Me, Sher, and Ad

Me, Sher, and Ad
Bro Adam and sis Sher, my rocks!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Sweet Noodle Kugel: My Comfort Food

Warm, sweet with raisins, tart with apples, spicy with nutmeg and cinnamon. COMFORT FOOD. This is how I describe my Nana’s Sweet Noodle Kugel recipe. Kugel is a Jewish tradition. It is sort of a noodle and egg pie and is similar, perhaps, to a quiche ... but with noodles! It can be savory and made with spinach and cheese or sweet, like my Nana's. The recipe I made is perfect for dessert, or even breakfast.

Now it has been a tough month for me, with the 2nd anniversary of my mother’s passing. So it only figures that I have nursed some wounds during these last thirty days. It is amazing that food from your childhood can evoke such memories, such emotions of love and kindness. No wonder it is called comfort food.

This past month I have been plodding through my Nana’s and Mom’s recipes that Mom had so carefully wrote down for me in the last couple years. They include among others, recipes for meatloaf, meatballs, Mom’s marinara sauce, tomato and cucumber salad, cucumber onion salad with sourcream (my Nana’s recipe from Russia), Nana’s stewed chicked, potted chicken, baked chicken, chicken cacciatore (I smell a trend), baked fish with vegetables, macaroni and cheese, sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top, and of course, Mom’s tuna casserole with cheese cornflakes on top(a family twist!). These recipes rank among some of my most treasured family heirlooms as they are such a direct connection to my past.

The tuna casserole is one of those dishes which with one bite, and I transported back to 205 East Maple Street in Wenonah, NJ, sitting in the breakfast room next to Mom, with Adam beside me, Sheryl across from me, and Dad at the other end of the table. We are eating off of Corning Ware, talking and laughing about the days events at work and school. Gretchen, our shepherd, has to be herded back every couple minutes to the back door to lay on her round braided rug, covered in dog hair. We had a small black and white TV in the breakfast room. Mom would always insist it was turned off for dinner. Mom and Dad taught us how to listen and not interrupt. We would go around the room and one by one, talk about our day or what we learning. It was so hard to not interrupt the others! (I still have that problem, LOL)

I decided to make the Sweet Noodle Kugel this past weekend, but was thrown off when I realized I did not have any broad egg noodles. They must be extra wide. So, I put it off for a day or two and then on the way home from work the other night, made a last minute stop at the food store and picked some up. They did not have any of the Manischewitz brand which Mom used, so I picked up the good old standby Acme brand which my Nana swore by. "It's just as good as the expensive brands!" she would insist. She was also partial to Pathmark store brands too.

Like a science experiment, I put all of my ingredients out on the counter top before I started the recipe. That is where the dutiful cook began ... and ended. I just glanced at the recipe and threw myself into it! Well, let's just say I started messing up real fast. I first realized that I needed to separate eggs. OK, wasn't too sure how to do that. Now I can cook, but when it comes to baking, my skills are lacking, so I should have READ THROUGH the entire recipe instead of just winging it. I called my sister Sheryl and she explained to me how to separate eggs. I did that correctly after instruction but then put the egg whites into the spice mixture when I should have put the yolks in! ARGH! I had to start all over again. Thankfully, I had the exact number of eggs left in the fridge that I needed.  Sheryl couldn't believe I hadn't read the recipe all the way through. Who needs prep in a kitchen? Not me!

I separated the eggs and this time correctly put the yolks where those yolks needed to be. I needed to grease a pan. Huh? After a quick call back to Sheryl, she started laughing at my ignorance and then offered the solution, butter on the pan so the noodles don't stick. OK, thanks! I hung up. Then, I had to beat the whites until stiff. What?? I had already called my sister twice and her hysterical laughter at my baking naivete was being replaced by sisterly annoyance at her inept brother pretending to be a cook. So, I called my friend Marie, who proceeded to laugh at me as well. Marie, for those who don't know her, is an accomplished chef hailing formerly from the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and Susanna Foo's Asian restaurant, and now worked at the Restaurant School as an instructor. She explained how to beat the eggs until stiff. I had never used my hand blender and it was still new in the box. Marie was in shock when I asked if she thought I needed to wash it first. I played it off, "Yeah, just kidding! Ha ha! Of course I am going to wash it!" Oops! Marie also explained how to fold in the egg whites into the noodle, raisin, and apple mixture before baking. You need to fold the egg whites into the mixture gently. Gently? What, am I putting the eggs whites to bed?

I put the Sweet Noodle Kugel in the oven and baked it for the time stated in Nana's recipe. From baking, the noodles on top get kind of crunchy but the interior is SO GOOD! My mouth waters just thinking about it. It came out perfect, just how I remembered it. From a 9 x 9 baking dish, I cut out 4 huge helpings. One each for John and I that night and one each for us the following day. I sat there in heaven eating it slowly, savoring the myriad of flavors which evoke those memories of past Jewish holidays with Nana or Mom cooking. Each sweet bite was wonderful. The flood of emotions and memories was almost overwhelming as everything else around me just shut down while enjoying the Kugel.

The couple hours that I spent on this recipe were worth it and so important to me as I connected to my past. I regret not making this more! And, for future reference, I have vowed, like a good cook, to start reading the ENTIRE recipe before hand so I don't have to make a dozen calls to Sheryl and Marie during cooking.

1 comment:

  1. I love it! You know I have similar stories... and in the end it inspired my cook book. I promise you I will answer any questions you have about any of my recipes when this book is done.