Grandma Aptaker’s Recipe for Picnic Cake

9 Jul


This recipe was floating around in the late sixties and early 70s. I remember my mother making a cake like this. When I searched on line, I found many similar recipes for chocolate cake made with dates, topped with chocolate chips and nuts, from popular sources, including Betty Crocker. There were often slight variations, and many of these versions attribute the recipe to a relative, so I this cake must really have been making the rounds. I looked for my mother’s recipe in her old cookbooks, and found a version  in my home-town service-league cookbook from Pueblo, Colorado.*

But Grandma Aptaker didn’t read English, just Russian and Yiddish. I transcribed a lot of her recipes myself, and I don’t remember seeing her work from a written recipe. If she did, it would have been written in Yiddish. So I imagine that she tasted this cake at someone’s house and maybe someone described the recipe or wrote it down for her in Yiddish. What, do you think I know? But I do know that my mother-in-law, Rose Dubnick, wrote down the recipe below as Grandma made it. Rose gave the recipe to my sister-in-law Mindy Watts, and she recently gave it to me. However this happened, it makes me smile to think of Grandma Aptaker, who couldn’t read English, making this popular American cake.

This is called a picnic cake because it has no frosting, is easy to transport, and doesn’t need to be refrigerated. Because it is easy to make this cake without dairy (with nondairy shortening and chocolate chips), for Jewish families who don’t want to mix milk and meat,  this cake is a great choice for picnics, usually centered around burgers, hotdogs, or meat on a grill.

Here is the recipe as transcribed:



TOPPING (mix well and put on top of the cake)

Add chopped dates to hot water and let stand until cool then add soda to this mixture.
Cream sugar and shortening together, add eggs one at a time, and then add sifted dry ingredients. Add date mixture and pour into lightly greased floured 13×9 pan. Put topping on, and bake 350 oven for 35 minutes.”

NOTE: Although this was baked at high altitude (Pueblo, Colorado), it can be baked at lower altitudes with no adjustment.

I test-drove the recipe last week. Here is a picture of the cake I baked, using almonds instead of walnuts:

NUT ALLERGIES:  omit nuts and replace more chocolate chips and/or diced dates
LOWER SUGAR: You can almost always reduce sugar by 1/4 cup or swap out 1/4 cup sugar for Splenda. You can use sugar-free chocolate chips, or use dark chocolate chips which naturally have less usga
GLUTEN ISSUES: You can use  all-purpose gluten-free flour.
VEGAN: Use egg substitute, coconut sugar, and vegan chocolate chips.
CHOCOLATE ALLERGIES: Use carob powder, carob chips.  Or make a spice cake version: omit cocoa and add 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp ginger, 1/2 tsp nutmeg. Use coffee instead of hot water.
This is the kind of cake recipe you can get creative with because you can use:
any kind of nuts: pistachios, peanuts, almonds, cashews, coconut
other kinds of dried fruits, like cherries, apricots, etc.
white chocolate, peanut butter, cinnamon, or butterscotch chips
Some combinations that appeal to me: dried cherries, almonds, dark chocolate chips; or peanuts and peanut butter chips.
Have fun and enjoy!
*This is the recipe my mother used: “Chocolate Chip Cake” submitted by Joan Clementi, From an Adobe Oven. . .To A Microwave Range, Pueblo Service League, 1972.
Essay and notes by Randa Dubnick
Image “Grandma Aptaker’s Recipe for Picnic Cake” by Randa Dubnick
Photo “Picnic Cake” by Randa Dubnick
All Rights Reserved

A Hasty Charoses

1 Jun

Hasty Charoses (Recipe Illustration)

This is a quick and easy recipe for charoses, a  fruit and nut spread eaten at Passover (symbolizing mortar used by Jewish slaves). This version is made with dates, oranges, and almonds.  But you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy this sweet spread!

I grew up eating European or Ashkenazi-style charoses, made of chopped apples, nuts, cinnamon, and a little bit of Manischewitz wine. I love it! But some years ago at a seder in Philadelphia, my cousin Terry served charoses made of dates and spices; she said it was a Syrian charoses. It was delicious! But even though I saw many interesting recipes and articles about how people all over the world make charoses, still, year after year I seemed to just stick with my favorite Ashkenazi charoses. (It’s a tradition!)

