix or bullion cubes (crushed) to taste

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Sauté the onions until golden brown and somewhat caramelized.  Remove to a bowl. Add mushrooms to the same pan. Sauté  until soft and somewhat browned. Put onions, mushrooms, and egg through a food grinder. If you use a food processor instead of a grinder, pulse so that the mixture is coarse. Add soup mix to taste, mixing it in thoroughly. Makes 6 servings at 3 grams of fat/serving.  I actually thought the mock chopped liver, which is actually a mushroom pate, tasted better than the real thing – oh sacrilege! And I plan to make it again just to eat with crackers.

I actually think I could make this without any oil – just sauté the ingredients in a non-stick pan coated with cooking spray, adding hot water periodically to “steam fry” the onions and mushrooms. This is how I usually cook onions – without oil. You get the same rich caramelized taste. Then the mock chopped liver would only be about 1 gram of fat/serving.

But wait, I said there was an adventure. I made the mock chopped liver the day of the seder (the chopped liver had been made 2 days before). This meant I got up early and sautéed 6 onions and six pounds of mushrooms. This took several hours, because while I have a very large sauté pan, I still had to cook them in several batches. I confess I was working with some haste, so that I would have time to take a nice hot shower before driving to the seder location. I ground the mushrooms, eggs, and onions into the large metal bowl of my mixer. The bowl was very full. I then set the bowl aside while removing the grinder from the mixer so I could use it to mix the seasoning into the mock chopped liver. In my haste, I bumped the full bowl and it crashed to the hard kitchen floor. Miraculously, it landed upright, with most of the food in it. But the impact shot some of the contents out of the bowl …

Onto the floor
(I had already cleaned it off the wall, which was coated)

Onto the ceiling

On the wall above the refrigerator, which was across the room.

There was mushroom mix on cabinets, walls, random dishes, and other locations that reveal themselves daily. I hastily cleaned and headed for the hot shower.  I still haven’t figured out how to get it off the wall above the refrigerator.

So what am I – chopped liver?

There is no way you can make chopped liver low fat (I’ve tried), so you should make it once a year, eat it and enjoy, and give the leftovers to deserving people so it doesn’t tempt you from the refrigerator.

The reason it isn’t low fat is not only because it is made with chicken livers and eggs, but because the onions and livers are cooked in Chicken Fat! I render my own chicken fat. To render chicken fat (an ancient art practiced by my mother and grandmother) remove all the skin and fat from a large raw chicken. (Use the naked chicken for something else.) The skin and fat from one chicken makes enough fat for about 3-4 pounds of liver. Place the skin and fat into a large sauté pan, and cook slowly over a medium low heat for several hours until there is golden liquid fat in the pan, and crisp bits of skin, known as gribenes. Wikipedia says that gribenes are crisp chicken or goose skin cracklings somewhat similar to pork rinds. Gribenes are a byproduct of schmaltz (the Yiddish term for chicken fat) preparation.

When I was young, my mother would fish these bits of skin out of the pan onto a paper towel to drain, and then sprinkle the hot gribenes with salt for anxious children to grab as snacks. My advice is to nibble one…and then speedily put them in the garbage or feed them to your dogs, or whatever it takes to get the addictive little bits out of the house. I rendered enough chicken fat to freeze some for next year.

Once you have the chicken fat, follow the same proportions and procedure as for the mock chopped liver, substituting the liver for the mushrooms. I usually use the same pan I rendered the fat in, and cook it all in one day.

Thumbprint Cookies

My little congregation in having a musical Sabbath tonight. To be precise, the klezmer band “The Kosher Red Hots” will play. Klezmer is a musical tradition of the Ashkenazic Jews of Eastern Europe. Klezmer music is easily identifiable by its expressive melodies, reminiscent of the human voice, complete with laughing and weeping. Two of the members of the band are members of the congregation.  We expect a crowd of guests to come to hear them.

