Mandelbread and Other Secrets

TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Would you like some? It's delicious," says Martha Goldberg as she removes a stuffed veal breast from the oven.

Her recipe is so much in demand that it has been published twice: first, years ago, in a B'nai B'rith cookbook, and now in "Mama Cooks California Style," a collection of thoroughly tested recipes produced by residents, relatives, friends and staff of the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging in Reseda.

The book's subtitle, "New Twists on Jewish Classics," reflects a double goal. One is to make recipes more healthful. The other is to introduce new ideas--lox and cream cheese in a quesadilla, rather than on a bagel, for instance, and blintzes transformed into corn crepes with a Southwestern chicken filling.

However, the final chapter, "I Remember Mama: Recipes From the Past," preserves heritage dishes in all their rich glory.

To show how extraordinary this food can be, several contributors have organized a tasting at the home. Goldberg, a resident for the last three years, places her veal on a table along with cabbage and beef borscht, Russian tea cakes, almond strudel and golden brown mandelbrot (or mandelbread, as the book calls it), all recipes that might have been lost if it weren't for the book.

What makes the veal unusual is that you have a choice of stuffings, either potato and onion or fine noodles combined with onions and green peppers. "I always liked to try different dishes. I was very inventive," says Goldberg, who is wearing a promotional apron printed with the book's name.

Goldberg speaks of cooking in the past tense because these days she eats the meals provided at the home. (How is the food? "Very good," she says.)

Young chefs may be in vogue, but Mollie Gornbein was 75 when she went to work in the kitchen of Bageleh, a dining spot in Malibu. There she turned out 75 cheese blintzes and three pans of noodle pudding a day, along with chicken soup, of course, and a barley and mushroom soup that sold "very, very quick," she says.

Of course, Gornbein may have gotten the job because the restaurant was owned by her son, Bernie Safire. Then again, she may have qualified because of prior restaurant experience. "My mom had a restaurant on Coney Island," Gornbein says. "When I was 8 years old, I worked in the kitchen with Mom. She taught me to cook."

Granny's Famous (and Secret) Mandelbread is no longer secret, thanks to Betty Goldberg's granddaughter, Stacy Becker. Becker watched while Goldberg made the pastries, recording such measures as "two bottle caps" of vanilla and "four to five shakes" of cinnamon. "My grandmother's a phenomenal cook," says Becker.

"I used to be," chimes in Betty, who is now visually impaired and came to the tasting with her companion, Lita Esguerra.

No one else in the family tries to make the mandelbrot. "I think we're intimidated because she's the queen of cooking," says Becker. However, Esguerra has made several batches and sent them to her family in the Philippines. (The women joke that Lita's the queen of mandelbrot now.)

Anyone who has tasted Lee Lee's Russian tea cakes gasps with pleasure at the thought of them. The orange- and vanilla-flavored dough is wrapped around a filling of jelly, raisins, nuts (or coconut) and cinnamon sugar.

The recipe came from Leona Kustner, a resident of the home who died six years ago. When the notice went out to submit recipes for the book, her daughter, Marcia Schulman, happily complied. "What a nice way to remember her," she says.

Retired home economist Harriet Part, a volunteer at the home, served as food editor of the cookbook. She contributed a recipe for almond strudel. In the introduction, she writes, "My great-aunt Ida, who was from Turkey, made the most unusual and delicious strudel, which she brought to every wedding and bar mitzvah.

"She would never share the recipe, but I will."

The spiral-bound hardcover book is available in bookstores. It can also be ordered from the home for $23.95, which includes tax and handling. Make checks or money orders payable to the Jewish Home for the Aging and send them to the Public Relations Department, Jewish Home for the Aging, 7150 Tampa Ave., Reseda, CA. 91335. Call (818) 757-4444 for Visa or MasterCard orders.

BREAST OF VEAL AND TWO STUFFINGS

Martha Goldberg recommends adding tomato sauce while baking the veal to give it a warm red color. We've added her suggestion to this recipe. Choose one stuffing to fill a single veal breast or use half of each stuffing if you'd like to try a different one on each side.

POTATO STUFFING

2 1/2 cups cubed peeled potatoes

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, sliced into rings

Salt, pepper

1 egg, beaten

NOODLE STUFFING

1 tablespoon oil

1 cup chopped onions

1/4 cup finely chopped green bell pepper

2 cups cooked drained fine noodles

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/4 teaspoon paprika

VEAL

1 (4- to 5-pound) breast of veal trimmed of fat, with pocket for stuffing

Salt, pepper

Paprika

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup coarsely chopped onions

1 cup coarsely chopped carrots

1 cup coarsely chopped celery

Olive oil

1 1/2 cups beef broth

1/2 cup tomato sauce

1/4 cup water

POTATO STUFFING

Boil potatoes in water to cover until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and coarsely mash.

Heat olive oil in skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until well browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in potatoes and season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and stir in egg. Set aside.

NOODLE STUFFING

Heat oil in skillet over medium heat. Add onions and bell pepper and saute until tender, about 5 minutes.

Combine noodles, onions, bell pepper, salt, pepper and paprika. Taste and add more seasonings if desired. Set aside.

VEAL

Season veal with salt, pepper, paprika and minced garlic to taste.