But in 2020, during our 21st century plague, I found myself trying to cook for Passover with what I already had on hand or could get delivered. It was time to make charoses, but I was out of apples, and couldn’t get any. But I did have dates, almonds, and oranges.

I remembered that seder at cousin Terry’s house, decided to improvise, and came up with this quick and easy recipe for Hasty Charoses:

Put 2 cups of diced dates in a small, sturdy saucepan.  Add the juice of one orange. Cook on very low heat  for about five minutes, stirring occasionally. Dates will begin to soften. Stir and mash the mixture a bit; add 1/2 cup of  chopped almonds and you are done. (If you can’t use nuts, omit the almonds and add 1/2 cup of chopped dried apricots instead.)

This makes about 2 1/2 cups of charoses, enough for a small family seder. (Double the recipe for a big crowd.) This is also a nice treat on matzo during the Passover week. It is so quick and easy that you can always make more!

Although I “invented” this recipe, it is really a riff on Middle Eastern style  (Mizrahi) charoses. It evokes the flavors of the desert: dates, almonds, and oranges.* And haste is, after all, part of the Passover story.

*In the 1990s, some people began putting an orange on the seder plate as a symbolic way to include women and other marginalized groups.  (The popular story goes that during a speech about women clergy, someone in the audience yelled out in opposition, “A woman belongs on the bima like an orange belongs on the seder plate.”)

Cooking Hasty Charoses (Photo with Prisma filter)
Written by Randa Dubnick
Images: “Hasty Charoses” and “Cooking Date Charoses” by Randa Dubnick
all rights reserved

A Salsa from New Mexico, USA

26 Apr

Chili KaleidoscopeI can’t cook for shit, which didn’t use to matter except I haven’t been to a grocery store since March 13th, in a coffeeshop since a few days before that, nor to any restaurants since even a few days before then.  You don’t have to be a wide body like me to imagine the feelings of deprivation!  Anyway, one of the things that has helped restore a sense of normalcy to my food life is the arrival of the 505 Southwestern Hot Hatch Valley Green Chile Salsa pictured below.  I can honestly call it a great everyday salsa because I’ve literally been eating it every day since I got my hands on it, but what I really mean is that its jalapeño-enhanced flavor has jazzed up beans and rice and stuff like that, served as a great snack on its own with tortilla chips, and made a killer addition to scrambled eggs.  It’s hot enough to make my nose run on occasion but not overpoweringly so, and even though it’s not exactly cheap–I paid $26.10 for two 16 oz. jars of the stuff–I like it so much that I’ve already ordered the same company’s tomatillo, garlic & lime green chile salsa to alternate with this crucial red one.  In case you foodies were wondering why anybody would waste their time writing a fan letter to a salsa on a food blog, I’ll have you know that 1) I don’t have anything better to do at the moment, and 2) New Mexicans consider the Hatch Valley to be “the Napa Valley of green chile.”  Órale.


IMG_6439 (1)

Written by Richard Lopez; photos by Richard Lopez

Image: “Chili Kaleidoscope” by Randa Dubnick

All rights reserved

Douglas County Pie: Paradise Regained

14 Mar

Douglas County Pie Illustration

This is a celebration of Douglas County Pie, from the Paradise Cafe in Lawrence, Kansas – in Douglas County. When we lived in Lawrence, we went to The Paradise Cafe at least once a week, for coffee, for breakfast, and for pie! And Douglas County Pie was heaven on a plate.

Today, the Paradise Cafe is closed, and I haven’t lived in Kansas for decades. But during last month’s trip to Nashville, my son’s GF Carrie Walker made Douglas County Pie as a birthday treat for me.  She tracked down the authentic recipe and it tasted as amazing as ever!  It was the real deal. And as I took the first bite, the memories returned.

The Paradise Café opened in Lawrence, Kansas around 1984. It was located on busy  Massachusetts Avenue, the main street. It was a great early morning or lunchtime meeting place; great for coffee and dessert in the afternoon.  For breakfast,you had to get there early or face a long line outside. Everyone gathered there, from the University and the community.

