Wednesday, 12 January 2011

All in the Family

I love Ina Garten, I've been following Martha Stewart for years and she never ceases to amaze me, Julie Rosso and Sheila Lukins have been an inspiration to me since the 80's.  These very powerful, yet creative women have taught me so much beginning when I was in my 20's.  My daughters say I want to be them, well specifically Ina, but that's not the case. I want to be a combination of all of these ladies, along with my mother, father, aunts and even a neighbour Judy.  Every one of these amazing individuals helped in moulding the lover of food that I am today.  Ina is the new kid on the block.  I love her simplicity, her enthusiasm, her sincerity and yes, I even love her cheesiness!

Before celebrity chefs were at the forefront of television and media, my influences certainly came from my family.  I was surrounded by good cooks.  My mother was a wonderful cook.  She and I loved ALL foods, whereas my father and my sister didn't.  There were certain foods that she would make just for the two of us.  Lobster was a particular treat I remember very well.  Lobster tails to be specific.  Mommy was a fairly basic cook.  I don't remember anything extravagant, but I do remember deliciousness and abundance.  There was never a shortage of food in our house and there certainly isn't ever a shortage in mine.  My mother's standouts were her rump roast, lamb chops, Rockfish, soups, especially her crab soup and her matzo ball soup.

We always had our meals around the table, all together, unless of course my father was at work.  It was an important time of the day to discuss the day's events.  We even sat at the table for breakfast.  I always had breakfast and thinking back, it was healthy!  There was always juice or half of a grapefruit, a sliced orange, a banana, or melon, along with cereal, or my mother's wonderful eggy (boiled egg) in a bowl.  I suppose that is why I try to instill in my girls the importance of breakfast.  My family always sat around the table for meals too, it is so important and I fear it is a dying tradition.  My mother made eating a social event, one which was filled with such banter and fun.  My mother truly instilled in me the joy of everything food!  She was one of a kind!

Mom's sister Jeanette was also a very good cook.  Aunt Jeanette was like a second mother to me.  Our families were always together and did we have fun!  Aunt Jeanette's cooking was similar to my mother's in many ways, they both cooked traditionally, based on their parents Polish heritage.  They made a lot of traditional Jewish foods, several which were sweet and were mixed with savoury dishes.  Mommy's matzo balls (dumplings) were soft and fluffy and Aunt Jeanette's were hard, we used to call them cannon balls.  Her family loved them that way, we preferred my mother's version.  Aunt Jeanette used to make a dish called Tzimmes.  It is potatoes, both white and sweet, with carrots and meat, but she used to put prunes in it, which Jennie Grossinger, a cookbook author from the 1960's suggested in her recipe.  We used to always make fun of Aunt Jeanette for using Jennie Grossinger's cookbooks.  To our generation, she was an old fashioned cook, but to Aunt Jeanette, Jennie Grossinger was like Martha Stewart or Ina.  She inspired her.  We hated the prunes, they just didn't belong in the tzimmes, but they were a source of a lot of laughter.

Neither my mother nor my Aunt Jeanette were great bakers.  I remember Aunt Jeanette baking more than my mom.  Aunt Jeanette used a lot of pre-packaged mixes. I remember so vividly when Jello came out with the no cook cheesecake mix.  The family loved it and Aunt Jeanette used to make it frequently.  Both my sister Debbie and I love to bake.  When we were in school, home economics was a must and both of us certainly baked there and I think for me, the love of baking carried over.  I remember my sister's recipe for cream puffs from her high school days and her cinnamon rolls.  I still use that cream puff recipe to this day.  Debbie is a wonderful baker, but along with baking she is the most sensational decorator as well.  I love to bake and I can make exceptional cakes, but please don't ask me to decorate.  I don't even like writing on a cake. It's just not my thing, but it is Debbie's and she made her girls some of the most spectacular birthday cakes you have ever seen.  I think it comes down to patience and when it comes to intricate work, I don't have it and my talented sister does!

My father's sister Sylvie was a terrific cook and baker.  Again, she was a fairly traditional cook, but mmmm mmmm everything was delicious.  She used ingredients my mother didn't use.  I remember having rhubarb at her house and I had never had it anywhere else.  I didn't like it then, I do now. She made tzimmes as well, but she put a knaidel (dumpling) in hers.  Tzimmes is an acquired taste for some because of the sweet and savoury, but Aunt Sylvie's was the best!  The problem with the cooks in my family was that not a single one of them measured, so to get their recipes was a bit tricky.  My cousin Arlene watched her mom, my Aunt Sylvie, make certain recipes and made her measure on these particular occasions.  I was so excited to get her strudel and tzimmes recipes and I am so grateful that I did!  These are recipes that I truly treasure.  We don't make them as much anymore, as they are heavier and more time consuming, but they are still delicious and are a part of me!

My most treasured recipes are two of my father's.  He made certain things around holiday times which were the best anywhere in the entire world, hands down.  First was his gefilte fish or fish balls.  I used to watch my father take his mixture of fish, mix it with eggs, matzo meal and other ingredients, taste the raw batter as I would watch him and cringe as a little girl.  Then he would take this mixture, boil them in the stock he used from the fish bones, onions, carrots and seasoning and turn them into the most wonderful gefilte fish balls you ever tasted.  I watched every year and I have to say, I can replicate his recipe pretty much perfectly and I am so proud of that achievement.  Thank you Daddy for handing down this delectable treat!  Nobody made gefilte fish like my father and nobody ever will, but I have come pretty close!

