Articles in Family
Although everyone in my family loves crown roast of pork, and baked ham, and everything else one is suppose to eat at Christmas, we do have a go-to menu every year simply because after many discussions we can never decide and we’re all too exhausted from Thanksgiving anyway. And this is no time to experiment. So we opt for a delicious but simple classic prime rib for Christmas dinner with Yorkshire pudding and creamed spinach. Appetizers, punches, desserts and guests may change every year, but these three dishes get made over and over again and we never regret it.
A prime standing rib roast is a given. It’s very expensive, but well worth the splurge, and you don’t have to do a thing to it. If prime rib is prohibitively expensive, you can always use USDA choice rib, which is what you’re likely to be offered in the supermarket anyway.
Also from our contributors:
Remember that one rib feeds two people, so a three-rib standing rib roast will feed six or seven people generously. Ask the butcher for a standing rib roast cut from the loin end and not the fattier shoulder end. Ask them to “French” the roast, which means to cut the fat away from one end of the rib bone to expose it.
Prime rib should always be cooked rare to medium rare. If you cook it beyond this point you are destroying the reason you bought such a tender — and expensive — piece of meat in the first place. If you like beef cooked medium to well then buy the appropriate kind of cut, which will benefit from longer cooking, such as round or chuck steak.
Prime Rib Roast With Horseradish Sauce
For the roast:
One 3-rib (7- to 8-pound) prime or choice standing rib roast
1. Preheat the oven to 325 F.
2. Place the roast, fat side up, in a roasting pan in the middle of the oven. Check the roast after 30 minutes to make sure things look OK. Baste the ends with the accumulated juices. Once the internal temperature reaches 110 F, after about an hour, you need to be very attentive as the cooking can quickly finish. At some point remove ½ cup pan drippings for the Yorkshire pudding. Test the rib’s doneness by putting an instant-read thermometer into the meat (not touching a bone) in two places, leaving it there for 15 seconds. It should be 120 F. Immediately remove the roast from the oven.
3. Remove the roast to a carving platter and let rest 20 minutes. Serve with horseradish sauce.
For the horseradish sauce:
This is the simplest way to do it, the traditional accompaniment to prime rib.
5 tablespoons bottled horseradish
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1½ cups whipped cream
½ teaspoon white wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
In a bowl, vigorously stir together all the ingredients.
4 pounds fresh spinach, heaviest stems removed, washed well
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¾ cup heavy cream
¾ cup milk
1 large garlic clove, very finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
Pinch of nutmeg
1. Put the spinach leaves in a large pot with only the water adhering to them from their last rinsing, then cook, covered, over high heat until the leaves begin to wilt, about 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain very well in a colander, pressing out the liquid with the back of a wooden spoon, saving 1 cup of the spinach water you press out. Finely chop the spinach using a mezzaluna or a chef’s knife.
2. In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat, then stir in the flour to form a roux, cooking for 2 minutes while stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to low and slowly add the cream and milk. Whisk until smooth, then add the garlic, salt, and pepper and cook for 5 minutes. As it thickens add some of the reserved spinach water and stir and continue cooking until it is like a very thick pancake batter.
3. Add the spinach, stir, and cook until it is heated through, about 2 minutes. Add the nutmeg, stir, correct the seasoning and serve.
1½ cups whole milk, at room temperature
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon salt
½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup reserved prime rib roast pan-drippings
1. In a blender, blend the milk, eggs and salt for 15 seconds. With the blender running add the flour, a little at a time and blend the mixture at high speed for 2 minutes. Let the batter stand at room temperature, in the blender, covered, for 3 hours.
2. Preheat the oven to 450 F.
3. In a 12-inch cast iron skillet, heat the reserved pan drippings in the oven for 8 to 10 minutes, or until it is just smoking. Blend the batter at high speed for 10 seconds and pour it into the skillet.
4. Bake the pudding in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes, reduce the heat to 350 F and bake the pudding 10 minutes more or until the top is all puffed up and a deep golden brown. Transfer the pudding to a platter and serve immediately.
Photo: Prime rib. Credit: Clifford A. Wright
Jamie Geller opens the door to the kosher kitchen at Joy of Kosher, her 2-year-old website dedicated to expanding the audience for traditional Jewish foods. Author of two “Quick & Kosher” cookbooks, her site is packed with thousands of her own recipes as well as tips and insights from the best kosher chefs.
A former CNN and HBO producer, Geller founded Kosher Media Network, which publishes the magazine Joy of Kosher with Jamie Geller. Founder of Jewish Culinary Heritage Foundation, Geller seeks to connect the broader international community through traditional Jewish food. She recently moved to Israel from New York City.
With the lighting of the first candles of Chanukah, Zester Daily asked Jamie to bring us up to speed on the kosher kitchen.
Tell us why you created Joy of Kosher with a brief history of your site.
Let’s start with the name. If you didn’t grow up in a house that kept kosher, you probably think it’s some kind of a restrictive diet that takes all the fun out of cuisine. To most of the world kosher has a bad rep, it implies boring and limited. You know: syrupy sweet wine and Granny’s gefilte fish.
