Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Names & Maamoul

The Name Game: How Yusef Amuny became Joseph John
I recently discovered my Lebanese family immigrated to Louisiana by way of Ellis Island.

My great-grandfather was born in Lebanon as Yusef Amuny. It was only recently that I found this out and I was surprised for two reasons:

1.     His name was changed from Amuny to John at Ellis Island arbitrarily. The greeter could not understand Yusef's introduction and did not have the patience to figure it out. I had no idea my family passed through this famous immigrant pit stop.
2.     My great-grandmother’s maiden name was Amuny. Yep, it’s all relative. They weren’t first cousins, but distantly related. But hey, that was the practice back then.  Must explain why I have six toes. Total. Just kidding.

So, what is in a name?  We went from Amuny to John overnight.  And several cousins went from Amuny to other biblical, English names like Abraham and Isaacs.

And with this trend of holy, American names, came sons with double names. My grandpa was named John John in this fashion, and he wasn’t the only Lebanese man in West Louisiana with this exact name.  And in this tradition, he had cousins named Abraham Abraham and Isaac Isaacs. These double names were a symbol of first born, first generations in the New Country.

So now you know why my handsome Grandpa John John had a strange, double name.

The Dessert: Maamoul
In the tradition of funny but sweet Lebanese names, I give you maamoul. 

John John's sisters Juliette, Esma and Ruby Lee holding three of his nieces.

My mother remembers her Grandma Annie baking these treats for her when she visited Louisiana around Easter. Though maamoul isn't an Easter dish, my mom associates it with Spring. She said some people mold these pastries into shapes with special tools, but her grandmother made them as patties. My Grandpa's sister Esma recorded the beloved recipe after Annie passed away and shared it with the family. The filling is Esma's own recipe. Since Esma has now passed, the recipe is even more special. 

Delicious maamoul! The smell of pecans, melted butter and vanilla extract in my kitchen was just lovely.

- 1 cup cream of wheat
- 2 cups flour
- 1 - 1.5 tbsp sugar
- 1 cup rendered butter (I used regular, heated butter)
- 1/4 cup milk or water
powdered sugar

For the filling combine ...
- 2 cups ground pecans
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tsp rose water, or almond or vanilla extract, or Oma suggests Whiskey (I used vanilla)

Combine cream of wheat, flour, sugar and rendered butter. 
Add milk slowly, as needed. 
Knead well.  Mold dough into small patties, flatten in palm of hand. 
Fill patty with one tablespoon of filling and cover with another patty. 
Close around edges.
Bake at 350 degrees until bottom is light brown. Broil or use top shelf to brown top quickly. 
Cool and Sprinkle with powdered sugar.  

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Albert's Tomahawk & Spaetzle

The Familytale: Albert channels Winnetou
80 some years later and the evidence is still there ... 

With finals on the horizon and a boyfriend just home from the hospital (and resting well), my culinary aspirations are fading. All I want is mac and cheese.

But, as I resort to my Amy’s Organic white cheddar shells or Mac and Jack (my own creation of penne, prosciutto and pepper jack).  I think about how I wish I could spice it up with an old, German family dish: Spaetzle. This German mac and cheese made from dumpling noodles has been a family favorite for years.  I remember being 19 and extremely jet-legged my first day in Munich and eating about a troth of it.

Jet-lagged in the Englischer Garten, Munich 2009. Spaetzle was just what the doctor ordered.

The dish pairs well with beer, especially Hofbrauhaus, but also with a good German story — especially a familytale about Albert and his kleine schwester Lottie, my Oma.  

When my grandmother was a little girl, she remembers her big brother getting into all kinds of trouble.  He accidentally bounced her out of her baby buggy and let her loose on an ice flow. Oma’s hand to God. But those are stories for another time.

Today, I’m going to tell you why Oma still has a split in her skull that you can feel when running your fingers over her forehead. Albert was a fan, as all German little boys were at the time, of cowboys and Indians. Most notably the Cowboy from the beloved German series Old Shatterhand and his trusty Indian comrade Winnetou.  Please keep in mind that I myself have never read the adventures of Shatterhand and Winnetou and am not confident that I can endorse these pre-WWII, German children’s stories.   

But, the cultural norm in Germany in the end 1920s was for little boys to read about Winnetou’s adventures and aspire to be cowboys.  Albert was no different.  He decided to fashion a tomahawk from plywood. But, he also had a desire to be William Tell, the folk-hero of Switzerland famous for shooting an apple off his son’s head.

So here we have a tomahawk, an apple and Lottie’s head.  Well you can guess what happened next.

Oma laughs now when she recounts the story of being five and the tomahawk spinning toward her forehead, missing the apple by a few important inches.

Yes, Albert could give her a hard time she explains. But, he was the only person who could. If any other neighborhood kid tried to mess with Lottie, he would protect her.  After all, she was his baby sister and if anyone was going to throw a tomahawk at her head, it was him.

