The Ultimate Soul Food


What's Cooking

In 1994, my sister-in-law contracted breast cancer. Immediately several women in her synagogue called Wendy's relatives and friends, asking them to prepare meals and deliver them to her home. When they approached me, of course I said yes.

All these years later, with Wendy fit and healthy, I had forgotten our cooking cooperative, until a woman in my apartment building told me a neighbor had pancreatic cancer. She asked if people would prepare meals for our neighbor and her family. Of course, I said yes.

Because I had experience cooking for someone who was ill, I offered some advice. I suggested setting up a schedule. I found delivering meals three times a week worked well, because Jewish women are notorious for their generosity, creating plenty of leftovers.

The best foods for this purpose are soups, stews and casseroles, which can be reheated without drying out. Using disposable containers are recommended.

Ask for the family's culinary likes, dislikes and dietary restrictions. Provide an entree and side dishes. I often include something sweet, such as cookies, which can be enjoyed for several days.

Chicken Cacciatore

6 whole chicken legs, including the upper portion
kosher salt to taste
3 Tbsps. olive oil, or more, if needed while sauteing, plus more for drizzling
1 large onion, diced
3 celery ribs, scraped and diced
6 carrots, scraped and diced
1 large green pepper, pits removed and diced
5 large garlic cloves, minced
1 can (28 oz.) whole tomatoes in juice
1 can (8 oz.) tomato sauce
1 cup dry red wine

Cut legs from the upper portion. Rinse under cold water. Pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle both sides with salt.

Drizzle oil in both the pot and skillet. Heat on a medium flame. Place chicken pieces in both the pot and skillet. Brown on both sides. Remove chicken pieces and place on a platter. Reserve.

Cool oil to room temperature. Scrape off any brown bits inside the pot and remove. Discard the oil in the skillet.

To the pot, add the onion, celery, carrots, green pepper and garlic. Sprinkle in a little more salt, if desired. Saute, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are wilted, about 5 minutes.

To the pot, add the can of whole tomatoes (including the juice) and tomato sauce. Pour the wine into the empty can of tomato sauce and gently stir to release remaining sauce. Add this mixture to the pot and stir the contents. Break up the tomatoes with a long-handled spoon.

Place the reserved chicken pieces into the sauce, stirring to cover. Place the lid on the pot and simmer contents on a medium-low flame for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Check for salt and add more, if needed, during cooking.

Recipe can be served immediately. But if prepared in advance to deliver to the family of someone who's ill, recipe can be reheated on a medium-low flame until warmed through.

Serve with 1 pound of penne, prepared according to package directions. If delivering to the family: After draining cooked penne in a colander, place it in a container and drizzle with olive oil so that it will not stick when gently reheated either in a microwave or a double boiler.

Serves 6.

Roasted Vegetables Italian-Style

nonstick vegetable spray
2 red peppers
1 bunch of thin asparagus (about 11/4-11/2 lbs.)
2 large onions
1/2 lb. white or cremini mushrooms, cleaned
3/4 cup olive oil, or more, if needed
kosher salt to taste

Coat 3 oven-proof baking pans, such as Pyrex, with no-stick spray. Preheat oven to 400°.

Cut out and discard pepper stems. Cut each pepper in half. Rinse under cold water, getting rid of the seeds. Dry on paper towels. Cut into 1/4-inch slices.

Break off and discard coarse ends of asparagus, rinse under cold water and dry on paper towels.

Remove and discard onion skin. Cut onion into 1/4-inch slices. With fingers, separate the onion's rings.

Place asparagus in one baking pan; the peppers in the second pan; and the mushrooms and onions in another.

Vegetables should have plenty of room in their pans. If they seem crowded, prepare another baking pan.

Generously drizzle olive oil over all the vegetables. Sprinkle vegetables with kosher salt.

Roast vegetables in the preheated oven. If all the baking pans do not fit in your oven at once, then roast in batches. Stir vegetables frequently while roasting, adding more oil, if needed.

Vegetables require different amounts of time in the oven: Roast peppers until brown at edges, about 40 minutes. Roast the asparagus until they begin to brown, about 25 minutes. Roast the onions and mushrooms until onions turn golden and mushrooms brown, about 25 to 30 minutes.

Cool all vegetables to room temperature. They can be served at room temperature or briefly reheated right before serving.

Serves 6.

Garlic Bread

1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
3 Tbsps. extra virgin olive oil, or more, if needed
1 12-inch loaf of Italian bread

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Place garlic and oil in a small saucepan and heat briefly on a low flame, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Do not overcook garlic as it turns bitter.

Score the bread with a knife every 11/2 inches. Then cut into the scores about 3/4 of the way through the loaf. Do not slice all the way through the bread.

Using a basting brush, lightly coat both sides of each slice with the garlic and mixture.

Tear off a sheet of aluminum foil 16- to 18-inches long and lay on a cookie sheet. Place the loaf of bread in the center of the foil. Gather the foil at the ends of the loaf and seal shut. Partially cover the loaf with foil but leave the center of the loaf exposed. Can be made to this point 2 hours before serving.

Place the cookie sheet in the preheated oven and bake until bread is fragrant with garlic, crunchy on top, and warm in the center, about 10 minutes. Serve immediately.

If prepared for the family of someone who is ill, provide the heating instructions.

Yields 8 thick slices of bread.

Pecan Squares

nonstick vegetable spray
1 egg
1/4 cup dark brown sugar, sifted
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. almond extract
1/2 cup flour
1/4 tsp. baking soda
dash of salt
1/4 tsp. cardamom
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1 cup pecans, chopped into fine bits

Coat an 8×8-inch cake pan with nonstick spray. Preheat oven to 350°.

In a large mixing bowl, place the egg, sugars and almond extract. Beat on low speed until well blended.

Add the flour, baking soda, salt, cardamom and cloves, beating on low until well blended. Pour in the pecans and beat on medium until thoroughly combined. Batter will be thick and sticky.

Move batter to the prepared pan. With fingertips, push batter around the pan until the entire surface is evenly covered with batter. Place pan in the oven and bake for 15 to 16 minutes, or until contents are crunchy on top and springy underneath. Cool to room temperature on a rack. Cut into two-inch squares.

Makes 16 squares.



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