But nothing could be further from the truth! Today’s kosher kitchen is full of exotic dishes and culinary adventure. The range of kosher ingredients is broad, and kosher wines are winning prestigious prizes all over the world. There’s so much joy in cooking kosher, but who knew? So I wanted to share the news with the world.
The site premiered a little over two years ago as a place where people could think of kosher cooking in a whole new way, and to encourage sharing among kosher cooks. The response has been incredible, not only from traditional Jewish cooks, but from non-kosher chefs who want to expand their repertoire. We’re like family now.
There is a rise in the purchase of kosher products. What’s driving the new interest?
Kosher certification symbols on the package (like OU and Star-K, to name just two of many) do not mean that a rabbi came and blessed the factory, the food or the people therein. It means that every ingredient of what’s inside the package meets certain standards. There are representatives from the certifying agency checking every aspect of production, making sure that no unidentified flying objects or ingredients sneak in.
I want that kind of supervision with my food don’t you? Apparently, millions of people want that too and go out of their way to find kosher products. Moreover, foods or ingredients designated “Pareve” mean that the product has no traces of dairy or meat. This is very important to people with allergies or lactose intolerance. And the rabbis are very trustworthy about this. Another reason is that many Jews who never kept kosher before are turning back to tradition and want to keep kosher now. You’re talking to one of them. I didn’t grow up kosher. But I am now.
Why should someone who doesn’t keep kosher seek out kosher foods?
Because they’re good, and they’re reliable. Whatever is on the label is really there, and nothing else. You can have confidence in a kosher product. And remember all those people going kosher that I mentioned earlier? Often, when there’s a family get-together, many hosts will try to use only kosher foods to accommodate their newly kosher family members, guests or friends.
If you had to choose between Ashkenazic or Sephardic cuisine, which would you choose? Why?
No fair! That’s like asking me which of my kids I love the most. I adore the bold, bright, spicy Sephardic foods, and I’m mad about their music and culture. I often play Sephardic music when I cook, dancing round my kitchen, channeling my inner Sephardi. Did you know that in a past life I was a raven-haired Sephardic princess? At least that’s what my hubby thinks; says he has to watch out for my camel in the driveway.
On the other hand, Ashkenazic food brings me back to my grandparents table, sitting on telephone books, with my feet dangling off the floor. In a flash I can taste their incredibly rich, clear chicken soup, their mile-high perfect potato kugel, their homemade kishka. All of that is what we call “heimish” — literally homelike, but so much more. It’s like every bite comes with a big, warm, cuddly hug.
Now that I live in Israel, I’m culturally engulfed by Sephardic food and my palate is changing: I think everything is better with humus and tahini; I eat falafel for breakfast and sautéed eggplant with cumin and cilantro for a snack and baklava when I have a sweet tooth. I guess, eventually, it will all balance out.
Among the most frequently requested kosher recipes on your site, what surprises you?
Can’t say I’m too surprised by anything anymore. But I do see that kosher folks keep trying for kosher versions of foods that are inherently non-kosher and even more popular — they want tips for turning real decadent dairy recipes non-dairy.
Let me just tell ya, you can’t sub heavy cream with coconut milk and call it a day. And of course we have stuff like imitation bacon (called “Facon”) and mock crab, and you can melt soy cheese on a beef burger, but you can’t really sub out everything in a recipe and expect it to taste spot-on like the original. So while I’ll occasionally cook “mock” versions, there’s no sub for genuine ingredients.
What keeps the kosher cuisine on the sidelines of the international restaurant scene? I don’t think a kosher chef has been recognized by Michelin as among the top in the world.
Well, they should be. I think part of the reason they’re not recognized is that old stereotype about kosher food I mentioned earlier. People just don’t expect to find creative, tantalizing innovations in a kosher restaurant. But kosher chefs should be given a second look: They do real miracles with food, using only kosher ingredients. For instance, Moshe Wendel, at Pardes Restaurant in Brooklyn, New York, is doing kosher progressive French food like you’ve never had it before (read: the likes of which has never before been done in the kosher world). Check out places like Solo and Prime Grill (both in NYC) and you’ll find plenty of award-worthy dishes.
What have you learned from JoyofKosher.com that has stunned you, really knocked you for a loop?
Jews love to eat even more than I thought! Everyone loves to eat more than I thought. And I used to think it was only me. I also found that food, especially kosher food, is serious business. And while we all enjoy a fun night out at a restaurant, where we can try new dishes, I discovered that hundreds of thousands of people want to experiment right in their own kitchens, serving up all kinds of fascinating cuisine day in and day out to their families. The demand for new and better recipes keeps us cooking on all burners. I’m always experimenting and tasting, and tasting, and tasting. That’s why I look this way.
Photo: Jamie Geller. Credit: Kosher Media Network
This Thanksgiving, welcome your family into your kitchen and let the adventure begin. This is the story of the Hinton-Brown family’s adventure.
