When I was a kid we would trek from our home in central Massachusetts to my grandparent’s house just beyond the Tappan Zee Bridge in New York, and the only thing that made those long rides (that my dad insisted on making in the dead of night) bearable were our pitstops at Rein’s Deli in Vernon, Connecticut.
This small slice of New York City off of highway 84 is packed at any given hour, and serves Jewish deli classics that are at the foundation of both my love of food and the size of my hips. It is also where I had my first pickle. A mouth puckering, salty, crunchy, half sour gem.
Half sour pickles are not as ubiquitous as their kosher dill brethren, but they are in my opinion, superior. Whether on their own as a snack or as a sandwich companion, it doesn’t matter. With a kick from the whole peppercorns, a touch of dill, and a hefty amount of salt, these are impossibly easy to make. I have a hard time not eating the whole jar in one sitting…but that’s just me.
These may not be exactly like Rein’s, but they can certainly satisfy my cravings in between trips through Connecticut.
6-8 pickling cucumbers (any of the thin skinned, mostly seedless varietals will do)
4 cups water
1/4 cup kosher sea salt
1/3 cup white distilled vinegar
1/4 tablespoon white peppercorns
1/4 tablespoon mustard seeds
1/4 tablespoon coriander seeds
a fistful of dill (this amount should really be based on your preference)
Combine the water, salt, and vinegar in a pot and bring to a boil until salt is fully dissolved. Let mixture cool, then stir in the spices and dill.
Slice cucumbers down the middle or into spears, and pack into a mason jar (or an old pickle jar–waste not want not). When you have packed half the jar, pour in some of the cool pickling liquid. Fill the rest of the jar with cucumbers, so there is little or no space between them. Pour the rest of the pickling liquid in leaving about a quarter inch of space at the top of the jar (you may have excess liquid. If so, fish out the spices and add them to the jar and discard the liquid).
Place in fridge for 24 hours, shaking the jar occasionally. Pickles will last up to 3 weeks.
My mother is a great cook. When I was younger I don’t think I realized how well we ate—the woman made everything from lasagna to chicken pot pie to brisket—and we even got pizza thrown in there every now and again (read: most Friday nights). I finally caught on to her skill and tried to learn from her by studying her methods and recipes, but turns out that wasn’t as simple as it seems because everything is “ungefähr”.
Ungefähr (unga-fare) is German for “approximately”. Which is to say, my mother cooks without strict guidelines and often without measures. A classic tactic of the last generation making it hard for us to learn their tricks.
Enter my mother’s mother’s spaetzle (it’s pronounced a variety of ways…but I think you’re catching on to my German heritage). This is a dish that in all my years had never been made for me, but had been discussed at length. It is a simple mix of egg, flour, and water to create a quick dumpling dough. In my knowledge of spaetzle they are often extruded and take on a thin elongated shape; but not my mother’s mother’s. Atypical to a T.
I watched her bring together the dough just based on her memory of what it should look and feel like. Then I watched her take heaping scoops and drop them in boiling salted water, creating dough puffs that floated to the surface when cooked. Their texture was something at the intersection of matzoh balls and gnocchi; light but chewy and terribly addictive.
We ate them 2 ways. My mother had made a bone broth from beef rib bones that was in itself life altering, but together with the dumpling nuggets we’d made it was on another level. I used some reserved dough to create the spaetzle I had been envisioning, still irregularly shaped but smaller and once boiled I sautéed them with butter and sage until they were a bit crisp on the edges. It’s amazing how the simplest things can sometimes leave the largest impressions.
I am slightly irritated it took this long for my mother to share this non-recipe recipe. But now that I know how it looks and feels and tastes, I am sure I could find a way to throw it together—ungefähr.
*Shout out to Dad—also a cook in his own right: highly proficient in all things breakfast.
(ungefähr) spaetzle makes 4-6 servings of spaetzle
1 cup (ish) all purpose flour
1/2 cup water (+1/2 cup extra set aside just in case)
1 large egg
1/2 tsp salt
Lightly beat the egg at the bottom of a large bowl. Add flour, salt, and half a cup of water and mix together until combined. You want the dough to feel elastic and a bit sticky, so if need be add more water to get a consistency that can be scooped easily (remember, this is a haphazard recipe so trust your gut).
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and add a good amount of salt to the water (about a tablespoon). Using a teaspoon, dollop a spoonfuls of dough into the water. If going for bigger dumplings, fill the spoon with dough. If aiming for the skinnier bite-size nuggets, take a small amount on the edge of spoon and coax it off into the water. You can do this in batches.
