Archive for the ‘Holiday Foods’ Category

Peanut Butter Easter Eggs

11 April 2009


A Note to Readers:
This blog has moved. For newer posts plus copies of all the old ones (even this one!), please visit me at the All-New IN OUR GRANDMOTHERS’ KITCHENS.
My college roommate Kelly Boyd used to call Reese’s peanut butter confections “staples” of our pantry. Unfortunately for my waistline, she had a point.


I don’t know what made Mr. Reese decide in 1928 to put peanut butter together with chocolate, but I have always been glad he did. As a pairing it’s right up there with Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon, dogs and kids, and friends and cooking. The cups make great Easter eggs as well.


Here is a homemade (and truly delicious) version of this classic treat.


Happy Easter!
Happy Easter!


3/4 cup peanut butter  

1/3 cup graham cracker crumbs

1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

about 1 pound chocolate—milk, semi-sweet, white, or a combination (you may swirl them together as we did in the photo)




In a bowl with an electric mixer combine the peanut butter, graham-cracker crumbs, and sugars. Beat until well blended. Carefully shape this dough into 16 or so small egg-shaped pieces (it will be sticky!). Place the pieces in wax paper and freeze them for at least 1 hour but no more than 2.


When you are ready to complete the process, put the chocolate in a double boiler over hot water. Melt it, stirring frequently.  Remove it from the heat.


Dip the eggs in the chocolate, and place them on wax paper or a silicone mat to harden (this will take several hours—be patient!). 

Makes about 16 irresistible eggs. Keep them from getting too warm, and try to eat them within 48 hours. My family had no trouble doing this!




Nana’s Matzo Ball Soup

9 April 2009
A Note to Readers:
This blog has moved. For newer posts plus copies of all the old ones (even this one!), please visit me at the All-New IN OUR GRANDMOTHERS’ KITCHENS.
Food makes memory concrete in a way nothing else can—except perhaps music. When we make or taste a dish we forge a physical, sensory link to the person who inspired or gave us the recipe. We can almost reach out and touch the dead, nourished by their love.

Laura at the blog The Spiced Life understands this connection. She is hosting a blogging event in which she asks food bloggers to write about their grandmothers’ culinary accomplishments. I went to my paternal grandmother’s house every spring for Passover so I tend to think of her a lot at this time of year.  


The Logo for Laura's Blogging Event

The Logo for Laura's Blogging Event

My father’s mother wasn’t what I’d call kitchen oriented. As a young woman she lived a busy life outside the home instead of cooking. We were told she had been a spy in her youth (or at least a smuggler—the tales were all a little murky).

Sarah Hiller Weisblat came to this country from Poland in 1920 with her husband and three small children. Her brothers had already immigrated and set up a business in New York City; they gave my grandfather a job so that he could support the family.


My grandmother had many skills. She and her mother, who also immigrated (although she refused to learn English), ran their family and eventually their new neighborhood.  


My grandmother radiated competence. I recently learned from my father’s cousin Herb that she delivered him. I don’t know whether a midwife or doctor was unavailable or whether this was something my Nana did on a semi-regular basis!


She was also diplomatic (perhaps a hangover from her days as a spy). When my Jewish father fell in love with my Christian mother, neither set of parents was thrilled. It wasn’t a time when a lot of intermarriage took place. Nevertheless, my grandmother welcomed my mother to the family and defended her against any criticism. She recognized a fellow smart, able woman when she saw one.


As I noted above, my grandmother didn’t do a lot in the kitchen, at least not by the time I met her. Perhaps her mother was the family cook. My father used to recall seeing a carp swimming in the bathtub in his childhood just before it was time to make gefilte fish. In my youth the gefilte fish came out of a jar.


(Although I’m a fan of fresh foods, I think in retrospect this was probably just as well; I would have yelled bloody murder at bath time if I’d seen a fish in the porcelain before me, no matter how thoroughly the tub had been scrubbed!)


