TRADITION! FAMILY'S HISTORY BRINGS COOKBOOK TO LIFE.
Food is part of the Passover tradition, as Jews mark the eight-day celebration of the ancient Hebrews' liberation from slavery in Egypt. It begins at sundown Saturday, April 7.
``To me, Passover is THE food holiday of the year,'' says Judy Bart Kancigor, author of ``Melting Pot Memories,'' a self-published cookbook filled with family stories and recipes. ``This is the time of year we go crazy cooking and baking just like Christians do at Christmas.''
But it's a challenge to be creative and make delicious meals, she admits, because of all the food restrictions (bread products, flour, grains, etc., are forbidden).
A native of New York, Kancigor reminisces fondly about growing up celebrating Passovers during her childhood years at fabulous, glamorous hotels in the Catskills in the '50s and '60s with her mother, father and brother.
``My father, Jan Bart, a cantor and entertainer, performed magnificent Seders, complete with choir, for 850 people. Lots of people didn't want to go through Passover preparations, so they went to the Catskills for eight days. It was like a Jewish land cruise. The food and buffets were fabulous - and you could get anything you wanted.''
Most memorable, she says, was the music. ``My father had a beautiful operatic tenor voice and my mother, Lillian, who now lives in Placentia, was in the choir.''
She spent several Passovers in the Catskills, even after she married and had two children. ``But the Seder I remember the most,'' she continues, ``was my dad's last, when my 4-year old son, Stuart, stepped up to the microphone and recited the Four Questions by rote in Hebrew.''
These are among the wealth of Rabinowitz family memories, holiday traditions and stories interwoven throughout the book's pages, with sepia-tone photos of relatives (no food photos), remembrances and hundreds of recipes. Kancigor traces her grandparents' roots from Slonim (a former Russian city that is now part of Belarus) to this country. And there are stories about Ellis Island, the Great Depression and World War II. The book, filled with joy, love and humor, appeals to both cooks and non-cooks alike - and many are reading it like a novel, she says.
Some have even expressed regret that they have not documented their family history and recipes. Kancigor never planned to write a cookbook, but this one, a labor of love, happened almost by chance.
When Kancigor's Aunt Estelle was dying in 1996, the cousins had gathered at the hospital. It occurred to Kancigor, who was at the same time waiting for her first grandchild to be born (she now has three grandchildren), that the family was losing one generation and the next generation wouldn't know anything about the family history, stories and recipes.
So Kancigor, after getting Aunt Estelle's handwritten, food-splattered recipe book, wrote a letter to first cousins and the remaining aunts on her mother's side requesting their signature recipes. After a little arm- twisting and repeated requests in a few instances, some 600 recipes were contributed by 159 family members and their friends. Most of them were tested during the three years it took to assemble and write the 342-page book.
When Kancigor, her husband, Barry, and two sons moved to Fullerton in the early '70s, she began cooking every Seder, melding tradition with contemporary twists. Although Kancigor varied the dishes from year to year, among the many creations served were Shelley's Mandarin tossed salad, carrots and apricots, a cousin's walnut broccoli ring, Aunt Estelle's creamy potato pudding, Passover potato blintzes, Shelley's grandmother's homemade sweet dill pickles, pickled salmon and chopped liver - all recipes that can now be found in the book.
For Passover this year, the table will include cherry chile sauced chicken, a matzo schalat, roasted asparagus and a mile-high sponge cake that lends itself to a chocolate glaze - or a filling of whipped non-dairy topping filling with plenty of fresh strawberries.
Kancigor is best-known for her mazto schalat, a family favorite she has prepared for years. It's like a noodle kugel, she explains, only it uses soaked, softened matzos instead of noodles. Kancigor is always updating and tweaking her recipe creations. In this year's version, which she has already made ahead and stashed in the freezer, she tossed in lemon juice.
``You can't take any kugel recipe and substitute matzos because not every one will work,'' she cautions. ``My favorite noodle kugel recipe did not work because it has too much milk - and the matzos sank to the bottom.''
When she flies to Los Altos for this year's holiday celebration, she'll be toting the schalat on the plane in an insulated bag. Her mother will be hand-carrying jars of frozen chicken soup and containers of matzo balls.
``The soup is unbelievable - and made with 7 to 8 pounds of carrots and three chickens. The key is to put as much in the pot with as little water as possible.'' The soup is dark, which has caused some discussion and controversy within the family.
``When we go through the metal detectors at the airport, the employees are always looking and giggling and wondering what's in our bags,'' Kancigor notes with a laugh.