The Paradise started small, one narrow storefront with a row of booths and a few tables. The coffee was great, and breakfast was fantastic!  I remember biscuits, eggs over-easy, and on the side, mashed potatoes with Swiss cheese and chives. The Paradise Cafe became more popular and eventually the owners bought the store next door, broke through the wall, and expanded into a second storefront.  Around the time we left Lawrence, the Paradise had a liquor license and started offering drinks and dinner.

The menu was great, with daily specials.  There was often art on the wall by local artists (including me, on one occasion). The wait staff was friendly, hip, and seemed to like the customers and each other.  We all bought Paradise Cafe T-shirts and sweatshirts and wore them even after we left Lawrence. The Paradise closed in the early 90s, but the legend and the memories live on.

Douglas County Pie is something like a chocolate pecan pie.  But that doesn’t do it justice. It is made with chocolate chips, but they seem to melt into the filling, so it really isn’t like a chocolate chip cookie. Douglas County Pie is great with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, but really, you don’t need anything but the pie!

Carrie searched online for Douglas County Pie, and found the recipe. Here is a link to the recipe Carrie used, reprinted from Gourmet Magazine, February 1992.  It tasted like the real deal to me:

If you follow the above link, you will see that the recipe calls for a sugar crust (pate brisée), which you can find in many cookbooks and online. If need be, you could substitute a standard pie crust or even a gluten free crust. You could change up the kind of nuts (maybe coconut) or the kind of chocolate chips (dark chocolate chips are great)! But in my book, as is the recipe is perfect. In fact, it’s paradise.

A footnote: While researching Douglas County Pie, I learned more about the Paradise Café. I found out that there is a Facebook group of former Paradise employees and customers who keep in touch and share memories. . . From the Facebook group, I discovered that there is a Paradise Café Cookbook, authored by Missy McCoy, one of the original owners. It is available from the Raven Bookstore in Lawrence, I hope to order one, though at the moment, it appears to be sold out. I don’t yet know what the cookbook contains, but I can hope for other Paradise Café treats I remember, like hobo eggs, lemon buttermilk pie, and cappuccino cookies. And perhaps even Douglas County Pie?

Illustration by Randa Dubnick

Special thanks to Carrie Walker for baking Douglas County Pie for my birthday! A photo of her pie is the basis for my illustration

Written by Randa Dubnick

All Rights Reserved






24 May

Feijoada (Recipe Illustration as of Nov. 3, 2016)

Feijoada is a Brazilian black bean stew that has become part of our family story

I first heard about feijoada from Sandra and Rene, friends from Brazil that we met at the University of Colorado in 1968. We were newlyweds and so were they. We prepared and ate many meals together in our tiny apartments in married student housing, and they told us about feijoada, the wonderful national dish of Brazil. But we didn’t get around to making feijoada before they left Boulder to return to Brazil.

Years later, in 1985 at the University of Kansas, we became host family to Mauro, a Jewish student from Rio, and I helped him make feijoada for his birthday party. He asked if he could have birthday party at my house and invite other Brazilian students at KU. He asked me to help him make a feijoada, so I said yes.

Although I have since eaten feijoada at Brazilian restaurants in on 48th St. in New York City,  at a rodizio in Nashville, at a restaurant in Portugal, and at a fazenda in Brazil, when I think of feijoada, I always think about that feijoada that I made for Mauro’s birthday party at my house.

The night before the party, Mauro came over with a recipe and we went shopping. I was surprised to see that the list of ingredients included bacon, pork sausage, ham hocks, pork rind, pork sausages, you name it, the whole pig.  Now, I have never kept a kosher home, but at the time I avoided cooking with pork or seafood, and avoided cooking milk and meat together. But, I thought, it was his birthday, his first time so far from home. I wanted this to taste like Brazil for him and for all the other Brazilian students he had invited, so we bought everything on the list, we went home, and I unpacked the groceries on the counter.

My husband came into the kitchen and when he saw this array of pork on the counter, looked at me, and said, “You must really like him!”

Well, yes. Yes, I did. In fact, Mauro became a permanent part of our family, and so did this story, and so did feijoada.

Whenever any of the Brazilian students left KU, we would have a feijoada as a big sendoff. When my daughter, then in high school, wanted to throw a farewell party for a friend, she asked me if she could have a feijoada, which she thought meant a going away party. And it took me a while to figure out that my son, in grade school at the time, thought that the name of the dish was “fish water.”