I do remember two things that my grandmother made well and on a regular basis—pot roast and matzo ball soup. The matzo ball soup was particularly visible at Passover since the most prominent food on the Passover table is matzo, unleavened bread. When the Jews were finally allowed to leave Egypt in the Exodus story, they were in such a hurry that they baked their bread without letting it rise. In commemoration of this event their descendants eat no bread except matzo during Passover, which lasts for eight days. Matzo meal (ground matzo) is a staple of Passover cooking.


For the non-cognoscenti, matzo-ball soup is a bit like chicken-noodle soup. The balls resemble dumplings in chicken broth. The best matzo ball soup—the kind everyone’s grandmother (including mine) used to make—is created with homemade chicken or turkey stock. You may use a high-quality broth from the store, however.


The trick to this soup is not to make the matzo balls too big; if you do, they swell up and overwhelm your soup! You may of course jazz up the soup by adding chopped vegetables and/or a little ginger to the matzo balls. As a sodium freak I actually like to add a drop of soy sauce to my stock. My grandmother made basic matzo ball soup, however, so basic matzo ball soup this is.


When I make or taste it I am transported back to the home at which we visited my grandparents in Long Beach, New York. This tiny house always seemed to expand to accommodate the many relatives and friends who came to visit, particularly at Passover. My grandmother’s Seder table there was a symbol of her hospitality, of her generous personality, and of the ties that brought family and friends together at holidays. It was never without matzo ball soup.


For more information about Laura’s Grandma’s Recipes event, click here. Meanwhile, here is MY grandma’s recipe.

The Weisblat Family a few months before coming from Poland to the United States. From left to right: Sarah, Selma, Benny, Baby Abe (my dad!), and William (then known as Wolf)

The Weisblat Family a few months before coming from Poland to the United States. From left to right: Sarah, Selma, Benny, Baby Abe (my father!), and William (then known as Wolf)




2 eggs

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

2 tablespoons minced fresh dill

a small amount of finely chopped onion (optional)

2 tablespoons soda water

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or melted butter

3/4 teaspoon salt

freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup matzo meal

6 cups chicken stock




In a small bowl, beat the eggs.  With a balloon whisk, whisk in the parsley, dill, onion (if using), soda water, oil, salt, and pepper.  Then stir in the matzo meal.  Cover the mixture, and refrigerate it for at least an hour but not more than 6 hours. 


Oil your hands, and shape the dough into small balls (about 1/2 inch across). Pop the balls CAREFULLY into salted boiling water.


Boil the balls, covered, for 25 minutes over medium-low heat.  Do not peek at the balls while they are cooking. Drain the matzo balls.  Bring the chicken stock to a boil, covered, and put the balls in it.  Boil, covered, for at least 15 minutes.  Serves 4 to 5.
My Grandparents Later in Life (perhaps the 1940s?)

My Grandparents Later in Life (perhaps the 1940s?)


Community Easter Bread

7 April 2009
Leigh watches Michael and Benjamin place their eggs in the bread.

Leigh watches Michael and Benjamin place their eggs in the bread.

A Note to Readers:
This blog has moved. For newer posts plus copies of all the old ones (even this one!), please visit me at the All-New IN OUR GRANDMOTHERS’ KITCHENS.
Easter just wouldn’t be Easter without the Easter egg.


This symbol of spring represents fertility, youth, and new beginnings—all the hopes that suddenly arise in our breasts when the sun rises higher and earlier again in the spring.


This braided loaf is made more festive (and more seasonal) by the inclusion of eggs in its folds. Plain eggs work just fine, but I always welcome an excuse to get kids coloring things so I asked my nephew Michael and his friends Benjamin and Carson to dye some eggs for my loaf. 


Carson rolls an egg in his dye.

Carson rolls an egg in his dye.

I got extra help from my sister-in-law Leigh, who is MUCH better at braiding bread than I am.

So my Easter bread is a community event. I hope yours will be, too!