Essen: Spaetzle or Spätzle (as dictated by Oma and written by my mom)
Currently craving this pasta and cheese. But sadly it's out the box this week for a poor college kid. 

This recipe is from what is left of Oma’s 1950s German cookbook, and notes from her mother’s kitchen.  Uhr-Oma made these noodles quickly and often from scratch. She made variations of them for soups, side dishes and comfort food.

Found this beauty online and am currently drooling on my keyboard.

2-1/3 to 2-1/2 cups sifted flour

1 tsp. salt
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1 cup water
2 tbsp. melted butter
1 cup toasted bread crumbs, optional- see variations below
1 cup Parmesan cheese crumbs, optional-see variations below
Large Pot (4 quart+) with 2 quarts of boiling water
2 tsp. salt for salting boiling water

Sift together flour and 1tsp salt. Set mixture aside. Combine in a large mixing bowl the large beaten egg and the 1 cup of water. Gradually beat the flour mixture into the egg mixture bowl, stirring it so that it is smooth. It should get stiff as all the flour is incorporated. The flour batter should break from the spoon, no longer pourable in a continuous stream. It becomes just thick enough to be dough. Oma uses a cheese grater with 4 sides to cut the dough, using the sides with the largest holes. The dough can be pushed through like very soft cheese. Oma says a metal colander with round holes also is good for cutting the dough: push it through the holes into the irregular little strips that make Spaetzle.

Add the 2 tsp. of salt to the large pot of boiling water. Drop the raw noodles into the water until one layer covers the pot. Only cook one layer at a time: do not overfill the pot. Boil noodles gently 5-8 minutes. Test one for doneness by pressing against the side of the pot with a spoon. It should be firm but tender. Remove noodles gently with a slotted spoon, draining excess water from spoon, and placing in a bowl with warm melted butter as they are removed.

Toss with melted butter. Variation: toss with butter and crispy bread crumbs. Variation: toss with grated cheese. You can use them plain as dumplings in soup.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

New Orleans Sno-balls & Sno-ball Cocktails

The Tradition: New Orleans Style Sno-balls
Not only are they not sno-cones, but they’re better

Robert and I went on a sno-ball date last week.  He got mint and I got king cake — yum!

Last week I experienced my first snow of the year. 

Yes, I live in Louisiana. Yes, it is April. And No, I am not talking about the weather. It's sno-ball season in the New Orleans area.

When the weather gets hot, sno-ball stands pop up around the Greater New Orleans Area and Baton Rouge. You northerners (or even Louisianans outside of New Orleans) might say, “I’ve had a sno-cone.” But, let me be clear, we’re not talking sno-cones.

Sno-cones are made from crushed ice.  Sno-balls are made from shaved ice, specifically made via a New Orleans SnoWizard machine that turns a block of ice into a velvety dessert.  The SnoWizard was invented in 1936, according to its website and the cold treats immediately garnered popularity in the hot city.  My Dad remembers there being a sno-ball stand on his elementary campus where kids could enjoy a frozen snack on the scorching cement playground.

A sno-ball has such a soft consistency that that can be paired with various crèmes. For example a stuffed sno-ball has an ice cream center or you can get it topped with condensed milk. You haven’t lived until you try a wedding cake or silverfox sno-ball topped with condensed milk, though you may die of a sugar coma.

There are a myriad of flavors from plain vanilla to Tigers Blood. And there are local favorites like King Cake, which I am still perplexed as to how it tastes so much like king cake.  Seasoned sno-ball masters like myself have learned a whole recipe book of flavors to mix and match.  And adults who have enjoyed the local treat since birth  know exactly what poisons to add to create cocktails that beat the heat. Some of my favorite remedies are below …

New Orleanians take regional pride in their patented ice doused in diabetes, I mean syrup.  All sno-ball stands advertise that they are bona fide New Orleans with the right equipment. We even wear jewelry shaped like the hot-weather favorite …

New Orleans jeweler Mignon Faget has an adorable line of sno-ball jewelry, photo from its website.

So just to be clear.  Just one last reminder. Sno-BALLS are not Sno-CONES. 

The Drink: Sno-Ball Cocktails
Kiddies aren’t the only ones who can cool down with sno-balls

“The Kiddie” 
A play on the ubiquitous sno-ball size system, these mixtures are safe for kids.

half pina colada + half ice cream = my favorite mix
root beer + ice cream = root beer float
mint + chocolate = thin mint cookie
strawberry + cheesecake = strawberry cheesecake (mix with wedding cake or cupcake instead for strawberry shortcake)
rainbow — it’s a little of everything but a childhood must.