Stuff pocket with Potato Stuffing or Noodle Stuffing. Close pocket with skewers.

Place veal, onions, carrots and celery in 13x9-inch baking pan. Bake uncovered at 400 degrees 20 minutes. Mist or brush with olive oil if veal looks dry.

Add beef broth and cover tightly with foil. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 1 hour, basting frequently and adding stock if needed. Combine 1/4 cup tomato sauce and water and add to veal at end of 1 hour cooking time. Bake 1 hour more, basting frequently. Add remaining 1/4 cup undiluted tomato sauce and cook 30 minutes more. Remove veal from oven and let stand 15 to 20 minutes before carving.

4 to 5 servings. Each of 5 servings:

678 calories; 893 mg sodium; 304 mg cholesterol; 24 grams fat; 43 grams carbohydrates; 70 grams protein; 1.43 grams fiber.

CABBAGE AND BEEF BORSCHT

Mollie Gornbein, a resident of the home, is justly proud of this soup. "If I say so myself, it is delicious," she writes in the introduction to the recipe.

1 1/2 pounds beef short ribs

2 pounds cabbage, shredded

1 large onion, finely chopped

3 carrots, shredded

1/2 cup tomato sauce

7 cups water, combined with beef bouillon cubes if desired

1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced

Salt, pepper

2 to 3 tablespoons lemon juice

2 dashes oregano

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Brown shortribs on all sides in hot stockpot over medium heat. Add cabbage, onion and carrots and cook until cabbage wilts, about 5 minutes. Add tomato sauce and water, then cover and cook until meat is tender, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Add mushrooms, 2 to 3 teaspoons salt or to taste, 1/2 teaspoon pepper or to taste and cook 15 minutes. Add lemon juice, oregano and parsley and cook 5 more minutes.

4 to 6 servings. Each of 6 servings:

157 calories; 350 mg sodium; 30 mg cholesterol; 4 grams fat; 18 grams carbohydrates; 14 grams protein; 2.18 grams fiber.

GRANNY'S FAMOUS (AND SECRET) MANDELBREAD

Betty Goldberg says the hardest part of the recipe is properly drying the mandelbread. "Keep turning it after you slice it," she advises.

3 eggs at room temperature

1 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon blended with 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

3/4 cup oil

Juice of 1 orange

4 to 5 shakes cinnamon

2 bottle caps vanilla extract

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons baking powder

3 1/2 to 4 cups flour

2 1/2 tablespoons poppy seeds

1 cup blanched slivered almonds

Nonstick cooking spray

Whip eggs and sugar 1 cup in large bowl with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add oil, orange juice, cinnamon and vanilla. Set aside measuring cup that held oil.

Combine baking soda, baking powder and flour. Gradually add flour mixture to egg mixture, mixing constantly. Dough should be very thick. Turn off mixer and stir in poppy seeds and nuts.

Drip any oil that has settled in measuring cup onto 15x9-inch jelly roll pan and spread evenly, then spray with nonstick cooking spray. Form dough into 4 wide strips across short width of pan, leaving 1 1/2 inches between rows. Sprinkle dough with cinnamon-sugar mixture. Bake at 350 degrees until lightly browned, 35 to 40 minutes.

Cut rows of dough apart with serrated knife if they have run together. Cut each row crosswise into thin strips. If bread is crumbly, return to oven and bake few minutes more before cutting. Separate slices on pan to allow for further drying. Return to oven and bake at 350 degrees 10 minutes. Turn slices over and bake at 275 degrees 15 minutes. Cool and serve.

40 pieces. Each piece:

124 calories; 26 mg sodium; 16 mg cholesterol; 7 grams fat; 14 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 0.14 gram fiber.

ALMOND STRUDEL

Harriet Part says the strudel can be frozen, but it's not likely there will be enough of this special treat left over to freeze.

2 cups blanched almonds

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, plus extra for sprinkling strudel

1 egg white, slightly beaten, or 2 tablespoons corn syrup

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

8 large sheets filo dough

Butter-flavored nonstick cooking spray or 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted

1 cup fine vanilla wafer crumbs

Finely chop almonds in blender or food processor. Pour into bowl of electric mixer. Add sugar, egg white, lemon juice and almond extract and beat until thoroughly blended.

Lay filo sheets on dry surface and fold in half. Working from bottom up, fold back each half sheet and spray with cooking spray or brush with melted butter. Lightly sprinkle with cookie crumbs. Spray top sheet with cooking spray and sprinkle with crumbs.

Mold almond mixture into roll about length of filo sheets. Place almond roll at one end of top filo sheet. Fold in sides and roll like jelly roll. Spray seam with cooking spray or brush with melted butter and press to close.

Lift carefully and place roll seam side down on greased baking sheet. Spray with cooking spray or brush with melted butter. Cut slits through top of strudel 1 1/2 inches apart. Do not cut through strudel.

Bake at 375 degrees until lightly browned, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from oven and cool. Slice, using slits as guide. Sprinkle with extra powdered sugar.

10 to 12 servings. Each of 12 servings:

256 calories; 65 mg sodium; 1 mg cholesterol; 13 grams fat; 31 grams carbohydrates; 7 grams protein; 0.56 gram fiber.

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