Leigh braids the rolls of bread.

Leigh braids the rolls of bread.









2/3 cup milk

2 tablespoons sweet butter

1/4 cup sugar

1 packet yeast

2-1/2 cups flour (approximately)

1 teaspoon salt

2 eggs for the batter
4 to 5 eggs in their shells for the braiding (dyed if you like)






In a small saucepan heat the milk and butter just to lukewarm; the butter will be soft but not melted.

In a medium bowl combine 1 teaspoon of the sugar and the yeast. Pour the milk/butter mixture over them, and leave the yeast to proof for 5 to 10 minutes.


Beat in 1/2 cup flour, the remaining sugar, the salt, and the 2 eggs; mix well. Add 1-1/2 cups more flour, and stir.


Turn the dough out onto a floured board. Knead it for 1 to 2 minutes, adding a bit more flour as needed.  Allow the dough to rest for 5 to 10 minutes; then continue kneading, adding more flour as needed, until the dough is smooth and elastic.


Grease a medium bowl, and place the dough in it. Cover with a damp towel, and allow the dough to rise until it doubles in bulk, about 1 hour.


Uncover the dough, punch it down, and divide it into 2 mounds. Let them rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Stretch each mound into a roll at least 24 inches long.


Form a rounded braid with the two rolls, sealing them at the ends. Place the bread on a greased (or parchment-covered) baking sheet. Insert the eggs in their shells into spots in the braid. (If you wait to do this until the bread has risen again, the eggs will pop out of the bread; this happened to us!)


Cover the braid with a damp dish towel, and let it rise until it doubles, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees about 15 minutes before you want to bake the bread.  

Bake the braided bread until it is a golden brown, between 35 and 55 minutes depending on your oven. Makes 1 loaf.




Aunt Fox’s Hawley Haroseth

5 April 2009


A Note to Readers:
This blog has moved. For newer posts plus copies of all the old ones (even this one!), please visit me at the All-New IN OUR GRANDMOTHERS’ KITCHENS.

We’re so used to artificial light that we forget how many traditional holidays are based on the cycles of the sun. Easter and Passover (and just about every spring holiday there is) are examples. Both holidays are tied to the vernal equinox. On that welcome day we finally achieve parity between dark and light and start lurching toward the golden days and gentle evenings of summer.


Like the vernal equinox itself, Passover and Easter mix dark and light. That mixture is key to the two festivals. The Jews’ flight from Egypt more than 3000 years ago is meaningless unless one understands the harsh slavery under which the Jewish people served the Pharaohs. The joy of Easter is possible because of the sorrow of Good Friday.


As a food writer and food lover I appreciate the centrality of food to both of these holidays, particularly Passover. Passover illustrates the connection we all feel but too seldom articulate between food and memory. Food is used at Passover to symbolize the history the holiday commemorates and to bring people together to remember this shared history.


The centerpiece of the holiday is the meal known as the Seder, in which families gather to retell the story of the departure from Egypt. Much of the Seder’s menu is prescribed by tradition, and during the meal the symbolism of each item on the table is explained.


A bitter herb (usually horseradish) symbolizes the hardship of the slaves’ life, for example. My personal favorite symbol, Haroseth (also spelled “charoset” and a variety of other ways), is a paste of fruits and nuts. It represents the mortar the Jews used to construct buildings—most famously the pyramids.


Many years ago my honorary Aunt Carolyn Fox brought this haroseth to a Seder at our home in Hawley, Massachusetts. Growing up I ate haroseth moistened with wine. As a lover of sweets I was thrilled with her use of grape juice instead. The last time I made it I used crangrape juice, adding a little New England tang to this Passover staple. Next time I’m thinking of using straight cranberry juice…….



The Haroseth




2 tart apples, peeled and cored

1/2 cup pecans

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon honey

1 tablespoon grape (or crangrape or maybe cranberry) juice





Finely chop the apples and pecans separately; then chop them together to make even smaller pieces. Stir in the cinnamon, honey, and juice.