* * *
Fresh from law school at the start of a promising legal career, Norrinda Brown longed for a creative outlet, a way to keep her pressure-filled professional life in balance.
More than anything, she wanted to bake cakes. Growing up in her grandmother’s kitchen, every day had been baking day, layers of fragrant pound cake cooling on the counter, bowls of fluffy frosting in the fridge, butter was the essential ingredient in everything. Mothers baked with daughters, grandmothers with grandchildren. Baking by yourself, for yourself? Who does that?
Talking with her mother Linda Brown and grandmother Betty Hinton, an idea took hold that grew into a plan that became an obsession. Together, they could bake to their hearts’ content if they opened a cake shop.
Crazy. It was crazier than it sounds. Norrinda Brown Hayat had a full-time job as a lawyer. Her mother was a public school teacher. And her grandmother had long ago sailed past her 70th birthday. None of them had been businesswomen or worked in commercial bakeries.
Faith. Norrinda was convinced this was a particularly good time to open a bakery in their hometown of Philadelphia. Most of the city’s bakeries were Italian cannoli cafés. Competition in her family’s Southern layer cake culture was limited, as many of the older stores had gone out of business. More encouraging, the traditional pace for these bakeries was leisurely. It was common for cake shops to close in the late afternoon and stay closed Sunday mornings and all day Monday.
Recipes. No one made cakes like Norrinda’s grandmother, who baked by instinct and memory as her mother had before her and her mother before her.
By Linda Hinton Brown, Norrinda Brown Hayat
(Wiley, 2012, 192 pages)
Research. Together they were able to capture their family’s sense memory in recipe and for six months tested their creations on groups of friends, then groups of friends of friends, community gatherings, country club parties, women’s groups. They served their cakes with a chaser of questions. Sweet enough? More butter? How do you like the strawberry cake?
Brown Betty Bakery opened in 2004; its name is a play on her grandmother’s first name, her mother’s married name and a sly reference to Apply Brown Betty, a signature menu item.
Luck. “We stumbled into a really supportive community,” says Norrinda. An abandoned manufacturing area in the Northern Liberty area of Philadelphia was being revitalized with small shops and businesses. Spaces were small, rents were low and the tenants helped each other survive. “Almost all of our neighbors were first-time, one-off female-owned businesses.”
Oops. They needed all of the help they could get. Norrinda had misjudged Philadelphia’s bakery market. “A lot of the older bakeries had closed. And I didn’t fully appreciate why,” says Norrinda. Rather than retiring, as she had assumed, they’d collapsed, unable to keep up with the quickening pace of retail.
Customers patronized shops that were open early and late, every day of the week. “We weren’t ready for this,” says Norrinda. “I didn’t know how hard it would be. Baking had always been relaxing. I underestimated how successful we’d be and how demanding it was to serve the public.”
Sweat equity. For the first three years, Norrinda and her mom ran Brown Betty Bakery by themselves with only one extra employee. Betty came in every Friday night and left Saturday morning to test new recipes and oversee quality control. If that meant fewer cakes than buyers, so be it. “We did everything so we could keep overhead low,” she says.
It wasn’t until Norrinda Brown became Norrinda Brown Hayat that they broke down and hired more staff. “We knew we couldn’t continue to be the ones who took out the trash and swept the floor.” And, of course, as soon as they delegated more work to others, business grew quickly.
Success. There are two Brown Betty Bakeries in Philadelphia now operated by a staff of 25 with plans to open more shops as well as an online store. But what has them “traumatized,” says Norrinda, is the book. “Mom really didn’t want to do the cookbook and give out the recipes.” “The Brown Betty Cookbook” (Wiley), released last month, is the first time they’ve shared their family’s secrets.
“We’ve stayed close to what baking means to our family. It brings us together.” Though she is 89 years old, Betty still creates new cakes. Linda has yet to retire from teaching. And Norrinda never gave up her law practice.
And they’ve never stopped making time to bake together.
Top photo: Three generations of bakers, Norrinda Brown Hayat, Betty Hinton and Linda Hinton Brown
Apple butter might not seem like a traditional holiday food, but it holds a place of honor at my family’s Thanksgiving and Christmas table in Virginia. Stored in mason jars in the cellar or pantry until opened, then kept in the fridge, the apple butter gets its own special serving dish at my family’s holiday meals. Every few years we forget to put out the apple butter, but as soon as we start passing the homemade rolls, someone (usually my father) inevitably asks for it.
Because apple butter is traditionally made in the fall after apples are harvested, it also makes a great holiday gift.
In the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, where I grew up, gallons and gallons of apple butter are made by groups of people who gather for an “apple butter boiling.” The results are then canned and sold as fundraisers for local churches, fire halls and civic organizations.
Not a hurried process
Making apple butter this way is a two-day process. It takes 15 to 18 bushels of apples to make a large kettle of apple butter, so preparing the apples is an event in itself. On the evening before the apple butter boiling, people gather to peel and core the apples and cut them into slices called “snits.”