Like every Friday night service, there will be an oneg – enjoying Shabbat by eating snacks and sweets after the service. This is not a potluck meal, but “a little something” to have while you socialize with others. But this time we expect a larger number of people, so the word went out “bring extra”, if we run out of food, it will be a shanda (a shame on us).

So I decided on cookies, since most recipes make a lot of cookies. These thumbprint cookies, from American Profile, are very easy to make, and can be made the day before. In fact, they are the type of cookie that can be packed and sent as a gift – they’re pretty sturdy despite their delicate texture.  You can use any jam you have in the house. I used blackberry jam for half of them, and ginger jam for the other half. But apricot, strawberry, or even exotic jams will work.
Thumbprint Cookies

2 cups sifted flour (flour should be sifted before measuring)
1 cup butter (no substitutes!)
1/2 cup superfine sugar (I didn’t have superfine; I used granulated sugar and it worked just fine)
1½ tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
Your preferred jam
1/2 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar

Sift together flour and salt; set aside. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy; add extract(s). Slowly mix in flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until just blended. If you find the dough is too crumbly and not coming together, just beat it a little longer (with an electric hand or stand mixer) and you will get a creamy, light smooth texture. Wrap the dough in wax paper or plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 325°F. Quickly shape dough into 1-inch balls, and space them 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Make a deep thumbprint in the center of each dough ball; fill with preferred jam. 

Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until cookies are the color of pale sand. Transfer to wire cooling racks. 

When cooled, dust with confectioners’ sugar. Makes 48 buttery cookies at 4 grams of fat/cookie.

Grandma’s Potato Latkes

My little congregation had its annual Hannukah party on Saturday night. It was fun. We vainly attempted to sing the songs of our childhood…most of which came out like “Hanukah l’Hanukah na na na nan na” or “spin the whirling dreidel na na na na”.  We lit candles on the menorahs we brought, narrowly avoiding a conflagration.  I won a gaudy plastic electric menorah.

The only problem was that the latkes were burnt.  I don’t mean overdone, but most of them incinerated to hard flat cinders. It seems that the men of the congregation were making the latkes – a reasonably simple task. As you make more latkes, you typically put the cooked ones into the oven to stay warm. Somehow, the latke-makers were told to turn the oven up to 400 degrees – ergo latke cinders.

When I was growing up, my grandma had a latke party for all the grandchildren every year. The menu was latkes and more latkes with sour cream and apple sauce on the side. There may have been cookies or something for dessert…I don’t remember because I was always totally, blissfully full of wonderful, oily latkes.

Latkes are traditional for Hannukah because they are cooked in oil, which is symbolic of the miracle of  one day’s oil for the eternal light in the temple lasting for 8 days (the number of days of the Hannukah holiday).  And because they are cooked in oil, they are not exactly a low fat food.  But my latkes are only about 3 grams of fat per latke. The trick is having the oil hot enough so that the latkes don’t absorb too much oil, draining the latkes well on paper towels, and most important, not eating too many.

By the way, many recipes for latkes add various ingredients, such as chives or even other vegetables. Don’t do it!! My Grandma would be horrified. Those imposters are not latkes, they are some other sort of side dish. A good latke is potatoes and onions held together by egg and matzoh meal – nothing else. And some people use pre-grated potatoes. I guess Grandma might ok that, after all, she told me blintzes came from the freezer case.  I still grate my own potatoes and onions, albeit with the food processor and not the knuckle-scraping box grater…but if you need to save time, I guess pre-grated are ok.

Grandma’s Potato Latkes

2½ pounds baking potatoes, peeled
1 medium onion
½ cup matzoh meal
¾ cup egg substitute
1 teaspoon salt
a grind of black pepper (about 1/8 teaspoon)
canola oil

Preheat oven to 200 (you could also use a warming drawer if your stove has one). Line a baking sheet with several layers of paper towels.  Using the large holes of a box grater or grating disk of a food processor, grate potatoes and onion together. Using your hands, gather up handfuls of the potato mixture and squeeze as much of the liquid from it as possible. (I usually do this right from the food processor and put the squeezed potatoes into a large bowl.) Add matzo meal, egg substitute, salt, and pepper. Mix thoroughly – I do this with my hands since I haven’t been able to find a spoon that can mix it well enough.