Although the cherry chile chicken recipe from her deceased Aunt Hilda probably dates back to the '40s, it has become one of Kancigor's year 'round signature dishes since she started making it five years ago. Once again, it will be the star on this year's Seder menu. For Passover cooks, she's adjusted the recipe to use a homemade chile sauce based on ketchup. Other times, she simply uses Heinz bottled chile sauce.
Roasted asparagus, a recipe from her daughter-in-law, is a fabulous contemporary dinner accompaniment and a breeze to prepare. Simply pop the asparagus, in a single layer in an oiled pan, sprinkled with salt and pepper, in a preheated very hot oven and bake until tender. Once you've tasted it, you'll never fix asparagus any other way, says Kancigor.
Aunt Estelle's Passover Sponge Cake is known in the family as the mile-high cake.
``My aunt (Estelle Robbins, now deceased) made it for as long as I can remember.'' The recipe printed in the book is in letter form as it was sent to Kancigor 20 years ago. ``Make sure the cake is baked well,'' instructed Robbins. ``Otherwise when you take it out of the oven it falls.''
To gussy up the cake, whip up an easy chocolate glaze in the microwave. Another option for an appealing finale: Split the cake and fill with a non-dairy topping for Passover that you've whipped along with fresh sliced strawberries. Kancigor also likes to offer farfel-nut thins.
As is often expected in this type of cookbook, some of the recipes are missing details that many cooks would find useful - such as pan and package sizes, along with specific preparation directions and number of servings. But Kancigor says the book is a work in progress - and with each subsequent printing, she makes corrections and changes. Since it first came out in spring 1999, Kancigor has sold more than 3,500 copies by word of mouth.
``Melting Pot Memories,'' by Judy Bart Kancigor, is available in many Judaica shops, at Cook's Library in Los Angeles and at selected Sur La Table stores. To order a copy by mail, send a check for $24.42 ($18.95 plus $1.52 for tax and $3.95 for shipping) to Jan Bart Publications, PO Box 10188, Fullerton, CA 92838. For more information on the book, go to Kancigor's Web site, www.cookingjewish.com.
AUNT ESTELLE'S FAMOUS PASSOVER SPONGE CAKE
9 eggs, separated, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar, sifted
Grated peel and juice of 1 lemon
Grated peel and juice of 1 orange
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon extract
1 tablespoon orange extract
1 heaping cup Passover potato starch
With an electric mixer, beat egg whites until frothy. Add 1/2 of sugar and beat until stiff. Set aside. Beat egg yolks; slowly beat in remaining sugar until thick, making sure sugar is dissolved. This may take 15 minutes.
Add lemon and orange peels and juices along with extracts. Add potato starch slowly on low speed until blended. Carefully fold in beaten egg whites.
Turn batter into a 10-inch tube pan with removable bottom. Bake in preheated 325-degree oven 1 hour and 10 minutes. Remove from oven, cool 5 minutes, then turn upside down on a glass to cool. When cool, carefully remove from pan, cutting around sides and middle with a sharp knife. Makes 1 cake.
CHOCOLATE FROSTED CAKE: To frost top of cake with chocolate, combine 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips, 1/4 cup liquid non-dairy topping for whipping (for Passover) and 1 tablespoon margarine in a 2-cup glass measuring cup or bowl. Heat in microwave oven on high power 1 to 1 1/2 minutes, stirring once until smooth and chocolate is melted. Place cake, bottom side up, on serving plate. Frost top with chocolate and drizzle some down sides of cake. Let stand until chocolate is set.
STRAWBERRY-FILLED CAKE: Cake can also be split in half horizontally. Fill with 1 pint liquid non-dairy topping for whipping (for Passover), whipped and 1 pint fresh sliced strawberries. Replace top. Chill until serving time.
CHERRY CHILE CHICKEN
1 (16 1/2-ounce) can pitted cherries
3/4 cup dark raisins
2 large chickens (about 3 pounds EACH), quartered
Garlic powder, salt, pepper and paprika
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 cups Chile Sauce (see recipe)
1/4 cup water
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 medium onions, thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
1/2 cup Passover wine
Pour juice from canned cherries over raisins to plump. Season chicken well with garlic powder, salt, pepper and paprika and brown in oil in a large heavy skillet (may have to do this in a couple of batches). Place chicken, skin side up, in a large baking pan.
Mix together Chile Sauce, water, brown sugar, onions and raisins with cherry juice and pour over chicken.