The next day is devoted to cooking down the apples in a large copper kettle over an open fire. It takes hours to boil down the apples in a bath of apple cider and the pot must be stirred the entire time. It’s traditional to add 10 to 12 pennies to the bottom of the kettle as you start to boil the apples in the kettle. Nobody really knows why, but some people think it keeps the apples from sticking to the bottom and burning. There’s even a special way to stir the kettle and a rhyme to help remember how to do it.
Once around the side and twice through the middle,
Don’t you burn that apple butter ‘kittle.’
People in the community buy apple-butter from the communal “boiling” for themselves and to give as holiday gifts. I grew up in Winchester, the apple capitol of Virginia, so my perspective on apple butter may be slightly skewed, but it’s been my experience that you can find apple butter anywhere people grow apples, at least in this country.
However, if you don’t have a local civic group that takes two days to make apple butter for you, you’ll probably have to do it yourself. I don’t mean to imply that you can’t buy apple butter at the grocery store. You can. But it’s not the same. So this year I embarked on a quest to create the kind of apple butter I grew up with.
A new generation
My husband and I took our daughters to pick apples in our local apple country at a place called Oak Glen, Calif., about an hour and a half east of Los Angeles. When I told my dad what we were planning, he said, “I always wondered who went to those places. Seems smarter to have someone else do the hard work and pick out the good apples for you.”
Clearly, he is a man who grew up picking his own apples from his family’s small orchard. I was embarrassed at first, but also defensive when I said, “So you WANT your granddaughters to grow up not knowing how to pick apples? The phone line was silent for a minute before he replied, “Yeah, I guess you’re right.” Point made.
My family happily harvested apples at Riley’s Farm (and enjoyed the hay ride and other “old-timey” events). A few days later we began to make our own apple butter. My father happened to be visiting when we made the second batch. I’m pleased to report that he sat at my stove dutifully stirring the pot of apple butter for an hour and a half one evening. Such is my father’s love of apple butter and family.
The apple butter we made is so thick that it will pile up on a spoon and melt in your mouth. It is dark brown in color, generously spiced with cinnamon and cloves and never gritty. My recipe makes about nine half-pint jars so if you go to the trouble of making it, you’ll have plenty to share. That is, unless you’re a part of my family, in which case you’ll have to make at least two batches of the stuff for your own family’s use. That’s what I did this year and I think I might make another batch or two before the holidays roll around so I have some to give away as presents.
Country-Style Apple Butter
Yield: 9 to 10 half-pints
I am grateful to Phyllis Shenk and Betty Sheetz for sharing their apple butter recipe with me and allowing me to attend their family’s joint apple butter boiling about 10 years ago.
Both of these amazing women have since passed away, and I often think of them as I stir my apple butter “kettle.” Although they’d probably get a good chuckle at the “tiny” quantity of apple butter this recipe makes, I think they’d like it. I’m sure it would please them both to know that I’m teaching my daughters to love apple butter and to learn their traditional apple butter stirring-rhyme.
Note: This is not the fastest or easiest way to make apple butter. It’s still a two-day process, even without the open fire and copper kettle.
My recipe calls for using a combination of a slow-cooker and stirring a pot on the stove for several hours. Using the slow-cooker allows me to cut down on stirring time by about 1½ hours, while still getting the rich, dark color I like.
8 pounds of apples (Phyllis and Betty recommend using Ben Davis or Rome apples. They say never use Staymen because they cook up “stringy.” I’ve used a combination of Jonathans and Senshus with great success. Avoid overripe, mealy apples of all varieties.)
2 cups apple cider vinegar (5% acidity)
1½ tablespoons whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
1 spice bag (or a piece of cheese cloth with a string to tie it shut)
4½ to 5 cups white sugar (The total amount of sugar used depends on sweetness of the apples. You can also substitute light brown sugar for white sugar.)
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
2 cups apple cider or water (Sometimes I need to add a little extra water to the pot during the second cooking phase on the stove-top if I turn the heat up too high during the cooking process.)
1. Wash, peel, core, and slice apples into at least 8 pieces about ¼ to ½ inch thick. You should end up with approximately 6 to 6½ pounds of sliced apples from 8 pounds of whole apples.
2. Warm the apple cider vinegar and 1 cup of water or apple cider in a medium sauce pan.
3. Place apples, spice bag containing the cloves and cinnamon stick, and warmed liquid mixture in a slow cooker. Cook on high, with covered lid, for 8 hours. Don’t do this overnight because you want to watch the cooking process to make sure the apples don’t scorch. The cooking time will depend on the heat of your slow cooker. If you have a high-powered slow cooker, cook on low heat.
If all the apples won’t fit into your slow cooker, you can place the extra apples in a medium sauce pan with at least 1 cup of the original liquid mixture. Heat the pot of apples and liquid mixture slowly on the stove and keep the pot covered. When apples in the slow cooker have cooked down a bit, add the softened apples from the pot into the slow cooker.