Place a deep skillet over medium-high heat and add oil until it comes ½ inch up the side.  Heat until a little piece of the potato sizzles when you put it into the oil.  Cook the latkes in batches by carefully adding about 1/3 cup potato mixture for each pancake to the oil, pressing down on the mixture to spread it into a 3-4 inch latke. Don’t crowd them, and don’t make them too thick or they will burn on the outside before they cook on the inside.

Fry, turning once, until they are deep golden brown on each side – about 6 minutes total. Keep an eye on them so they don’t burn.  Using a slotted spatula, transfer the latkes to the lined baking sheet and keep warm in the oven while you make the remaining latkes.  You may have to add a little more oil to the pan for later batches – let it heat up before you add more potato mixture.  Serve with applesauce and non-fat sour cream.  Makes about 15 latkes with about 3 grams of fat/latke.

OK, I confess – this picture lies. I did not eat only 2 latkes. I am sitting here blissfully full of latkes, with oily hands, lips and cheeks, feeling like I am 8 years old again.

Happy Hannukah.

Blintzes with Blueberry-Cinnamon Sauce

Many years ago, when I asked my dear Grandma Freydl, how to make blintzes, those delicious Jewish crepes filled with creamy cheese and topped with fruit, she told me that to make them, you went to the freezer case, bought them, and heated them up at home.  Blintzes have an unjustified reputation for being difficult to make, but they are not hard at all.  If you’re making a large number of them (I’ve made 200 at a time) for a party, it takes time to make all the crepes and fill them (enlisting a couple of friends and relatives to create a production line is helpful), but the process is straightforward: you make small crepes out of a thin batter, cook them on one side, fill them with a cottage cheese mixture on the cooked side, and then fold them and cook the outside.

Some time after I learned there was a means to obtain blintzes outside of the freezer case, I discovered that it was easy to make them very low fat by substituting non-fat ingredients for higher fat ones – thus eliminating blintzes’ reputation for being a high fat luxury. This time I even baked them instead of sautéing them in butter, both further lowering the fat and allowing me to make a large number (40) at once.

Blintzes are also versatile. They freeze well at the point when you’ve filled them but not done the second cooking, allowing you to make them well ahead of an event. Just defrost them before cooking.  They make a good brunch dish, and have significant Wow factor if you bring them to a potluck, as I did this time – especially since people think they’re so hard to make.

You can vary the toppings. Many people serve them with sour cream and sweetened strawberries. I’ve had them with apples cooked in cinnamon, and various melted preserves. The Blueberry-Cinnamon Sauce is simple, and any leftover sauce is great on French toast or pancakes.

The Blintzes

1 large egg
1/2 cup egg substitute
4 Tablespoons flour
1/2 cup water
pinch of salt

1 pound dry cottage cheese (I use small curd non-fat cottage cheese and drain it through a sieve for 1/2 hour)
1/2 cup egg substitute
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

cooking spray
1 Tablespoon butter, melted

In a medium bowl, beat batter ingredients to form a thin batter. Spray a small frying pan with cooking spray and heat over medium heat. Pour 2-3 tablespoons of batter into the frying pan, turning quickly so that the batter covers the whole bottom of the pan, making a thin crepe.

Cook until the crepe is golden brown on the bottom. Be sure not to overcook so the crepe doesn’t get too stiff, or it will be hard to fold.  Remove the crepe from the pan, and set aside, raw side up. Don’t be concerned if the first crepe or so is a bit ragged.  It takes a while to get the knack of making them.  Besides, they don’t have to be perfectly round since you’re going to fold them. I prefer to make all my crepes at once, and then fill them. You can line your counter with plastic wrap or wax paper and overlap the cooked crepes…if you’re making a lot it becomes a blintz factory.  You will probably have to re-spray the pan about every third crepe.

