Wednesday, February 07, 2007

A tsimmering issue

We have a pretty busy kitchen at the 19 Minutes home office. Partly, that's because even with a pretty well-behaved two-and-a-half year old around, there are only so many restaurants that serve grilled cheese, and only so many occasions on which we want to spend an hour trying to sneak bites of our food while attempting to convince our daughter into staying in her booster chair. On the other hand, watching Sylvi order her own meals is pretty entertaining ("I want grilled cheese and moolk!", she says happily, while the waitress attempts to discern what "moolk" is).

But really, the kitchen is busy because it can be. For seven years, we lived in a townhouse with a kitchen that would have looked appropriate in a 737. And after five years, we dispensed with what was formally known as a "dining room table" but more colloquially known as "the repository of car insurance bills, 74-thousand credit card offers, and the L.L. Bean Early-Mid Winter Pre-Boxing Day Sale Catalog" and decided to embrace the notion of eating on the couch. So there really wasn't much incentive to be much more ambitious than frozen pizza. (Dining tip: For a unique twist, try adding Froot Loops to your frozen pizza. I never have, but I'll be curious to hear how it tastes.)

But now safely ensconced in Wisconsin (and you try finding another rhyme for "Wisconsin"), with a bright, yellow kitchen that features - yes - both counter space and cabinet space, we've gotten more ambitious. Ambitious to the degree that by the time Sylvi is 10 years old, she may never see us cook again, because we will have filled eight auxiliary freezers with enough leftovers to last into the Chelsea Clinton Administration. (Granted, she may still be ordering grilled cheese at that point.)

My wife is especially enjoying the opportunity. Last week that manifested itself in my mom's recipe for something called "tsimmes". Or "tzimmes", if you prefer. (Or "simmis". You get the idea.) We are, you'll recall, a Christmas tree-and-menorah sort of household. But despite her Lutheran-ness, my wife enjoys getting in touch with her inner Jewish chef. She makes a fantastic kugel. The problem, though, with most Jewish recipes - at least those handed down from generation to generation - is that they don't quite have the, um, specificity that your typical Midwestern Lutheran recipe might have, which can sometimes lead to unexpected results.

Typical Midwestern Lutheran recipe (written neatly on 3X5 index card)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
1 12 oz. box, vermicelli noodles
1 8 oz. can, cream of mushroom soup
3 large carrots
dash of garlic powder

Typical passed-down Jewish recipe (written on coffee-stained paper that, on closer inspection, is the back of a form letter from 1973)

Preheat oven to [obscured by coffee stain].

medium-sized brick of cream cheese
box of egg noodles
4 T sugar [or maybe it's "4 t" - you can't really be sure]
4 apples (I use Jonathans)

You get the idea. Anyway, tsimmes is a beef roast-and-potatoes-and-sweet potatoes-and-carrots-and-honey dish that my mom used to make while my brother and I were lobbying for pepperoni pizza. My mom was kind enough to provide her recipe - in electronic form, actually, and with a pretty good level of detail.

My wife adapted it a little - employing a crock pot, for starters - but otherwise followed the recipe pretty closely. It turned out pretty well, though not as thick as my wife thought it
should be, considering a major section of my mom's recipe involved the thickening process. So we checked in with my mom and the following conversation ensued:

Me: So, Gretchen made your tsimmes recipe tonight.

My mom: Really? How'd it come out?

Me: Pretty good. But we had a question about the - what is it called? The

Mom: Right, that's the thickening. It's like when you make gravy.

Me: Right. She followed the directions, but all it did was clump up in three
or four places.

Mom: Yeah, that's what usually happens with mine. Except when I forget and
don't do the thickening at all.

In the spirit of things, I made pepperoni pizza the following night. But at least it wasn't frozen.


Anonymous said...

So I forgot a few key ingrediants. Wouldn't be a Jewish recipe if I gave all the instructions. Sylvi would know how to do it, only no cheese in the tzimmes, it's not kosher.

Anonymous said...

Did you get a good piece of brisket? And I don't see anything about kishke in your recipe. Without kishke it loses half the flavor!