Spoon a bit of haroseth on a piece of matzo for each guest.

Makes 12 small servings.

Hot Cross Buns

2 April 2009


A Note to Readers:
This blog has moved. For newer posts plus copies of all the old ones (even this one!), please visit me at the All-New IN OUR GRANDMOTHERS’ KITCHENS.
Easter is coming—and before we get to it we arrive at the time for one of my favorite treats. Hot cross buns are a sweet yeasty roll traditionally served at the end of Lent, specifically on Good Friday. The cross of icing that tops them symbolizes the crucifixion, although it was adapted from a pagan symbol that represented either the four quarters of the moon or the perfect balance of the sun at the vernal equinox, March 21.


A monk named Thomas Rockcliffe began distributing the buns to the poor in St. Albans in England in 1361 as part of a missionary effort. They became a popular treat throughout the country.


When Elizabeth I was queen (her father Henry VIII had banned the Catholic Church for reasons of his own) she outlawed the consumption of the buns except during religious festivals-—burials, Good Friday, and Christmas. Vendors on the streets of London are said to have hawked the buns enthusiastically on the days on which they were allowed to be sold, giving rise to the nursery rhyme:


Hot cross buns, hot cross buns,

One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns.

If ye have no daughters, give them to your sons.

One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns.


Many make the buns with glaceed fruits and/or citrus peel instead of (or in addition to) the raisins or currants. I like them best this way.




for the buns:


1 generous teaspoon active dry yeast (about half a packet)

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup lukewarm water

1/2 cup milk

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) sweet butter

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

2 to 2-1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (generous)

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt (generous)

2/3 cup raisins or currants


for the glaze:


1 cup confectioner’s sugar

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

milk as needed

(for a different flavor, try substituting orange juice for the vanilla and milk)




In a small dish combine the yeast, 1 teaspoon of the sugar, and the lukewarm water. Leave them for 5 minutes or so to proof. While they are proofing, heat the milk and butter just to lukewarm.


In a large bowl combine the yeast, water, milk, butter, remaining sugar, egg, and vanilla, and whisk them together. Stir in the baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Beat in 1 cup flour and the raisins or currants; then stir in enough flour so that the mixture begins to stick together. Turn the mixture out onto a floured board, and knead it for a minute or two, adding more flour if necessary. Leave the mixture to rest for 10 minutes.


At the end of the rest period, continue kneading, adding more flour as needed, until the mixture becomes smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover it with a damp towel, and let it rise until it almost doubles in bulk (1 to 1-1/2 hours). Place the dough on a floured or greased board, knead it 2 or 3 times to release air bubbles, and divide it into 12 pieces that are as close in size as you can make them.


Roll the pieces into little balls, and place them on a large greased cookie sheet. Cover again with a damp towel, and let rise until almost double in size, 45 minutes to an hour. About 15 minutes before you think the buns will be finished rising, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.


Uncover the buns, and gently slash a cross on each with a serrated knife (this doesn’t always work perfectly but isn’t 100 percent necessary). Bake the buns for 18 to 22 minutes, until they turn light golden brown. Remove them from the cookie sheet and cool them on a rack for a few minutes.


While they begin to cool, make the glaze by whisking the vanilla into the confectioner’s sugar and then adding milk, a tiny bit at a time, until you have a thick glaze. Applying the glaze is a matter of timing. The buns must be a little cool (so the glaze doesn’t run off entirely) but not too cool (in which case they glaze doesn’t stick). After 15 to 20 minutes of cooling, try spooning the glaze into the criss-crosses on the buns to form a cross. If it runs off too much (it will always run off a little), wait a few more minutes.


Allow the buns to cool after glazing, then place them carefully in a container that won’t mess up the glaze. Try to eat these buns within 2 days. They are most delicious with lots of butter.


Makes 12 buns.


Easter is coming!

Easter is coming!