This is the blintz factory.

Mix filling ingredients ( cottage cheese through cinnamon) in a medium bowl. Place crepe on a flat surfaace cooked side up. Place a small quantity of filling in the center of the lower third of the crepe.

Note that this crepe is not very round. Perfection isn’t all that important here.

Fold crepe over filling, then fold the sides in, and continue to roll the crepe up.  You now have a blintz.  Place blintz seam side down and set aside.  If you are going to freeze the blintzes, this is the time to do it. Be sure to put plastic wrap between the layers of the blintzes you’re freezing so they don’t stick together.

There are two ways to cook the blintzes. (If the blintzes are frozen, defrost them before this step.) You can either melt one tablespoon of butter in a frying pan and cook the blintzes over medium low heat, starting with the seam side down and turning once when the bottom side is golden brown.  Or you can put the blintzes, seam side down, on a baking sheet or pan coated with cooking spray, and brush the tops with the melted butter. Bake at 375 for 40 minutes, or until golden brown.
Some of the blintzes have little tears where the filling shows through  These won’t matter once they are cooked.

This makes about 10 blintzes at about 1.6 grams of fat/blintz.

NOTE: This recipe is a bit imprecise because a lot depends on the size of the pan you make your crepes in. Mine makes about 10 blintzes per recipe.  Also, if you double, triple, or otherwise increase the recipe, be aware that it makes more filling than you need for the number of blintzes you are creating. I usually make 3 recipes of crepe batter to 2 recipes of filling, but I often have leftover filling even then.

Blueberry-Cinnamon Sauce

1 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons water
1 T cornstarch

Cook blueberries, sugar, cinnamon, and 1/4 cup water over medium heat until blueberries are soft, mashing gently with a fork or potato masher occasionally as they cook. When berries are soft, mix one tablespoon cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of water. Sir into the blueberry mixture and stir until the mixture thickens slightly.

This was a blintz that unraveled a bit, so I didn’t take it to the potluck. I ate it right then.

Grandma Cake (Sour Cream Coffee Cake)

I am going to a potluck tonight where we have been asked to bring a dish that was traditional in our family. This is the cake that was at every occasion. It was at holiday dinners (okay, not Passover) and at casual family gatherings. There was usually some left over to be eaten later for “coffee with a little something”.

My Grandma Fredyl, being from the “old country”, never used a recipe when she cooked. She threw in a handful of this and a pinch of that until it felt right. Whatever she made always turned out fabulous, especially the baked goods. My memory of my grandmother’s little apartment is that it was full of long taffeta gowns (she was a seamstress) and always smelled cozily of baking butter and cinnamon.  Family legend has it that Aunt Gladys, fearing that the formula for her mother’s wonderful cakes and cookies would vanish when Grandma passed on, shadowed Grandma around the kitchen as she baked. (My image of this is rather funny, Gladys being a large woman about 6 feet tall, and Grandma a diminutive white-haired lady, barely 4’10”.) Each time Grandma threw a handful or a pinch into the bowl, Gladys stuck out a measuring cup so she could codify the ingredients.  This cake is one of the results of her efforts.

I was surprised when I dug out the recipe that it wasn’t all that high  in fat. It doesn’t have as much butter as some cakes, and all I did to lighten it up was to use egg substitute and non-fat sour cream. I also used fewer nuts, although my memory of the cake is that it only had a sprinkling of nuts. I toasted the nuts to bring out their flavor.  It also makes a lot of servings without the slices having to be paper thin. Given that this was a dish to take to a gathering, I didn’t try to bring the fat down to 2-3 grams/serving by substituting applesauce for some of the butter, but it is still reasonably low fat/serving.  And when I baked it the whole house smelled like a memory of home,

