Thursday, May 22, 2014

Blintzes like Bubby's

I can't help but think of food when I think of my grandparents.  I guess that's normal.  Though you might not know it to look at some of my family members, we are a very food oriented group.  If you ask my mom how a simcha or Shabbat was, you will likely get the full menu as a response, along with a thoughtful critique.  My camera and phone have as many or more pictures of food than of my family (I know, shame on me...).  And my dear husband and I have grocery shopping as our regular date, just the two of us, along with our favorite cashier, produce guy, and the repeating cast of characters on our same shopping schedule.  Very romantic.

Food does carry strong memory triggers.  I remember my cousin Jomo's bar mitzvah (31 years ago!) not just for the wonderful family time and the Rocky Mountain tourist experiences, but for the food: my first encounter with honey-mustard chicken - made with Plochman's mustard; using oatmeal as a binder for hamburgers; and experiencing a simcha where the baalat simcha (my aunt) did most of the cooking.  I remember attending my friend's wedding, when I was in my first trimester with my oldest daughter, and though I was overwhelmed with (not just in the) morning sickness most of the time, the stir-fried vegetables with ginger made me feel better and made me want to learn to cook with ingredients I had not used before.  (I can't believe I was ever so young or culinarily limited that I thought ginger was an exotic spice!)

My strongest food memory of my father's mother, my Florida Bubby, was making chremslach (deep fried potato puffs) with her on Pesach mornings, before the yom tov lunch.  We used a Mouli grater to shred the cooked potatoes - leftover from the karpas - and then mixed in salt and beaten eggs, always judging the recipe by feel to see if we had added the right amount.  Then we would deep fry the dumplings in a deep pot of nasty Pesach oil, and eat them with cherry jam, sour cream, or salt.

The irony of my food memories, though, is that many of them are idealized.  I have such warm feelings toward spending the time with my Bubby and making the chremslach, but absolutely no desire to make or eat them myself, now.  I would rather go to shul than be "enslaved" to the kitchen on Pesach, and deep frying is not my friend.  I remember my New Jersey Bubby's (Bubby Sarah) chicken soup as the all time best, but I am not sure if it was as delicious as I remember, or if I had always been striving to make mine as good as something that wasn't real.

There are a few foods like that with Bubby Sarah - her honey chiffon cake, rolash (like a babka), rugelach, cherry cake.  Maybe even her blintzes.  I loved her blintzes.  Bubby made a sweet, heftier-than-most blintz leaf with a delicious farmer cheese filling.  She also made potato blintzes with the same sweet bletlach, which, honestly, were kind of weird.  Don't try it at home. At some point, it must have been that someone she respected and admired told Bubby that adding some orange marmalade to the cheese blintz filling would make them taste even better.  They were wrong, but the bitter orange was always there from that point on.

Eventually, when the supply line of frozen blintzes she gave me started to slow down, I asked Bubby for her recipe.  In her inimitable half-English, half-Yiddish style, she told me to put four eggs in the blender, then half a blender of miluch (milk), a few spoons of tzucker (sugar), a little oil, a "glayzel" (meaning glass, literally the glass cup that had formerly housed a yahrzeit candle) of flour, a bissel zaltz (salt).  For the filling, take half of the giant brick of farmer cheese that my Zeidy would bring from the wholesaler ("Don't buy it yourself, Dvoyraleh, it's too expensive"), and add eggs and sugar.

It took a little work to make a recipe with measurements out of those instructions.  But I managed to develop it into something that is more or less her blintzes, and I am sharing with you today, if you managed to get all the way to the bottom of the page with all my reminiscing.  I guess I am trying to make up for a year of bloggy silence...

Bubby Sarah's Blintzes
Yields 22-24 blintzes

For leaves:
6 eggs
2 1/4 cups milk
6 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons oil
1 1/2 cups flour
pinch salt
a teaspoon of vanilla (I have that on the written instructions, though I find it hard to believe Bubby used it!)

Combine the ingredients in a blender jar and mix until fully combined.  You may want to let it rest for a few hours before frying the leaves, but then again, you might not.

2 pounds of farmer cheese (in Israel, 1 kilo of Tuv Taam or C'naan cheese.  I had only 3/4 of a kilo of Tuv Taam, so I added in cottage cheese to make up the difference.
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup sugar
cinnamon, to taste
vanilla, to taste

Combine all ingredients well.  My bubby used to mash the cheese with a potato masher, but if you don't have a dairy one (or you get old and flaky and forget that detail), you can just mix with a spoon or fork.

Heat a nonstick skillet or crepe pan over medium heat.  Lightly oil (I wipe the pan with a paper towel dipped in a bit of canola oil - before beginning to fry, and after every couple of leaves. Use about 1/4 cup of batter for each leaf, swirling to cover the entire surface. Cook until the top is dry and slightly inflated in spots from underneath. There is no need to fry the other side! Remove to a plate. 

Repeat, stacking the leaves, until all the batter is used.  When you are done, flip the stack.  Just trust me - it makes the leaves easier to deal with.

Lay a leaf down, brown side up, on a large plate or board.  Place a couple of spoonfuls of filling in a line on the leaf, about and inch and a half up from the bottom edge, filling only the center third of the leaf.  It should look like a face with an unsmiling mouth (no eyes).  Fold up the bottom edge to cover the cheese, then fold over the sides like you are making an envelope.  Roll up from the bottom to create your blintz shape.  Repeat until all the leaves and/or filling is gone, whichever comes first.

You can individually wrap the blintzes at this point and freeze them, or you can fry them immediately.

Fry over medium low heat until golden brown on each side. 

Allow to cool for a couple of minutes to let the cheese set up, then enjoy!!

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