In my house, when I make feijoada I still usually make it without pork, despite some teasing about this, but I also still make exceptions for visiting Brazilians. What follows is my homestyle recipe, feijoada na minha casa, a simple version that reflects the way I make feijoada now. I include options for a traditional feijoada, with pork, as well as substitutions for  a kosher or vegan version. Now, without pork, the feijoada won’t taste as good as the traditional version, but if you don’t eat pork, that doesn’t matter anyway. The dish will  taste good and will give you an idea of what it is like to be in Brazil.

Feijoada is served with Brazilian rice (see recipe for Sandra’s Brazilian Rice), and traditional side dishes (see below.)

Feijoada na minha casa (Feijoada at my house)

I use canned beans, but if you want to start with dried beans, the first step is to soak two 1-lb bags of black beans overnight, rinse and then cook for several hours. (So you should have started yesterday). See “ABOUT DRIED BEANS” below.

If you are using canned beans, just start here:

Sauté in the bottom of a big soup pot: 1/2 lb bacon* diced, and 2 to 3 lbs kielbasa-style sausage* cut in 2 inch lengths.

Use linguica or kielbasa style sausage, flavored with garlic and paprika, NOT Italian style flavored with fennel seasoning. Three pounds sausage would be about 4 12 oz pkg (48 oz) of kielbasa links.  See below for kosher and vegan options.

Once the meat has browned, add 4 large 28 oz cans of black beans with liquid. Season to taste with salt, garlic, and smoked paprika.

In a small frying pan, saute together 1 large onion chopped, 3 cloves garlic, and 1/2 cup parsley.  Then add to the bean and meat mixture.

Simmer the beans and meat for about an hour. Season to taste.  If you are not using pork, you will need to add extra garlic (3 or 4 cloves) and a couple of tablespoons of smoked paprika. And extra salt.

While the feijoada is cooking, prepare white rice (see recipe for Sandra’s Brazilian Rice) and the side dishes, which are VERY IMPORTANT:
Farofa: This is a garnish typically made with manioc flour, hard to get in the US. But you can make farofa de pão, from bread:

Spread about 3 cups coarse breadcrumbs (like Panko) on a cookie sheet and toast for 5 minutes at 350 degrees.  Heat ¼ cup oil in a pan and saute 2 cloves of garlic.  Turn the heat off, add toasted bread crumbs, and stir to moisten.  Add 2 T chopped parsley and serve.

Kouve: collard greens or kale:  You will need a couple of big bunches of greens. Wash, remove stems, cut leaves julienne style, and then lightly sauté with olive oil and garlic.

Orange slices: a big plate full, peeled and sliced.

Pickled red peppers, Peri-peri if you can find them. Sliced red cherry peppers if you can’t.


ABOUT DRIED BEANS: *1 lb dried beans yields about 6 cups cooked beans (roughly equivalent to 2 large 28 oz cans or 4 15 oz cans. For this recipe you would need 2 lb dried black beans, for the full recipe, or 1 lb if you are cutting the recipe in half.   Rinse the beans and soak overnight.  Follow package directions and cook until the end of time to  get those beans soft enough. When I was younger, cooked with dried beans all the time, but I am now 70 and officially too damn old for this. But if you have the time, knock yourself out.

ABOUT ADDITIONAL MEAT: If you are using dried beans, you can add beef short ribs, pork ribs, or even brisket to the beans as they cook, but add extra water.  If you are using canned beans, you can cook the meat separately and then add it to the beans.

ABOUT SAUSAGE:  Choose sausage flavored with garlic and paprika, like kielbasa. I use beef kielbasa, but for authentic Brazilian flavor, use pork kielbasa.  Use Portuguese sausage (linguica or chorizo) if you can get it. For a kosher version, try Jack’s Gourmet (brand) kosher chorizo. If you want a vegetarian dish, there are some vegan sausages, including chorizo. Try Tofurkey brand

ABOUT BACON: you can use turkey bacon or Jack’s Gourmet’s “Facon” (kosher beef bacon) or vegan bacon substitute.

Written by Randa Dubnick

Illustration is “Feijoada” by Randa Dubnick

All rights reserved.




