Lately birthdays somehow don’t signal celebration as they once did, but when my kids were growing up, birthdays were always a big deal in my family. The tradition was, if it’s your birthday, you get your favorite meal, and your birthday cake was your favorite cake. For my husband there was no contest: boneless barbecued beef ribs and his favorite from our days in New York, Lindy’s cheesecake.
The ribs recipe came from my cousin Samra. She got it from her aunt Joanne Kalish, who belonged to a gourmet group that was a local institution for 38 years. Calling themselves the Gour-Menschen, the five talented couples included an artist, a professional chef, a writer, and an opera singer as well as Samra‘s parents. Every other month they would pull the name of a country or region out of a jar, and then the research would begin. The elaborate menus, decorations, photos, movies, and more recently videos, of their gastronomic excursions around the globe could fill attics. Over the years they tasted some pretty exotic fare. Not every dish was a hit, however. Samra’s mom Claire remembers making a bean dish with mousseline sauce that absolutely reeked. “How can I bring this?“ she asked her husband, Perry. “Take it,“ he said, “so if we ever visit that country we’ll know what not to order.“
“The hardest part was selecting a date,“ Samra told me. “They would not meet unless all 10 of them could be there, and when Joanie died (followed two years later by her husband, Murray), the group, while remaining close, never met again.“
Why the mop sauce? Texans make this dish in batches so large that they use a real mop to swab the sauce on the ribs. There’s no mopping in this recipe, however. What could be easier than braising the ribs in a foil pouch until tender, leaving them to bathe in their own luscious juicesr—all of this before your guests arrive? If you’d like some dipping sauce for the finished ribs, double the sauce ingredients and reserve half to be warmed separately and served on the side. Either way have plenty of napkins handy.
Cheesecakes are actually a form of custard, combining eggs, cheese, sugar and a host of extras over some sort of crust. According to food historian and rabbi Gil Marks, the ancient Greeks made the first cheesecakes by pounding cheese with flour and honey and cooking the mixture on an earthenware griddle. I asked my friend Lorraine Gold, cheesecake baker extraordinaire, why some people are so intimidated about baking them. “The biggest mistake bakers make with cheesecakes is over-baking,” she told me. “It’s just so difficult to tell when they’re done. Shake the pan gently. The top of the cake should appear solid, but still be wobbly in the center. Even if you do everything right, you still may get small cracks. A large one down the middle means that it was over-baked. It’s a good thing they taste so good – no one seems to mind!” Even the ugliest cheesecake does not mean all is lost. “Try a little camouflage,“ suggested Gold. “Use a fruit topping or glaze, even a frosting to cover the cake.”
Lindy’s was an iconic restaurant and Broadway hangout in Manhattan founded by Leo “Lindy” Lindemann and his wife Clara in 1921 (not to be confused with a copycat Lindy’s that operated from 1979 to 2018). The original closed in 1969. Damon Runyon was a huge fan and called it Mindy’s in his books, which became the source of the Mindy’s in “Guys and Dolls.”
Lindy’s signature cheesecake was the stuff of legend, credited by some as the most famous cheesecake in the country. The recipe featured here has been passed off for years as coming from Lindy’s. Is it really their recipe? Who knows and who cares? If it’s New York cheesecake you’re after—the really dense, rich variety that sticks to the roof of your mouth—this is the real deal. I’ve even won three cooking contests with it. (Well, in truth, one was at my friend Joanne‘s house party where I gleefully beat out her husband, Gerry, one at my synagogue’s Sukkot celebration and the third, an office party, but still….) I have greatly simplified the traditional crust preparationr—there’s really no need to roll it out. To simplify it further, use your favorite graham cracker crust instead, as shown in the photo. I usually whip the leftover heavy cream with a tablespoon of sugar and pipe it around the cake for even more dazzle. Note: “At room temperature” means at room temperature!
Joanne Kalish’s short ribs with mop sauce
Yield: 6 to 8 Servings
¼ cup dark corn syrup
¼ cup ketchup
¼ cup cider vinegar
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons prepared mustard
2 teaspoons instant coffee granules
1 teaspoon kosher (coarse) salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
6 to 8 boneless beef chuck short ribs
1. Whisk ingredients except ribs in a bowl, and marinate in several Zip-lock bags, refrigerated, for 2-24 hours.
2. Preheat oven to 400°F. Line large baking pan with heavy duty foil. Transfer ribs to pan. Cover tightly with foil and bake 1 hour.
3. Wearing oven mitts, very carefully open foil to release steam. Turn ribs over, cover pan again, and continue baking until ribs are very tender, 30 to 60 minutes (or more, depending on size). This dish can be prepared a day ahead up to this point and refrigerated or even frozen weeks in advance.
4. When ready to serve, remove layer of fat from ribs and reheat, covered, at 350°F until warmed through, 30 to 40 minutes. Cut ribs in half, if desired. Serve with extra sauce, if using.
Yield: serves 8-12
Butter for greasing pan
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Yolk of 1 large egg
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
¼ teaspoon salt
5 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, at room temperature
1¾ cups sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons grated orange zest
1½ teaspoons grated lemon zest
¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
5 large eggs, plus 2 yolks, at room temperature
¼ cup heavy (whipping) cream
1½ to 2 pints fresh strawberries
½ cup apricot jam
12 tablespoons brandy or water
1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Butter bottom and sides of 9-inch springform pan. Separate sides from bottom and set sides aside.
2. Crust: Combine crust ingredients in food processor; process until mixture forms a ball. Press 1/3 of dough evenly over bottom of prepared pan. Bake until golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside. Raise oven temperature to 500°F.
3. Press remaining 2/3 dough evenly over sides of springform, reaching about 3/4 of the way up. Reattach sides to crust-lined bottom. Place pan in refrigerator.
4. Cake: Beat cream cheese, sugar, flour, both zests, and vanilla with electric mixer on high speed, just to blend. Reduce speed to medium and beat in eggs and egg yolks, one at a time, beating well and scraping well after each addition. Reduce speed to low and add cream, beating just until combined.
5. Scrape batter into prepared crust and bake 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 250°F and bake 1 hour. Let cheesecake cool in pan set on wire rack.
6. While cheesecake is cooling, prepare strawberries: rinse and hull berries and thoroughly pat them dry; set aside. Combine jam and brandy in small, heavy saucepan over medium heat, and heat until preserves melt. Force mixture through a sieve, and set aside to cool.
7. When cheesecake has completely cooled, arranged strawberries in concentric circles on top, beginning at the outside edge. Brush glaze over berries. Refrigerate, covered, overnight. Just before serving, remove springform sides.
Recipes from: “Cooking Jewish” by Judy Bart Kancigor
Jlife Food Editor Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Cooking Jewish” (Workman) and “The Perfect Passover Cookbook” (an e-book short from Workman), a columnist and feature writer for the Orange County Register and other publications and can be found on the web at www.cookingjewish.com.