The other speciality he made were potato latkes or potato pancakes. Again my father's were the best there were and again, from watching year after year, I have his recipe and I do think they are as just about as good because they are exactly the same.  My Uncle Norman would argue that point because to him nobody made potato latkes like my father, his brother, Yummy!  Daddy's latkes didn't have onions, they are just hand grated (and that is so important) potatoes, flour, eggs, salt and pepper, fried in deep oil.  They take a lot of salt and a lot of pepper.  They are big, deep, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.  They are heaven!  Eat them with applesauce or soured cream and you have a meal in itself.  Gefilte fish was made at Passover and latkes at Chanukah and I still follow that tradition to this day.  They both take too long to make more than once a year, but when those holidays roll around, what a special treat it is to enjoy the traditions that my father passed down to me!  He was a legend!

My parents next door neighbour Judy was a wonderful cook.  Judy was the youngster in the neighbourhood, newly married with babies, creative and fun.  She was like another older sister to me.  Judy cooked differently to my family.  She was a more modern cook.  There was nothing she couldn't do.  She made appetizers, mains, desserts and each and every one of them were delicious.  Judy took a lot of shortcuts, something my family didn't do a lot of until she came around.  She doctored up cake mixes and made these outstanding recipes without all of the hassle.  She made the most incredible broccoli dish using frozen broccoli, canned stewed tomatoes and canned cheddar cheese soup.  She made a wonderful noodle pudding or kugel which wasn't as sweet as my mom's and my mother ended up making it all of the time.  She entertained frequently and nothing was ever a problem.  She used her time wisely in the kitchen and could still take part in her dinner parties without staying at the stove.  She was the first cook I know that simplified cooking, something every chef tries to do now.  Judy in my eyes was the start to this fashion of cooking!  Judy died far too young and I stayed close to her always. Before she died, she sent me some recipes of hers from the 70's that I wanted.  They taste as good 40 years later!  There will always be a part of Judy with me and my fondest memories with her and her family revolve around food.

Now I move on to my modern inspirations.  They inspire me as women and cooks, but mostly they inspire me because their recipes are doable, easy and delicious.  They can be made after a full day of work.  They are made for the modern person, whether a single professional or a family.  These recipes and ideas on food just work.  So if I take a little bit of Martha with a pinch of Ina, a dash of Julee and Sheila, add in some Bobby Flay, stir in some Nigella and Jamie, with heaps of parents, aunts, friends, and neighbours, you get me, The Yummy Yank!  Thank you to each and every one of these astounding people for helping me become the foodie that I am!  I have loved every minute of it!

A little piece of my father and me for you to enjoy!

Yummy's Gefilte Fish
For the stock:
5 onions peeled and sliced roughly
10 carrots peeled and sliced into thick slices
20 cups of water
5 tablespoons of salt
pepper to taste (we like our spicy)
Bones and heads from the fish ( I tend to use just the bones)

Bring the stock to a boil and then simmer gently for about an hour.

Take the heads and some of the bones out, leaving some bones on the bottom of the pot to prevent fish balls from sticking.  Continue simmering.

I use a mixture of Haddock and Cod in the UK.  In the US, I use Whitefish and Rockfish. Any combination of fish will work, I just prefer whiter fish. Ask your fishmonger to clean, fillet and mince the fish, combining the different kinds of fish together.

Use 1 egg per pound of fish and 1 teaspoon of salt per pound of fish.  I know it sounds like a lot, but follow this precisely.

For six pounds of fish use:

6 eggs
2 onions, peeled and very finely chopped or minced
1 cup of water
1/2 cup of matzo meal ( you can get this at most supermarkets)
6 teaspoons of salt
3 teaspoons of pepper

Mix all of the ingredients together and dampen your hands, then roll into fairly large balls, about the size of an orange.  You should get 3 to 4 balls per pound of mixture.  Drop the fish balls into the simmering stock mixture and continue to simmer for about 2 1/2 hours. Keep topping up the stock with more water to keep the fish balls covered. When cooled, remove the balls gently from the stock and allow to cool.  Stain the stock and pour some stock over the balls as it is delicious to dip either matzo, crackers, biscuits or bread into the juices.  Use some of the carrots from the stock for garnish, as they are delicious!
Reserve the stock for other fish based soups or stews.  Refrigerate the fish balls and serve cold with horseradish.

You can serve warm, but our family prefers it cold.  The stock freezes beautifully!

Some people say this is an acquired taste, I say it is YUMMY!  Enjoy!

Have a nice day y'all!

Lisa AKA The Yummy Yank


  1. Fabulous, Lisa. Thanks for doing this. Love the photos! I have looked at this before, of course. I can't "follow," I guess, cause I don't "tweet."

  2. Just saw the name id's on your parent's wedding photo. That's our grandfather, Simon, in between my parents, Syliva and Harry (next to your dad). Who's writing is at the bottom?

  3. Yes, Ar, that's Granddaddy Friedman and Uncle Yankee on the end. On the other side is my mother's family! I think Lynn did the writing! These were Aunt Jeanette's photos and I got copies of all!
    You can follow without tweeting. Just go to follow below that!