4. After 5 hours, open the lid and taste the liquid. Remove the spice bag if you like the flavor. For a stronger flavor, leave the spice bag in the mixture until you achieve the desired spiciness. Continue cooking for a total of at least 8 hours.
5. After 8 hours, the apples should be very soft. They will also have produced a large quantity of liquid. Cool the apple mixture and put it into the refrigerator overnight.
6. The next day, put the apple and liquid mixture into a large non-reactive pot and heat slowly, stirring constantly. If you don’t like slightly lumpy apple butter (as I do), you can run the apple mixture through a food mill or use an immersion blender to get rid of some of the lumps before you begin heating it.
7. Cook on medium-low heat, stirring constantly, for approximately 1½ to 2 hours until the apples are dark brown in color and have the consistency of slightly lumpy applesauce. Add 1 cup of additional water (or apple cider) if the pot starts to get dry before the apples have thoroughly cooked. Be careful to keep heat low enough that the mixture does not bubble up and burn you while you’re stirring the pot.
8. When the apple butter has thickened, add 4 ½ cups sugar, continuing to stir the pot.
Taste for flavor. Add up to ½ cup of additional sugar and ½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon if needed.
9. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until mixture reaches desired consistency. To test for doneness, remove a spoonful and see if it mounds on the spoon. You can also put a small spoonful of apple butter onto a plate and watch to see if a rim of liquid forms around the mound. If it does, continue cooking until a spoonful of apple butter mounds on the plate without creating a puddle of liquid around it.
10. While apple butter is cooking, sterilize half-pint jars.
When apple butter is done, pour it into hot half-pint jars, leaving ¼-inch headspace. Wipe the rims of the jars and put on lids and screw rings. Process for 5 minutes in a boiling water bath following USDA recommendations.
Photo: Apple butter. Credit: Susan Lutz
“It’s the end of an era,” I said to my close friend, Joyce, who was letting me know that this year her family would be having Thanksgiving in Vermont, where one of her married daughters now lives. For many years, Joyce’s family has spent the holiday with mine, and part of the pleasure in our being together was marking the progress of our children.
I am happy to say, all turned out pretty well, but one of the consequences of this success is that Joyce’s daughter now wants to cook her family’s Thanksgiving meal, so we will have to find other times of the year for both families to get together.
What is it about Thanksgiving that urges one particular family member to take on the responsibility of producing this traditional and very American meal? I can only speak for myself by pointing out the importance for me of storing up holiday food memories and reproducing the dishes I grew up with, remembering loved ones now gone but who I feel are with me at this time of year.
I think about them as I stuff the turkey, clean the vegetables, and bake the apple, pumpkin and pecan pies. So important to me are my family’s recipes that one year when I accepted an outside invitation I wound up cooking my own Thanksgiving dinner the next day. It seems another family’s traditional dishes just do not cut it with me.
For instance, I do not like mashed sweet potatoes, especially if they have been baked with marshmallows on top. More welcome are the candied sweet potatoes my mother taught me how to make, always a hit at my table. One time a guest surprised me with a bowlful of creamed onions, prized by many but hated by me. That’s because I dislike creamed dishes, particularly if a thick white sauce enrobes something that is also white.
Everyone has a turkey technique
Clearly, I have strong feelings about what I cook, and I should mention that I take pride in how I roast a turkey. This is a problem for many, judging from the popularity of turkey holiday hotlines that serve the country every year.
My technique is to stuff the bird at the last minute, season it, then turn it on its stomach on a flat roasting rack for the first half of the cooking time. The turkey’s juices land in its breast and seem to guarantee a moist and tasty bird. There is nothing original about this method because I have seen it in print numerous times, but I don’t know anyone else who does it. Others make aluminum foil tents or do tricks with cheese cloth, but often still wind up with a turkey that is dry.
I pour boiling water into the pan, baste the bird with butter every half hour or so, then flip it over at half-time. That’s the hard part, considering that I am handling a stuffed 23-pound turkey. I have a special pair of oven mitts reserved for this purpose that always wind up incredibly greasy, so I launder them immediately and put them away for the next year.
Food, friends, family
We like to maintain our Thanksgiving traditions, and this desire is especially true for Americans abroad who yearn for a Thanksgiving meal. They search in vain for large raw turkeys, often settling for a bird that is scrawny and expensive or more likely a chicken. Cranberries, a quintessential American food, are also difficult to find in foreign stores.
Ex-pats sometimes find themselves in restaurants supposedly offering an American Thanksgiving dinner, but from all reports these dinners are disappointing, largely, I suspect, because family and friends are absent. Some Americans abroad stare forlornly at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on cable television they find somewhere. Being out of the country at Christmas is not as hard on people because other western cultures observe that holiday, and the American traveler will easily find a way to celebrate.
When it comes right down to it, the strongest appeal of Thanksgiving is that it’s all about food, friends and family, and, for the cook, the pleasure of offering a memorable meal to people who matter the most. I am going to miss Joyce and her family this year, though I understand why her daughter, Lauren, wants to start her own tradition and orchestrate her own meal, perhaps restoring dishes from her childhood that resonate for her.
