Saturday, January 31, 2015

Kichels -- The Recipe from the Old Country

Families in America are supposed to have beloved recipes that their grandmother brought over from the old country - whatever country that might have been.  Our family's recipes were kichels and knishes.  I can't really say that these are a traditional recipe from anywhere in particular.  They come from my grandmother on my mother's side, Reva.  Although her sister, Sue, usually took command of the kitchen.  I've always been told that they came from Poland, but the town I remember hearing of, Ravarushka, is actually across the border near Lvov, in Ukraine.  Like many of the Eastern European towns, it seems like it changed hands with the fortunes of war.  I've tried to find some more information on my grandmother's journey, but I keep running into dead ends.  She and her sister never wanted to discuss it.  And I'm pretty sure that whatever records there might have been in the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe didn't survive the triple onslaught of World War I, Stalin and World War II.

Most kichel I've come across were firm, flaky cakes.  Ours are made with a yeasty dough from a mixture of flour and potato.  After the dough has cycled through rising and pounding down, it's portioned, rolled out into circles, covered with lots of melted butter and sprinkled with a good amount of sugar, cinnamon, and crushed walnuts.

Our knishes were different as well.  In New York, most of the knishes people see are the horrible, mass-produced Gabila knishes, sold from street carts along with our famous dirty-water hot dogs and stale pretzels that seem to have been sitting in a warehouse for decades.   Others are large blocks of dry mashed potato or even drier kasha wrapped in tough dough.  Ours were smaller, bite-sized knishes, filled with peppery potato.

The knish recipe I don't have, but my mother passed along the kichel recipe about ten years ago.  I've probably tried 5 or 6 batches over the years, and I get a little better every time.  The tricky part comes at the end -- finding the proper proportions for rolling out the dough, cutting the wedges, and rolling up the crescents.

Recipe at the end.

The recipe is for a pretty big batch.  It's a bit intimidating, calling for 5 pounds of sugar and an artery-clogging amount of Crisco shortening.

Boil and then mash potatoes, while bringing milk to a boil.
 Activate the yeast in the cooled milk.  Then mix together the potatoes, eggs, shortening, sugar and sour cream.

Slowly incorporate the flour.

Let it rise, pound it down, let it rise some more.  Coat the top with a little softened Crisco or butter.

Coat the top once more and let is sit again in the fridge.

When the dough has sat out a bit and come to room temperature, divide it into six balls:

In the mean time, mix together a lot of sugar, cinnamon and chopped walnuts. 

And melt a lot of butter.  A lot.  I heard a lot of this from my Mom:  "Oh, yes, more butter."
We found it was best to melt the butter and then put it in the fridge for a bit to set up.  You want it more of a paste than melted or just softened.

Cut each ball in half, and roll it thin:

 Cover liberally with butter and the sugar/cinnamon/walnut mixture:

Cut into slices. It's tricky to get the right size.   A lot depends on how big you want the final kichels.  Apparently, my grandmother liked them bite-sized.  Her sister rolled them much bigger.

The rolling is a little tricky.  Pull the end towards you a bit, fold in the corners and start rolling -- pulling and tucking all the way.  You want the dough to thin a bit, without breaking, so you get more layers.  And tuck in the ends as you go, so it doesn't get too wide.  Then, take the tip of the wedge and tuck it under the last roll to keep it all together.  (We had some trouble with the layers separating while the kichels were in the oven.  I think we needed more butter and sugar.)

When you're done rolling dip the top of the kichel liberally into the softened butter, and then into a goodly amount of the sugar/cinnamon/walnut mixture.  It's a good idea to keep two bowls each of the butter and sugar mixture.  One pair for spreading on the rolled out dough, and the other pair for the dipping.

Then bake at 350* for about 15-20 minutes, until golden on top.

Turn them all out onto paper towels, topside down.  This allows the excess sugar/nuts to fall off and keeps any melted sugar on the bottoms from sticking to the towels.

One batch makes about 150.   I hope you're hungry.

And there you go.

Heat them a bit before eating.  10-15 seconds in a microwave is perfect.  


1 pt sour cream
5 lbs boiled potatoes
3 lbs butter
5 lbs sugar (you won't need it all)
10 lbs flour (you won't need it all) 
1.5 lbs rough-chopped walnuts
2 cups milk
4 packages yeast
2 cups Crisco
6 eggs

Soften 1 stick butter

Boil 2 cups of milk and let it cool

Boil enough potatoes to get two cups mashed.  
Save one cup of the potato water.

Mix the cooled milk, cooled potato water and 4 packages yeast. 
Let it sit until it forms bubbles.

Mix together:

1 cup Crisco
1 stick softened butter
2 cups sugar
3 tsp salt
2 cups mashed potatoes
1 pint sour cream
6 eggs

Add 5-8 lbs flour in stages.  Knead until dough moves away from the side of the bowl and is tender and soft.

Leave dough in the bowl, coat the top with Crisco and lay a towel over it.  Put the bowl in a warm spot to rise for 2.5 - 3 hours.   Punch down the dough and knead with more flour.  I can't really explain how much, because I don't know.  Butter the top and and cover.  Put the bowl with the dough in fridge at least 1 hour -- or overnight, with a dish sitting on top.  (I don't know what the dish is for.)

Pre-heat the oven to 350*

Take dough out of fridge and let it come to room temperature.  Divide the dough into 6 balls, and coat each with soft butter or Crisco.