Grandma Cake (Sour Cream Coffee Cake)

Cooking spray
1/4 pound butter (1 stick) softened
1 cup sugar
2 cups all purpose flour (plus a little for the pan)
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup egg substitute
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup non-fat sour cream
1/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted (my mother used walnuts, but I knew that someone at the gathering tonight was allergic to them)
cinnamon sugar mix (see hint)

Preheat oven to 325. Spray a tube pan (the standard size) with cooking spray and dust lightly with flour. Be sure to tap the pan so that excess flour comes out.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.  In the bowl of a mixer, beat butter and sugar at medium speed until smooth and well blended. Add egg substitute and vanilla and beat until well blended.  Add flour and sour cream alternately, starting and ending with flour. (I usually add the flour 3 times and the sour cream twice. I used to think that this alternate adding was the result of Aunt Gladys’s recipe recording technique, but I’ve actually seen it in other recipes.) Beat on low speed after each addition until combined. Don’t over beat.

Put I/2 of batter in tube pan and spread more or less evenly. Sprinkle generously with cinnamon sugar mix and then sprinkle nuts evenly over cinnamon and sugar.

cake batter

Spoon remaining batter over cinnamon-sugar-nut layer, spreading gently so the batter more or less covers that layer. Bake at 325 for 40-45 minutes or until a wood pick inserted in the cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool in pan for 10 minutes. If you have the kind of tube pan with a removable center, loosen the cake around the sides with a knife, and cool for 20 more minutes otherwise cool in pan for 30 minutes.  Remove from cake from pan and sprinkle  top with cinnamon-sugar mix (my mother sprinkled the top with more chopped nuts, but that would have added another gram or so of fat, and besides, it’s my recall that most of them fell off when you cut the cake. Cool completely on a wire rack.

cake on rack

This makes  20 servings at about 6 grams of fat/serving.

cake on grandma plate

Grandma cake on Grandma’s glass serving plate.

cake on my plate

Grandma cake on my plate. Ooops, it didn’t make it to the potluck. And it tasted just like my mom’s.

Hint: If you don’t keep cinnamon-sugar mix handy, you should mix some up.  It’s useful for sprinkling on so many things – oatmeal, toast, bananas, whatever.  There’s no recipe – just add enough cinnamon to the sugar to make it as cinnamony as you like.  I keep mine in a shaker right on the table.

cake cinnamon

Apple Strudel

Today is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Naturally, after services last night there was an oneg, food for the congregation to eat. In my small congregation, this is always a potluck, and for Rosh Hashanah, it tends to be fruit and sweets, along with the traditional challah, and apples and honey so that the new year is sweet.  It is traditional to make desserts with apple, or honey cake, in keeping with the holiday. I decided on an apple strudel. Of course, since I still have mountains of plums, I also made a plum strudel – but more about that later.

This strudel uses on of my favorite techniques, phyllo dough instead of fatty pastry dough. Phyllo (or filo) is paper-thin sheets of raw, unleavened flour dough used for making pastries or savory dishes with a flaky crust. When layers of phillo are baked, they become flaky, but have little fat.  The technique used is to stack the very thin sheets of phyllo, spraying each with cooking spray before adding the next sheet.  This strudel recipe came from Cooking Light.

Apple Strudel

1/3 cup golden raisins
3  Tablespoons  amaretto (almond-flavored liqueur) I lacked amaretto, so I used Fra Angelico, or hazelnut liqueur
3 cups coarsely chopped peeled Granny Smith apples
1/3 cup sugar
3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
8 sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed
Butter-flavored cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350. Prepare a large baking sheet or jelly roll pan by spraying with butter-flavored cooking spray.

Combine raisins and amaretto in a bowl. Microwave at high 1½ minutes; drain well. Combine raisins, apples, sugar, flour, and cinnamon in a bowl. Toss well, and set aside.