I will be thinking of her at the start of my Thanksgiving meal, for she long ago pointed out something I was unaware that I said each year. She would wait for me to take my seat at the table after having masterminded the procession of serving dishes going into the dining room. As she tells it, I tuck in my napkin, take a forkful of food, then close my eyes and croon “Mmm. This is so good.” She claims I always say this and I believe her. For, as I already indicated, I like my own Thanksgiving dinner.
Candied Sweet Potatoes
4 good-sized (not huge) sweet potatoes
4 tablespoons of butter
½ cup of dark brown sugar
4 tablespoons of water
1. Boil unpeeled sweet potatoes in water (to cover) until just done — not mushy. Let them cool, and then peel and cut into quarters.
2. Melt butter in frying pan 12-inch or larger. Add brown sugar and stir into the butter until sugar melts. Add water and stir until the syrup thickens.
3. Place quartered sweet potatoes into the pan and cook at a low heat, all the while spooning syrup over the potatoes, and turning them over. Keep on turning the potatoes and spooning over the syrup until the potatoes take on a coating and are candied. This takes about 10 minutes.
4. This dish can be made early in the day and then reheated and served with the rest of the Thanksgiving meal.
Photo: Sweet potatoes ready to be candied for Thanksgiving dinner. Credit: Barbara Haber
With the first snap of autumn weather, I immediately rush to retrieve the duvet from summer storage, and my next response is to appease my suddenly ravenous appetite. Usually a light breakfast-eater of fruit, a little yogurt and of course a cup of coffee, I instead find myself thinking about pancakes before I even get out of bed or better yet, waffles, or maybe some poached eggs on toast. When the weather turns cold, I am no longer satisfied with a leafy salad for lunch, but must now compose salads with tuna, beans and the remaining tomatoes from the garden, hoping that will satisfy me until dinner. But it doesn’t. So I go for a midafternoon snack of sliced apples with peanut butter, a really tasty combination.
This correlation between appetite and the seasons has always intrigued me. For instance, the pot roast I am planning for dinner would never appeal to me in July when grilled fish would more likely be my choice. This relationship between food and outdoor temperature reminds me of the ancient world’s belief in the four humors. Put simply, it was based on the theory that four major fluids dominate the body: blood, phlegm, choler and black bile (or melancholy). Each humor is composed of two basic elements: heat and moisture make up blood, cold and moisture for phlegm, heat and dryness for choler, and cold and dryness for melancholy.
Believers thought that a healthy body required a balance among these elements, and that particular foods either contributed to the desired effect or caused a serious imbalance. I recall a maxim based on this doctrine that warned against serving cold fish to old men for fear that cold wet food would jeopardize internal balance, and I think about this each time I observe elderly gentlemen in delicatessens eating pickled herring. They seem just fine to me.
So I find myself turning to modern medicine to shed light on my winter appetite and quickly find that an increase in appetite in cold weather is pretty standard for us humans. One researcher noted that people eat about 200 more calories per day in the winter and that they eat faster than at other times of the year. To explain this phenomenon, another study associates winter eating with the absence of light, that shorter days are linked to the desire for foods denser in calories. Not yet understood by science, explanations tend to attribute this phenomenon to reasons physiological and psychological.
Some say that when the weather turns cold, our body temperature drops and our drive toward self-preservation causes us to crave carbohydrates and fats. This may be a throwback to the days when people, like bears, needed an extra layer of fat to survive the winter. Others point out that the drop in temperature may trigger appetite centers deep in our brains, and that increased darkness may have an effect on cravings. We want beans, mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese, not gazpacho or watermelon.
Meals that satisfy winter appetites
And this leads me to the question of what to do about winter appetite. I am a great believer in listening to my body and tend to give in to cravings, for I have found that if I skirt around them they will only build into obsessions.
This plays out in the following way. Let’s say I am thinking about a nice beef stew with carrots and plenty of potatoes and instead serve myself a grilled chicken breast. I will eat the chicken but continue to long for the stew until I break down and produce one. It gets even worse. If I am longing for chocolate but instead eat an apple, I will polish off the apple and follow it up with a Snickers bar.
I find that if I have what I want in the first place I will come out ahead as far as calories are concerned. Of course, the usual cautions are in order: keep portions small; don’t eat between meals; exercise even more in winter than in summer. But the tradeoff is that I will not feel deprived, and my sense of well-being will not be compromised.
So when the temperature drops, I turn to my cookbooks for hearty dishes I have never before tried. James Beard reliably offers a chicken casserole loaded with corn, peas and lots of macaroni and topped with a half-pound of cheddar cheese and breadcrumbs. Sounds good. Lidia Bastianich has a recipe for ziti, sausage, onions and fennel, and Molly Stevens has an intriguing recipe for sauerbraten. I am going to try them all, but my first impulse when the weather snaps is to cook a hearty soup that was my family’s standby recipe for all of my life, a dish loaded with memories and nourishment.