Separately, mix together 3 cups of sugar, 1 1/2 lbs chopped walnuts and cinnamon.  You pretty much have to eyeball this to get the proportions you think will fit your taste.  Separate that mixture into two bowls.  Melt two sticks of butter.

Cut the balls of dough down to a smaller size.  Spread flour out on the table.  Roll out dough to about 12".  

Brush the dough with a good amount of melted butter, and sprinkle generously with the  sugar/cinnamon mixture.  Cut the dough into wedges and roll into crescents.  Dip the top of the crescent into butter, then into more sugar/cinnamon.  Roll should be about the size of a large egg.

Put the rolls onto a parchment paper covered baking sheet, leaving space in between them.  Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden on top.  

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Kitchen Project -- Done. (Mostly)

    When we last left off, I had the cabinets in, the upper doors done and the countertop installed. I built and installed the drawers, all the handles, and then did the backsplash.  It came together very nicely.

     I'd never done a tiling project before.  Lisa picked out matte white subway tiles, and we picked them up from Bath Bright Kitchen & Tile in Hyde Park, along with the mastic, grout and sealer.  Then I headed down to Harbor Freight to pick up a wet-cut tile saw.  The Harbor Freight saw is about half the price of a similar Rigid saw from Home Depot, and it's more than adequate for the limited use I'll give it.  For my next tile job (the upstairs bathroom!), I'll pick up a simple tile cutter, which is much easier for all of the straight cuts.

Lisa's dad and I did the project in a long, back-aching afternoon.  It came out pretty well, but I never really got the hang of spreading the mastic with the notched trowel to leave the right amount of mastic on the wall.  I ended up just "buttering" the back of each tile and setting them in place.  We weren't really sure what we were supposed to do around the switches and receptacles, but whatever we did seemed to have worked pretty well.

All in all I'm pretty happy with the way the kitchen turned out.  My eyes are drawn immediately to the imperfections in the doors and drawer frames, but no one else seems to notice them until I point them out.

I still have a little work to do.  I'd like to fix some doors and fine-tune some of the drawer faces.  And I want to add some switched under-cabinet LED lights, but that will require some electrical work -- cutting into the backsplash and the wall to add the new switch and a receptacle to the existing circuit.  In theory, it's not a big deal, but I have no idea what I'll find when I cut into the walls.

And toe kicks.  I need to make the toe kicks.

Schmaltz, Schmaltz, Baby.

Every once in a while I get it in my head to do something a little odd.  
One morning recently I thought I'd make some schmaltz.  Why?  I don't know.

I went to the local Adams Fairacre market and stuck my head in at the meat department.  "You got any chicken skin?"  The lady looked at me like I was nuts.  This is a real butcher shop -- they generally know what they're talking about.  But I guess no one has asked them for schmaltz ingredients.

"I want to render some chicken fat.  I thought that if you all were trimming chickens, you might have some skin and stuff I could take."  "Sure, she said.  Come back in about 20 minutes."

So I did my shopping and heading back to the meat department when I was done.  She had a nice big bag for me -- about 5 pounds of chicken skin, tail nubbies and what not.

By the way, Adams sometimes has frozen bricks of unrendered duck trimmings -- at about $1.50 a pound.  I bought two bricks, chopped up the trimmings into chunks, and put them in a pot of simmering water.  It took a while, but the hot water rendered all the fat out and then boiled off.  You have to be careful not to let the pieces burn, or you'll got an off-flavor (and dull yellow color) to the fat.  I was left with about a quart of beautiful white duck fat -- for about $2.50.  Rendered duck fat is $12 a pound mail order from D'artagnan.  Duck fat is awesome for frying potatoes, making popcorn, and, of course, confit duck legs (not that I've ever confitted a duck leg).  And it's low fat and heart friendly!  (No, it's not.)

I took them home and threw them into a large cast-iron skillet.  I think I should have chopped it up a bit more.  I played with the heat -- I needed it hot enough to render the fat in a reasonable time, but I didn't want to burn anything.

After a while, I had a skillet of golden fat and lots of crispy gribenes.  I ate one piece of crispy chicken skin and tossed the rest.  (Although maybe the next time we make mashed potatoes, some crumbled gribenes over the top?)

I poured off the fat into some clean mason jars:

One went to my dad, and one to Lisa's dad.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Fixing The Deck

(From 2009)

I spend a lot of time pulling weeds.  They're everywhere, and they drive me crazy.  One summer morning I leaned over to pull some weeds next to the small deck in front of the small front door.  And a piece of the decking broke off.

So I started investigating, and I realized that there was a lot of rotted wood.

So I decided to re-build it.  

Tear out the old.

Luckily, my contractor, Adam Munderback, was at the house replacing some siding.  He looked over the deck and said that there were no serious issues -- no termites, no structural problems.  He told me to head over to Williams Lumber  in Rhinebeck to pick up some T&G flooring.

I used some 2 x 4s to shore up the framing and get it pitched forward so rain water would run away from the house.  Then I put back the decking.

Some old cans of Schlitz Malt Liquor uncovered during the dig:

The last piece is a bit tricky, but I cut it down on the table saw and got it to fit.

I did pass off to Adam the job of fixing and trimming the post-bottom.

All done.

 I kind of think I should have just stained and sealed it.  But I caulked around the edges and put on a coat of primer.  It's been six years.  Hopefully this spring I'll actually paint it!