Place 1 phyllo sheet on a large work surface (cover remaining dough to keep from drying); lightly coat phyllo sheet with cooking spray. Place one phyllo sheet at a time atop the others, coating each with cooking spray as you stack the layers. Place a sheet of plastic wrap over stacked phyllo, pressing gently to seal sheets together; discard plastic wrap.

Spoon apple mixture along 1 long edge of phyllo, leaving a 2-inch border (it will actually cover most of the phyllo). Fold over the short edges of phyllo to cover 2 inches of apple mixture on each end.

Starting at long edge with 2-inch border, roll up jelly-roll fashion. (Do not roll tightly, or strudel may split.) Place strudel, seam side down, on the prepared pan. Score diagonal slits into top of strudel using a sharp knife. Lightly spray strudel with cooking spray.

Bake 35 minutes or until golden brown. This makes 8 servings at about 1 gram of fat/serving. This tastes heavenly on its own, but whipped cream or low fat ice cream would make a nice addition. Be sure to add the extra fat grams.

apple strudel

You will note another, misshapen, strudel in the foreground beside the apple strudel. This is the ill-fated plum strudel.  I used a different recipe, and, although it tasted terrific, it fell apart. I think that the plums I used were much juicier than the plums the recipe anticipated – and unlike the apple strudel the recipe did not call for flour to thicken the filling. Mind you, both strudels disappeared from the table in minutes.  But I’m going to make the plum strudel again to perfect it – after all, it’s not like I don’t have plums.

L’ShanaTova. May you be written down for a good year.

Matzo Balls

Lest you think that Passover cooking was over after my big at-home feast, don’t be silly.  I volunteered, again, to make matzo balls to put in the soup for the community seder for our congregation.  That’s about 210 matzo balls.  So I spent Saturday morning with two giant pots boiling away, instead of sleeping in.


My mother and her sisters used to argue about whose matzo balls were the most feathery and light (there are some people who like them firm and chewy – a shondana as mother would have said. Aren’t you ashamed to have made such leaden matzo balls!)  So I learned the secret of fluffy matzo balls – seltzer.  But I wanted matzo balls that were not only light, as in fluffy, but light as in low fat.  So a few years ago, I began tinkering with the family recipe.  First I switched the melted chicken fat to canola oil. This also made them vegetarian, which was a handy improvement.  Then I reduced the amount of oil to 1 tablespoon.  Next, I replaced 3 of the eggs with egg substitute.   Now the matzo balls are light nutritionally as well as in the sense my mother demanded.

One of the reasons to lighten up the matzo balls was that, although the traditional way of serving them is in soup, I like leftover matzo balls for breakfast, cut in half and heated in a frying pan coated with cooking spray. Drenched with maple syrup, they’re so good.  And they’re not too shabby if you cut them in half and sprinkle them with some garlic power and/or other seasonings before you reheat them.  They make a good side dish.  They are, after all, a form of dumplings.

I realize this is too late for Passover this year, but save the recipe for next year.  Or just make them for the heck of it – they’re good any time of year.  Why restrict them to a holiday.

Matzo Balls

1Tablespoon canola oil
1 large egg
¾ cup egg substitute
1 cup matzo meal
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup seltzer

Mix oil, egg, egg substitute and salt together in a large bowl. Beat with an electric mixer until well blended.  Add the matzo meal and beat with the mixer on medium speed until well blended. Gently fold in the seltzer until everything is well incorporated. Be sure your seltzer is reasonably fresh and has some bubble to it.  Flat seltzer makes for lead matzo balls.  The batter will foam up as you mix it.  Cover the bowl and put it in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.  Bring a large pot of water to a full boil. Reduce to a medium boil. Form matzo batter into balls a bit smaller than golf balls. I do this by scooping up a bit of the batter with the tips of my fingers and rolling it in my palms so there won’t be raggedy edges.  This often requires occasional hand washing to keep your hands from getting too gooey.  But homemade matzo balls don’t need to be perfectly shaped, so don’t over roll them.  Your matzo balls may look a bit small, but here is where the fluffy happens. Drop the matzo balls in boiling water as you make them. They will sink to the bottom of the pot and in a few moments they will rise to the surface of the water, doubled in size. Fluffy! Cover the pot and cook for 40 minutes.  Remove the matzo balls from the pot with a slotted spoon.   This makes about 16 matzo balls with one gram of fat each.

