First Published: Inside Toronto - May 13, 2014
This is the time of year that I look at history, food and family almost as one. Memories, as we have been told often, are most relatable in sounds such as music, think Earth Wind and Fire and you inevitably smile. Think about your early birthday cakes and they can be described in vivid detail. Mine was awesome. It came from Women’s Bakery on Eglinton Avenue and it was a beaut – white icing all over and lovely moist white cake, but what was really spectacular was the decoration. My cake looked like a drum with candy canes and lifesavers. I had ballerina candle holders. Life was perfect.
Holidays, in particular, also have huge food, smell and memory ties. Spring is a time for many religious holidays, mine growing up were Jewish, but because my parents were very modern and early foodies, we enjoyed a holiday ham as well.
Now let me step back to the Jewish dishes, in particular a dish named Gefilte Fish. If you want to get fancy, this may also be called Quenelles, a French poached puree of fish. What we Eastern Europeans do is pickle it and make it sweet. Then again, we like all our food sweet, salty and a tangy.
Gefilte Fish is, to most, an acquired taste; me, I love it. We eat this puree, poached fish with sweet carrots and hot horseradish, pickled with vinegar and sweetened with raw beets. This is a condiment you must try and make. It is very easy, keeps in the fridge for a month and works with meat, in mashed potatoes and salad dressings as a kick.
Peel and grate equal amounts of horseradish and beets. Add a tablespoon of vinegar, cider or white wine preferably, a tablespoon of sugar and sea salt to taste. The reason there are no measurements is this is a taste thing. Let it sit for a day, mingle all the flavours and then adjust the vinegar, salt, sugar thing. Put it in a Mason jar and use it liberally. Try roasting carrots tossed with horseradish and olive oil.
If you don’t want the colour, you can try white or golden beets or just leave the beets out. This stuff is fun to mix into Dijon mustard, mayo, sour cream or, dare I say, ketchup.
Onwards, let me get your taste buds going.
Think brisket, a big delicious double brisket. Great on the old pocket book and crazy great to eat...with horseradish. Mine is also super easy.
Foil wrap a baking dish, layer on the onions and top with brisket. Coat in Dijon and yellow mustard, sea salt and freshly ground pepper, top with more sliced onions, add liquid. I like ginger beer, ginger ale, apple cider or, believe it or not, Dr. Pepper. This liquid becomes an awesome jus. Fill the baking dish between halfway and three quarters. Top with parchment, which will prevent the onions from sticking, and foil to seal in all the juices.
Bake at 325 Degrees F for five hours. Remove, let cool and place brisket in a dish, wrap and refrigerate. Place drained onions in a small bowl and jus into another bowl. Everyone in the fridge.
The next day, clean the fat from the jus, slice the brisket, top with onions and a bit of jus and bake just to warm through. Serve with mashed potatoes and ya, horseradish.
Ham, joyous ham is another true love. I would never, ever, ever get a ham without a bone. Why? Easy, soup. I love a big ham, carroty, pea soup. Black bread to dip, and a meal for kings and queens.
I love my ham baked slowly to warm though and then add a truly traditional garnish made a little bit easier to manage. I take fresh, really sweet pineapple and pulse it until well chopped but not pureed. I then drain it in a fine mesh strainer until fairly dry, about a hour.
I mix this with honey mustard and hot sauce to make the most incredible topping that stays on the ham when carving. The key to carving a bone-in ham is to lop off the top, right against the bone. It is easier to slice and looks so pretty. Lop off the bottom and do the same. Each guest can get a sticky sweet slice and a plain one to balance out. We love a good ham with some more sweet in the form of roasted, peeled and mashed sweet potatoes mixed with toasted pecans and bacon – may as well party, it is after all, a holiday.
So many wonderful memories and I do hope this reminds you of all your lovely childhood ones. Try resurrecting some, if you dare, funk them up and make new ones.
This is what family and friends are all about and this is why food plays such and important role in our lives. It not only feeds the tummy, but the heart as well.
Eat well, enjoy life and be sure to touch base with your thoughts,