1½ pounds short ribs of beef or boneless chuck with marbling
8 cups cold water
1 cup (8 ounces) of dried green split peas
1 cup (8 ounces) of large dried lima beans
1 medium onion
1 cup carrots, peeled and sliced
1 cup celery
Salt and pepper to taste
1. In a large pot with a cover, put in the beef and water and bring to a boil. Skim off scum that comes to the top.
2. When clear, add split peas, lima beans and onion. Cook for 1 hour.
3. Add carrots and celery and cook for 1 more hour. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Photo: Hearty “Family Soup” with beef and beans. Credit: Barbara Haber
Last year my youngest daughter fell in love with grape jelly, specifically my mother’s homemade grape jelly made from Virginia Concord grapes grown on her friend’s backyard vines. And this was fine with me because my mother Linda sends us several jars of the stuff each year. But as my daughter has grown, so has her appetite for grape jelly, and I knew that I would eventually need to learn how to make my daughter’s favorite toast topping.
I was not excited about this prospect for a number of reasons.
Although I make a wide variety of jams and fruit butters, I’ve never embraced the art of jelly-making. The idea of straining the large quantities of dark purple juice required for making grape jelly always seemed too messy and time-consuming.
Pectin aversion and grape shortage
And making grape jelly usually requires the addition of pectin. I’ve been fairly opposed to the idea of cooking with commercially produced pectin up until this point. I suppose it’s the purist in me that likes the idea of using the naturally occurring pectin in fruit to create a gel set in whatever jam or preserve I’m making.
Of course, even commercially produced pectin comes from fruit (usually apples) so I’m not sure why I feel so snotty about it. Adding pectin to jelly helps it set better. It shortens cooking times, which can help the resulting jelly taste fresher. Using pectin also produces higher yields, meaning you get more jelly with the same amount of fruit if you use pectin. Clearly, this is an issue I’d have to work through to satisfy my daughter’s craving for grape jelly.
But perhaps the biggest deterrent to the jelly-making process is that I have never had a good source for Concord grapes. I usually make my preserves from fruit that we grow in our own garden. Not only can I pick the fruit at exactly the right time, I can also be sure how it was grown and that it hasn’t been subjected to pesticides. It’s also extremely satisfying to use fruit that would otherwise go to waste. (If you’ve ever had a loquat tree or any other tree that produced a massive amount of fruit, you know what I mean.)
A secret stash of Concords
This situation changed about a week ago when my husband called me from his office to say he had discovered a secret stash of ripe Concord grapes growing along the fence of the office parking lot. The next day he brought me a bag of Concord grapes he picked from the neglected vines. A Sherman Oaks, Calif., parking lot is definitely not a Shenandoah Valley grape arbor, but I was willing to make some compromises. Oddly enough, he brought me this present on the day before my mother arrived for a two-week visit from Virginia. I figured this was the universe telling me that it was finally time to learn how to make grape jelly.
When I opened the bag of grapes my husband brought home, I realized that we didn’t have nearly enough grapes to make a full recipe of jelly. Luckily, my mother was on hand to offer up the brilliant suggestion of substituting commercially bottled grape juice for the missing quantity of fresh juice. She told me she remembered my Grandma Willie doing this “in a pinch.” I figured that if it was good enough for Grandma Willie, it’s good enough for me.
If I ever find a good source for Concord grapes, I’m going to try making grape jelly without pectin. (You can’t make jelly with commercially bottled or canned juice without adding additional pectin because the naturally occurring pectin in the grapes gets removed in the process of making bottled or canned juice.)
In the meantime, this jelly is just fine. It’s even been approved by the jelly connoisseur of our family, my 3-year old daughter, who eats massive amounts of it with a big sticky smile on her face.
Concord Grape Jelly by Linda Lutz
Yields 8 cups of jelly. A few words of wisdom from my mother (and me): Do not double the recipe. It’s OK to use partially ripe grapes to make some of the juice. Up to one-fourth of the total quantity of grapes can be slightly green. When making jelly, be sure to pay attention to the brand of pectin you use because different brands come in different concentrations. (This recipe calls for Sure-Jell powdered pectin.)
5 cups of Concord grape juice (approximately 3½ pounds or 2½ quarts of grapes off the stem)
1½ cups water
1.75 ounce box of Sure-Jell powdered pectin
½ teaspoon butter
7 cups sugar
Tools and equipment
8 eight-ounce jelly jars with lids and rings
1 large stock pot (at least 16 quarts)
1 large sauce pan
1 jelly bag or several layers of cheese cloth (enough to fill the interior of your colander)
1 canner with canning rack
1 or 2 food-safe gloves
1. Remove grapes from stem and place in a large pan of water.
2. Quickly rinse grapes and place in colander to dry.
3. Put 2 cups of grapes in a large non-reactive stockpot and crush the berries with glove-covered hand. Keep adding 2 cups at a time until all the berries are crushed. As my mother says, “there’s nothing like good old hands for crushing grapes.”