See, they’re a little rough around the edges, but they’re fluffy.


I almost always make a double recipe so I have leftovers – Even when I’m making a large quantity, I never make more than a double recipe.  I’m not sure the seltzer would work well in a bigger batch and, besides, 32 is about the maximum my big pot can hold at any one time.  So I just make repeated batches.

If you are going to store them for a day or so, drain them on the counter and let them cool:

Matzo Ball Production Zone


They actually keep well for a day or two in the refrigerator in a tightly covered container.  I also have been told that you can freeze them, but I’ve never tried it.  The traditional way to serve matzo balls in chicken soup (or vegetarian broth).  To serve, bring your soup to a boil, reduce the heat, and put the matzo balls into the soup to reheat for about 20 minutes.  Serve in bowls with one or two matzo balls in each bowl of soup.


Rugelach (Grandma’s Butter Cookies)

When I was young, there were two cookies that captured the essence of home and tradition. They were “rugelach” (sometimes called “der ahnderer” or the other ones) and “der geralte”, the rolled ones, which were damson plum jam, raisins and nuts rolled in a pastry dough and sliced.  The recipes were passed down from my Grandma Fredyl.  Fredyl, having grown up in the “old country”, did not have recipes; she cooked by eye and feel.  Family legend has it that my Aunt Gladys stood by her side as she cooked, and every time Grandma tossed in an ingredient, Gladys stuck out a measuring cup to measure the recipe.  Now I have the recipe on my mother Sylvia’s recipe cards, a memory of her since she’s gone.  They still evoke home.  Once I was visiting my sister when she lived in North Carolina, and we baked “Grandma cookies”. Her husband thought we were crazy, since we rarely saw one another, and we were spending our precious time together baking cookies.  We told him that we were “channeling Sylvia”.

For several years, I’ve been looking for a way to make low fat rugelach.  After all, the family recipe started with a quarter of a pound of butter.  I thought I found a recipe in a low fat baking book.  The recipe was a bit fussy, and after my experience with the lemon bars, I decided to calculate the fat content of my family recipe.  I was delighted to see that Grandma’s rugelach were quite reasonable in fat grams, so here is the recipe.


¼ pound of butter, softened
½ cup granulated sugar
1 ½ teaspoon vanilla
1 ¾ cups all purpose flour + up to ¼ cup flour if needed (I used about a Tablespoon)
¾ teaspoon baking powder
½ cup walnuts, toasted and chopped small
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (or to taste)

Preheat oven to 350.  Sift 1 ¾ cups all purpose flour and baking powder into a medium bowl and set aside.

Cream butter and sugar until well-blended. Add egg and vanilla and beat well. Gradually add flour mixture, beating at low speed until flour is incorporated.   Turn out onto a floured surface and knead in enough of the ¼ cup of flour to firm up the dough.  Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill overnight.

Take dough out of refrigerator and cut about ¼ of the dough. To make rolling the dough easier, roll it out between 2 pieces of either parchment paper, wax paper, or plastic wrap, with the lower sheet lightly sprinkled with flour. Use new sheets for each ¼ piece of dough.  This makes it much easier to get the cookies off the paper.  Roll the piece of dough into a rough square, about 1/8 inch thick.  Sprinkle with ¼ of the walnuts and a bit of the cinnamon and sugar (I have a shaker with mixed cinnamon and sugar, so I don’t usually measure them). Gently roll the rolling pin over the dough to set the filling.  Cut the dough into 2 inch squares.  Don’t worry about ragged edges.  I find that I have to shape each cookie by hand, and rough edges can be tucked in.  Put 2 raisins at each end of the squares.


