Photo: Marlene Wolff Solomon.
My little sister, Ellie, sends me a text asking me to make a kugel for her Hanukkah party. Really? She wants me to make something that I must follow a recipe? Does she realize she’s texting Sister #2, not sister #1? “It’s really easy,” the text continues, “you just mix all the ingredients together in one pan and put it in the oven. Anyone can do it. I can text the recipe.” Again, does she know to whom she’s talking? I’m the woman whose daughter said when she turned 13, “Mom, don’t make cakes for my birthday anymore. I’ll do it myself.” (This was after the box cake I made fell apart.) Maybe that’s the point—she’s texting because she can’t bring herself to actually ask me and hear the hesitation in my voice. Chicken!
“Better send it by email so I can print it and follow the directions,” I say while biting the cuticles of my recent manicure. I print the recipe with TEN INGREDIENTS, just four of which I have on hand: eggs, cinnamon, sugar and vanilla (but it’s iffy how long I’ve had the last two—more than a couple of years is my best guess).
The next day is New Year’s day, (the only day I have time to go grocery shopping). I try to find the phone number for Giant Food online to see if they’ll be open. They have all kinds of information about the food, the pharmacy, automatic check-out and lots of other stuff I don’t care about, but no phone number. Figures. My pragmatic husband decides to look in the phone book (where virtually no one puts phone numbers anymore). He does find the number for stores in Reisterstown and Pikesvillle but not New Town. He calls the Pikesville Giant, asks if they’ll be open tomorrow. They are. Asks if this is true of all Giants. It is. So, one problem solved.
The next day I find myself at the noodle aisle where there are many choices. My instruction is to get “medium egg noodles.” I don’t know what ‘medium’ actually means. There are three shelves of noodles: curly noodles, high fiber noodles, light and fluffy noodles, and on and on but no ‘medium’ noodles. I call Ellie, explain my dilemma. She says, “Well, what do the ‘light and fluffy’ look like? Are they straight or curly?”
“Well how curly? Curlicues or just curvy?”
Really? Is she kidding? “I don’t know. Sort of in between.”
“Well just get that. It should be fine.” I am not really getting off to a good start here. I choose the “light and fluffy” which is in a 10-ounce bag. The recipe says “1/2 medium egg noodles.” One half of what? I ask my sister this. She says, “Oh, it should say ‘½ pound.’ Guess I left that out.” Uh Oh, hope she didn’t leave anything else out…As I am putting the package into the cart, she says, “Oh, you don’t have to get the farmer cheese ‘cause I have some I can give you, and there’s no sense getting what you don’t need.” This was a help—one less thing to worry about. Who knew there was such a thing as farmer cheese or the substitute she suggested, goat cheese?
I manage to find the regular cream cheese, sour cream, half and half and cottage cheese “small curd if they have it.” They do. I look for the nut (no pun intended) aisle—not easy to find, but with an employee’s help, I do. There must be 12 different kinds of almonds but no “slivered almonds.” So much for feeling better. By this time, I’ve had enough. I’ll ask Stuart to look for slivered almonds when he goes to Trader Joe’s tomorrow.
Now I just want to check out—another problem. Everyone is in a sort of kiosk where they are checking themselves out. I have no idea how to do this and I don’t want to learn. I ask an employee, “Is there an aisle where someone can check me out?” He points to the one and only such aisle. I head there and am behind just two other customers; not too bad. I put my purchases on the counter and get out my credit card. “Do I get any sort of discount if I use my membership card?” I ask the checker.
“Let me see it.” She takes it, scans it, hands it back and says, “Do you want the senior discount? Today is Tuesday.” I am not aware of this as it’s Stuart’s job to do the grocery shopping.
“I guess the gray hair gave it away, ‘cause I know it wasn’t my wrinkles,” I joke. She smiles indulgently and gives me the 5% discount. Now the day seems brighter.
I return home and start to put the groceries away and ask Stuart about the slivered almonds. He’s non-committal, unsure if Trader Joe’s carries them. “If you don’t have slivered almonds, the world won’t come to an end. I’m sure they won’t be missed,” he says. I have to agree with that, but I decide to see if I can catch Ellie before she leaves the house to see if she has the almonds. “I do, but I’m not sure how old they are, but the package has never been opened, so they should be okay,” she says. Oh goody, something else I can cross off my list.
I decide to prepare the kugel on Friday night so I can just pop it in the oven on Saturday morning. After dinner, I get out all the ingredients. First, I must measure out the ½ pound of noodles and cook them. There are no directions for doing this, so I’m thinking, Am I supposed to guess? Stuart helped since he always makes spaghetti on his day to cook and is familiar with timing it.
While they are cooking, I start to put the cheeses in the bowl. Some I need to measure, some come in packages that are the exact amount needed. One of these is the farmer cheese. The problem is, one has to be some sort of scientist or mathematician to figure out how to open the package that must have passed muster at Fort Knox. I try pulling it, squeezing it, separating the apparently fused together cellophane, but nothing works. Finally, I get a pair of scissors and try to cut it, but I have to poke it with the point of the scissors to be able to separate the cellophane! “Errrrr!” This is me becoming frustrated. Getting the cheese unstuck from the cellophane is another problem. Really? What a pain!
Finally, all the cheeses are in the bowl, the noodles are cooled and can be added. I almost forget the eggs but remember at the last minute. Mixing it is a real challenge. My right shoulder has never really completely healed from surgery several years ago. Getting that farmer cheese broken up is especially difficult. Finally, when my shoulder is just about to fall out of its socket, the kugel is sufficiently mixed. I put it in the fridge and collapse!
On Saturday morning, I transfer the casserole into a 9×11 pan, add the nuts and cinnamon/sugar on top and put it in the oven an hour before we intend to leave. Then I take a shower and dress. When an hour is up, I take it out of the oven, cover it with tin foil and wrap the whole thing in a large bath towel. Twenty-five minutes later, we arrive at Ellie’s, and she promptly puts it in the oven on 200 degrees to keep it hot.
So, what was the result? I know you’re wondering. Everyone loved it! There was a lot of food, including three other casseroles, two of which were hardly touched. But only about a quarter of mine was left! So was it worth all the effort? Well, I guess so, but cooking is still not my favorite thing to do. I’d much rather work on scrapbooks where I have actual confidence and maybe even a bit of talent.
However, if she asks me again next year, maybe I will since it turned out so well. I’m saving the recipe, just in case.
Kugel Recipe by Adrienne Berman
Submitted by her grateful sister-in-law, Linda Miller
NOTE: DO NOT USE FAT FREE ITEMS FOR THIS RECIPE UNLESS YOU DON’T WANT IT TO TURN OUT TASTY!
- ½ lb. medium noodles (boil according to directions, drain, and cool)
- 6 eggs
- 1 cup sugar
- 4 oz. regular cream cheese (not low fat)
- 1 lb. cottage cheese (small curd if you can get it)
- 7 or 8 oz. farmer cheese (goat cheese is a good substitute)
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 cup half and half
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 4 oz. slivered almonds
- cinnamon and sugar
- Mix ingredients together except almonds, cinnamon and sugar.
- Pour into a greased 9″ x 13″ pan.
- Sprinkle top with slivered almonds.
- Sprinkle top with cinnamon and sugar.
- Bake at 350° for one hour.
Read more by Linda Miller.