“The Bucket”
No, I don’t condone indulging in this big gulp size. But here are some alcoholic recipes for us bucket-kicking, old-timers over 21.

strawberry sno-ball + rum = the faux-daiquiri
amaretto sno-ball + vodka = amaretto syrupy sweet
half mint sno-ball + half lime sno-ball + rum = mojito made from rocks
dreamsicle sno-ball + vodka =  frozen screwdriver
coffee sno-ball + condensed milk + vodka = shaved ice white russian

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Passover & Charoset

The Story(teller): Passover & Paxton
My funny friend Paxton dishes about Passover

Paxton is one cool cat.  Her cat is even cool. Seriously, he is nicknamed Thumbs because he has them. And, Thumbs is cool, until you try to touch his thumbs.

Here are some other reasons Paxton is cooler than you are:

-       Hometown: Austin (Second coolest Southern city, after New Orleans — but I may be biased)
-       Attended LSU where she introduced my sister to her husband. And, where Paxton studied abroad in Spain. (She has since toured basically all of Europe)
-       Traveled the Middle East on Birthright.
-       Lived in Honduras for a year and a half before moving to her current residence in Brooklyn, where she teaches and got a Master's Degree at Hunter.
-       Best Laugh Ever.
-       Her parents — her Dad is an Austin musician who owns a well-known music store. My sister and husband find Allen so cool, they had him officiate their wedding.

Paxton at my sister's rehearsal dinner, holding up a sign with her message to the couple.  The photograph was taken by Dear New Orleans.

Paxton’s mother is Southern Baptist from Arkansas.  Her father is an Ashkenazi Jewish Texan by way of Mexico …

Paxton said her paternal grandmother left Poland at the age of three in 1928, when Poland was becoming unsafe for Jews. Her father jokes that people were taking the first boat to anywhere. And, that's how the family got to Mexico.  Other relatives immigrated to Brazil, Argentina and Australia. Though Paxton’s grandmother met her husband (also Jewish from Poland who fled to America) when she was in her early 20s and moved with him to southern Texas, Paxton still has family dispersed throughout the globe. 

She said it was interesting to attend Jewish weddings and celebrations in Mexico and see them through a “Latino lens.”

Paxton grew up celebrating Jewish and Christian holidays and joked that sometimes customs would get confused.  Her favorite Passover ritual is the hunt for the afikoman, where a piece of this bread is hidden in cloth for the children to find.  In her family, the winner receives $5. She said as a kid she wanted to hunt for the afikoman on every Jewish holiday.

One of her favorite Passover memories is when she was about five and her "cool" Aunt Gail offered her the traditional herbs and salt in oil. Apparently, you dip celery in it and only eat just a tiny piece. Paxton, wanting to be polite to her Aunt Gail, that she so admired, ate the entire thing.   When her mother asked where the herbs were she remembers answering something like “I ate the whole thing. It was disgusting. Aren’t you proud?” 

As an adult living in New York, Paxton explained what it’s like to live in a culture that celebrates Passover on a larger scale, and to see children experience (sometimes clumsily) the holiday as she once did. 

Her school in Brooklyn is primarily Latino, but near an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood.  She explained that stores carry the strict “Checked Kosher for Passover” supplies, containing unleavened bread.  She said many of the neighborhood residents empty the pantry of all food containing leavened bread. 

She said there was an interesting moment in her classroom when a Hispanic, fourth-grade girl explained that her mother, a maid, brought home a pantry of food from a house she cleaned because the family could not eat products containing leavened bread.  This little girl —though she stumbled over the right, traditional words — thought Passover rocked. Paxton said it was so sweet and funny to see a non-Jewish child share a Passover custom with the class. Once again, seeing Judaism through a different lens.

The Seder Plate: Leah’s Charoset
My stylish friend Leah shares her favorite Seder recipe

“I remember being little and counting the pages up to the part of the Seder where we got to taste the first Charoset,” Leah said about her dish.  “The best way to serve it is with matzah, an unleavened bread traditionally eaten by Jews during the week-long Passover holiday!  My favorite is to make little open-faced matzah sandwiches.”

Leah and her adorable fiance Adam, with their even more adorable dog-child Oscar. 

· 1 cup walnuts
· 1 cup raisins
· 1/2 cup orange juice
· 1/4 cup Manischewitz (kosher red wine)
· 1/4 cup honey
· 1 teaspoon lemon zest (grated finely)
· 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
· Kosher salt
· 2 crisp apples (roughly chopped or diced small)

Heat oven to 350° F. Spread the walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in oven, tossing occasionally, until fragrant, 8 to 10 minutes. Let cool, then roughly chop.

Meanwhile, combine the raisins and orange juice in a small saucepan; simmer over medium-low heat until most of the liquid is absorbed, 5 to 7 minutes. Let cool, then stir in the wine, honey, lemon zest, cinnamon, and ¼ teaspoon salt.

In a large bowl, combine the apples and walnuts with the raisin mixture and toss to combine. Cover and let sit for at least 4 hours.

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