Roll up each square, pushing the dough around the raisins to cover them up. Try to make them approximately the same size so they will bake evenly – I am not always successful in doing this.  Bend the cookies into little crescents.  Place on an ungreased cookie sheet.

I was rather distressed the first time I made these, since my rugelach were rather bumpy and unshapely.  But then I remembered that the rugelach of my youth looked that way, too.  They are a homey cookie, not a glamour cookie – but oh the taste of them.  Here they are in their lumpy splendor on the cookie sheet waiting to be sprinkled and baked.


Sprinkle the unbaked rugelach with the cinnamon and sugar mix.  Bake at 350 for about 15 minutes. Do not let them get too brown.  Cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes and then cool completely on rack (Try not to eat too many of the “broken ones). This makes 60 cookies at about 2 grams of fat/cookie.  These keep well, and freeze beautifully. We always had them in the freezer when I was growing up for a late night “nosh” or if unexpected company came.


NOTE: My mother didn’t toast the walnuts, but toasting brings out the flavor so that you can use fewer of them.

Now if I can only figure out how to make low fat geralte.

Luckshen Kugel (Noodle Pudding)

Luckshen Kugel is my ultimate comfort food – and these days who doesn’t need a little comfort.  A Kugel, according to Wikipedia, is “any one of a wide variety of traditional baked Jewish side dishes or desserts consisting of ground or processed vegetables, fruit, or other starches combined with a thickening agent (such as oil, egg, or flour).  Luckshen are egg noodles.

My mother’s luckshen kugel was delicious – and very high in fat.   Six or so eggs were mixed in, and I remember we kids competing to dot the top of the kugel with at least one stick of butter.  My mother usually made the kugel as a side dish to go with roasted chicken or a pot roast. I often just eat a big slab of it as a main dish, take it for lunch to be reheated (which it does well, but it doesn’t freeze well), and, I confess, I sometimes even eat it for breakfast.  It’s easy to make, and quite forgiving of substitutions.

Luckshen Kugel (Noodle Pudding)

Cooking spray
8 ounce package of yolk-free noodles (the wide kind, not the skinny ones)
3 firm apples, peeled, cored, quartered and cut crosswise into ½ inch slices
½ cup raisins (I use golden raisins)
2 cups of egg substitute
½ cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 9 x 13 cake pan with cooking spray.

Cook noodles in a large pot according to package directions (don’t overcook).  Drain noodles and put them back in the pot (no sense making another dish dirty).  Mix apples and raisins into noodles.  Mix in egg substitute and then sugar and cinnamon.  Mix so that ingredients are thoroughly combined.  Pour noodles into prepared pan.  Cover with foil and bake for one hour.  Remove foil. Bake for an additional 20 minutes until top starts to brown slightly and liquid is completely absorbed.   This makes 8 large servings with about 1 gram of fat/serving.


Variation:  This recipe can be varied in many ways: more or less sugar or cinnamon, no apples, no raisins, or maybe add some other dried fruit.  Some people mix in a cup of cottage cheese.  At any synagogue potluck , there will be two or three kugels, each made from a family’s treasured recipe – and they’re all good.  The one above is my mom’s recipe without the fat, and to be honest, since it is a recipe from the “old country”, it never had measurements. I just mixed and baked.  I measured this time so I could give you a recipe.  Here’s one piece:


I have lost 200 pounds. I did not do it through surgery – I don’t like knives and needles – or by joining a club, vigorous exercise, or rigorous dieting. I did it by gourmet cooking. To be precise, by cooking low fat, really delicious food. I love to cook as much as I love to eat. Food magazines are some of my favorite reading. I would feel deprived if I couldn’t have the sensuous experience of good food crossing my lips. This blog is about my perpetual feast, my passionate love of food, with recipes, photos, and occasional advice and principles that I have learned along the way.

More about me.

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