4. Add 1½ cups of water to the stockpot and bring to a boil.
5. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
6. Pour grapes into dampened jelly strainer (or several layers of dampened cheesecloth in a strainer). Be sure to put the jelly strainer over a bowl that’s large enough to collect 5 cups of juice.
7. Let sit for several hours or up to half a day. The longer you let it set, the more juice you’ll get out of it. Do not smash the grapes or squeeze the bottom of the jelly bag.
8. Measure 5 cups of juice in a large non-reactive saucepan.
9. Gradually stir in pectin.
10. Add ½ teaspoon of butter to reduce foaming.
11. Bring mixture to a rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly.
12. Add 7 cups of sugar quickly, stirring to dissolve.
13. Return mixture to a full rolling-boil and boil hard for exactly one minute, stirring constantly.
14. Remove pan from heat and let sit for several minutes.
15. Skim off foam with a metal spoon. (The metal spoon will almost act like a magnet.)
16. Scrape foam all to one side and scoop it out of the stock pot.
17. To prepare the jar lids for canning, pour hot water over lids in a small sauce pan, as recommended by the directions on the box that the lids come in.
18. Using the funnel and a one-cup measuring cup or ladle, pour hot jelly into hot, sterilized jars, leaving ¼ inch of head space at the top of the jar.
19. Wipe the jar rim clean with a wet (and clean) dishcloth or paper towel.
20. Take a lid out of the water and place it on top of the jar. (It’s OK if the lid is still wet.)
21. Screw on the metal ring tightly.
22. Process in a hot water bath for 5 minutes, according to USDA recommendations.
23. After the processed jars have cooled, be sure that you get a tight seal. The center of the lid should be slightly indented. You can check this by pressing the center with your finger. If the lid pops back up, it isn’t sealed. If jar does not seal properly, keep it in the refrigerator and use within several weeks.
Grape jelly is best eaten within a year to keep the texture from changing. In our house, it never lasts that long.
Top photo: Homemade Concord grape jelly. Credit: Susan Lutz
Slide show credit: Susan Lutz
When my three children were little, we ate every supper and nearly every breakfast as a family at the table. When the kids’ friends ate over, they ate with us. Once, when my daughter was 9, one of her friends was over for dinner with his father. Toward the end of the meal when the kids were getting restless with adult talk, the little boy asked me whether he could be excused. His father’s mouth dropped open and he said “How do you get him to do that? He never asks at home.”
Well, I guess you know what I’m going to say next. Parents must not abrogate their parental responsibility. That’s a fancy way of saying “you make them.” You make children sit at the table. It’s not open for negotiation. You make a command decision as my U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. father used to say.
It’s not a negotiation … and there’s more to it
I’ve often been baffled by parents who negotiate with their young children over matters that are fundamental. Of course, no one wants to stifle the curiosity of the child or set standards that are too authoritarian or suffocating. But insisting on eating with the family hardly qualifies as that. Eating together as a family truly forges the ties that bind. Not only do you get to know your children, they get to know you. In fact, it creates a situation where the parent-child relationship becomes equalized for a moment because you can all have an opinion about life or about the food.
Get your kid’s dining review
My children were taught that you never say “I don’t like this.” Instead, you formulate a critique of what it is you don’t like. You taste several times to adjust, amend or change your opinion.
What you, the parent, are looking for is the budding little gourmet who can say, ”It’s too bitter, it’s too sour, it’s too mushy, it’s too hot, or it’s too brown,” or who can describe another way they might like the food you’ve served.
You can initiate such a discussion before they can articulate their feelings, especially, if you notice some avoidance behavior on their part. It’s no help, and is in fact counterproductive, to say “eat some of the spinach.”
You can guide their response by suggesting something they may not have considered. For example, you may ask for their opinion. “I was thinking of adding raisins to the spinach, do you think that would have made it better?” “Do you think I should have cooked it au gratin?” Unless your child is the least curious child in the world, they’ll ask “what’s au gratin?” This provides an opportunity to change the tone and nature of the whole dinner.
Kids eat smart when parents ask for their input
Children love to be asked their opinion, which they are so rarely asked, and they take great joy in giving you what for them seems an adult response. Or as one of my sons once said, “That’s very istresting.” It’s the gastronomic equivalent of walking around in their mother’s high heels.
In our house, vegetables were almost always part of something else — used in a stuffing, tossed with pasta, maybe added to a soup or risotto — but there were several stand-alone vegetable dishes from which my kids would take seconds. I also used to serve vegetables as snacks. I’d pan-sear some broccoli pieces and salt them and set them out on one plate. On another plate, I’d set out carrots, celery and broccoli stems cut into equal-sized sticks. I would just leave them out, without ever saying “there are some vegetables for you, try them.” They would just lie there for anyone to try. They always disappeared without a word.
Photo: Cut broccoli, carrots and celery for kids to snack on. Credit: StockFood