Roast uncovered, in preheated 325-degree oven 40 minutes basting occasionally. Remove from oven and pour most of liquid into a medium saucepan. Reduce over medium heat until thickened. Mix with cherries and wine; pour over chicken and roast at 350 degrees 1/2 hour longer, basting occasionally, or until chicken is done. Makes 8 servings.
CHILE SAUCE: In a large bowl, combine 3 cups ketchup, 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 3/8 teaspoon ground cloves, 3/8 teaspoon ground allspice and 2 jalepeno peppers, ribs and seeds removed and diced fine (optional). Mix well. Makes 3 cups.
NOTE: After Passover, 2 (12-ounce) bottles Heinz Chile Sauce may be substituted for the homemade recipe here.
2 cups peeled and chopped apples
1 cup chopped walnuts (OR pecans)
1/4 cup sweet red wine
3 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Chop apples and nuts separately in food processor. Combine with all remaining ingredients, mixing well. Makes about 3 cups.
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 to 3 pounds fresh asparagus spears, cleaned and ends snapped off
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Coat jelly roll pan with olive oil (line with foil first, if desired). Place asparagus on pan in single layer, rolling spears in oil to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in preheated 500-degree oven, about 8 minutes if medium thick. (If asparagus is thin, it will take less time. If very thick, it may take a minute more.) Makes 6 or more servings, depending on amount of asparagus used.
FRUIT-TOPPED MATZO SCHALAT
9 squares (OR boards) matzos
9 eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups sugar
6 tablespoons margarine, melted
Grated peel and juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 cup golden raisins (OR dried apricots, slivered)
6 medium apples, sliced thin
2 (20-ounce) cans pineapple slices, well drained
1/2 to 1 pint strawberries (fresh OR frozen), rinsed, hulled and halved or cut in pieces
1/2 cup blueberries (fresh OR frozen)
1 (11-ounce) can Mandarin oranges, well drained
Margarine and ground cinnamon (for top)
Crumble matzos and soak in cold water until soft. Drain thoroughly. Beat egg yolks with 3/4 cup sugar. Add 6 tablespoons melted margarine, lemon peel and juice, 1 tablespoon cinnamon and vanilla; mix well. Stir in raisins and apples, then softened matzos.
Beat egg whites until frothy; add remaining 3/4 cup sugar slowly and continue beating until stiff. Fold into matzo mixture.
Turn into a well-greased 9x13-inch baking pan. Decorate top with an attractive design using pineapple slices, strawberries, blueberries and Mandarin oranges. Dot with margarine slivers and cinnamon.
Bake in preheated 350-degree oven 1 hour. Serve warm. Can be frozen. Makes 12 servings.
NOTE: For presentation as shown in photo, grease bottom and sides of a 9- OR 10-inch springform pan well. Press pineapple rings carefully around sides of pan. Press a strawberry piece into center of each slice. Carefully pour batter into pan, being careful not to disturb fruit on the sides. Level off top. Decorate top with attractive design using blueberries, Mandarin oranges and strawberries. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven 1 hour and 10 minutes or until done. Cut into slices to serve.
THE SEDER PLATE
Foods symbolic of the Passover holiday, displayed on the Seder plate and explained during the Seder dinner, include, clockwise from top right:
--ZEROAH (roasted shank bone) - This recalls the ancient Passover lamb sacrifice.
--HAROSET - A fruit, nut and wine mixture representing the mortar used by slaves to build Pharaoh's cities.
--CHAZERET - Romaine, a bitter vegetable that is often used in addition to maror as a bitter herb. This is optional.
--KARPAS - A green vegetable such as parsley (symbolizing the new growth of spring) that is dipped into salt water (center of plate) or vinegar (representing the tears shed during slavery)
--BAYTZAH (roasted egg) - To symbolize the renewal of life.
--MAROR (bitter herbs) - Horseradish (fresh) that symbolizes the bitterness of life in slavery.
6 photos, box
Photo: (1 -- cover -- color) Tradition and memories with a few contemporary twists stirred in
(2 -- color) Fullerton resident Judy Bart Kancigor wrote ``Melting Pot Memories.''
(3 -- color) For a festive presentation, make Matzo Schalat (like a matzo kugel) in a springform pan this year.
(4 -- color) Gussy up a sponge cake with a chocolate frosting and fill with fresh strawberries and non-dairy whipped topping for Passover.
(5 -- color) no caption (Asparagus)
(6 -- color) no caption (Seder plate)
Photos by Tina Burch/Staff Photographer
Box: The Seder Plate (see text)