Once the dough puffs and rises to the water’s surface, use a slotted spoon to transfer them either directly into waiting bone broth preferably littered with bits of cooked carrots and onions for some depth (mom’s way) or into a pan that contains melted, salty butter with a couple of sage leaves floating around (my way). If you’re going for the buttery version, sauté the spaetzle in the butter until the edges have a touch of crispy brownness.
Either version would be heightened with a dusting of grated parmesan cheese and a little sea salt.
Finding creative ways to incorporate vegetables into your diet can be tricky, particularly during the colder months when we crave hibernation food. This is answer. It’s warm. It’s got grains that can trick your mind into thinking you’re having pasta. It has cheese.
Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely love vegetables. It’s just that sometimes the small child inside that fought so hard against the tyranny of peas before cookies and greens before mac and cheese makes me think I don’t want to eat them. So I am often in search of ways to want to eat my vegetables; for preparations that make me excited about them. This is one of those, I promise.
The prep is a bit intensive if you don’t have a food processor. Hand shredding, chopping, and dicing can give you a touch of the carpal tunnel. Take breaks! Drink some wine while you practice those knife skills (or while you watch your food processor whir). But I did and survived, and lived to tell the tale. Luckily this keeps really well, it is definitely a dish that can be made on a Sunday and eaten throughout the week.
So whether you love eating vegetables or have to force them upon yourself, this will stick to your ribs the way a good winter meal should.
Winter grain bowl Serves 4-6
2 links chicken sausage, cooked (optional)
1 cup quinoa
1/2 cup farro
2 shallots, diced
1 large sweet potato, shredded
2 medium carrots, shredded
1 cup cauliflower florets
1 ½ cups shredded brussel sprouts
1 ½ cups cooked, chopped spinach
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tsp thyme
1 tsp sage
salt and pepper to taste
Cook quinoa and farro together in a pot, and set aside to cool. Remove casings from chicken sausage (if using), cook and set aside.
Sautee shallots, sweet potato, carrots, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts over medium heat. Once all the vegetables have softened, add spinach, garlic, sage, and thyme; and salt and pepper to taste. Cook together for 5-7 more minutes.
Turn heat to low, and add back in sausage, feta, and cooked quinoa and faro; mix everything together. Taste to see if you want more salt and pepper. Dole out in bowls and top with a drizzle of olive oil. (Also highly recommended: top with sliced or mashed avocado).
The Jewish New Year has just come and gone, and somehow things feel the same. Crazy that the switch from September 24 to September 25 didn’t bring fireworks and glittery outfits. But alas, it did come with some semblance to its January 1st counterpart: a (food) hangover and a slice of hope for the next year.
It is customary to eat apples and honey as a symbol of hope for sweetness in the coming year, and so behold my appetizer menu take on this traditional pairing: honey whipped goat cheese crosinti with apples and walnuts.
This recipe appeared in the food section of The Boston Globe this week, so you can find it there, or you can read it here, either way it’s worth making. And no, you don’t have to eat it only for the Jewish New Year. Didn’t you just go apple picking? What will you do with all those apples!? Do this. It is very autumnal tasting if I do say so myself. It takes all of 10 minutes to put together…and as the fairy-god-mother of my dreams Ina Garten says, “how easy is that?”.
Honey Whipped Goat Cheese Crostini with Apples and Walnuts
Honey is nature’s sticky golden sweetener, and one of the most versatile ingredients in a cook’s arsenal. It easily acquaints itself with either sweet or savory preparations; and has a flavor that is distinct yet plays well with others. The Rosh Hashanah pairing of apples & honey is this dish’s inspiration. The crostini can be served on their own as an appetizer with a glass of sparkling wine, or as the temperature drops, alongside a warming squash soup.
One baguette, sliced
4 oz goat cheese
1/3 cup honey, extra for drizzling
1 large apple, sliced
3/4 walnuts, toasted and chopped
Salt to taste
Cut baguette in ½ inch thick slices. Set oven at 350 degrees and toast slices 8 to 10 minutes or until just browned.
In a food processor combine honey, goat cheese, and salt. Pulse until honey is fully incorporated into the cheese and the mixture is smooth.
Over medium heat, toast walnuts 5 minutes or until just fragrant. Remove from heat, let cool, then coarsely chop.
Spread cheese on toasts and sprinkle with chopped walnuts. Slice apples thin and place 1 slice on each toast. Drizzle with honey and serve immediately.