Sandra’s Brazilian Rice

22 Mar

Portrait of Sandra PSTR3

Mel and I were newlyweds when we met Sandra and René. It was 1968 and we were living in a tiny studio apartment in married student housing at the University of Colorado. On a warm summer day, through the open window, I heard a conversation in an unknown language. It sounded like French, but it wasn’t. Could it be Spanish? No. So I went outside and met Sandra and René. They were also recently married and looking for their new apartment. They thought it was next to ours, but they had the wrong building. So we took them across the courtyard to the right building, found their apartment, and helped them carry in their luggage. And then we took them to the grocery store.

And thus began a friendship of nearly fifty years, so far. For the few years Sandra and René were at the University of Colorado, we shopped together, cooked together, ate together, and laughed together. As Sandra and René met other Brazilian students at CU, Mel and I found ourselves at Brazilian barbecues and birthday parties, although at the time we didn’t speak a word of Portuguese.

We have remained close through the years, despite the distance. Sandra and René have visited the U.S. several times, and we have made it to Brazil twice so far. We have met their children and their families, and they have met ours. In 1985, our friendship with Sandra and René led us to say yes to being host family to a Brazilian student at the University of Kansas. Mauro, our filho brasileiro, also became a permanent part of our lives. He taught us Portuguese, and I surprised him by making some of Sandra’s recipes.

All this began with a random meeting many years ago. In June, we will celebrate fifty years of friendship by meeting in Colorado and visiting Boulder, where we first met.

Sandra’s Brazilian Rice

This is the first dish I ever watched Sandra make. I had never seen anyone make rice this way and it was delicious. So she taught me, and here is how to make it. It’s great with Brazilian food (like feijoada), but you can make it any time. It is a very simple recipe but to me it tastes better than any rice I have ever had. Maybe it’s the oil and the garlic. Or maybe it’s the memories. . .

Chop 2 to 3 cloves of garlic (and a couple of tablespoons of chopped onion if you like) and sauté gently in a couple of tablespoons of oil in a sturdy saucepan or casserole dish, just until the garlic and onions begin to soften a bit. (Do not let the garlic and onions turn brown.) Add 2 cups of white rice and stir quickly until the rice is coated with the oil and begins to turn pale golden. Add 4 cups of water and stir in. Raise the heat and stir occasionally just until the water starts to boil. Then immediately turn the heat down to low, cover, and cook for 20 minutes or until the water is absorbed. Use a fork to fluff up the rice.


I drew this portrait of Sandra in 1969. When we visited Brazil in 2016, I saw it hanging in her house. I recently edited it a bit on the computer and added some color.

Written by Randa Dubnick

Image: Portrait of Sandra (Revised)

All rights reserved.

Vanilla Wafer Ice-Box Cake

25 Jan


This is a dessert from the 1950s, pure nostalgia.

I grew up in big house shared with lots of family: my parents and me; my aunt, uncle, and my cousin, the same age as me; and my Grandma Kates. We all shared the one kitchen, so lots of people were cooking in there.  My grandmother cooked Jewish dishes from Europe:  chicken soup with kreplach, homemade noodles, sorrel soup, coffee cake. My Aunt Edy usually made dinner every night for the seven of us plus whoever else came by to eat. My Uncle Bob had worked in a butcher shop and liked to carve roasts and make fancy trays for parties.  And my Dad made pancakes in the morning. But what I remember my mother cooking was dessert: homemade candy, fudge, penuche, nougat,  brownies. cookies, pudding cake, and ice-box cakes.  This is one of the desserts I remember the best. As a child, I loved the pink color and the flavor. And now it makes me think of my mom.

No doubt she she found the recipe on a box or a can, but I haven’t been able to find  the source. Ice-box cakes were very popular back then, and my mom had a few such desserts in her repertoire. She also made an icebox cake with layers of chocolate pudding and graham crackers. Maybe I will post that one in the future as well. My Aunt Rita also made a refrigerator cake with chocolate cookies and whipped cream. I remember that she made one when she hosted a wedding shower for me. It was also a recipe from a cookie package, but my cousins Bob and Evan have also posted the recipe on their food blog, and have said it is okay to share the link here:

Anyway, here is the recipe:

Vanilla Wafer Ice-Box Cake

The night before you make this dessert, put a 12 oz can of evaporated milk in the fridge and let it chill overnight.

The next day, combine 1 box strawberry Jello (4 serving size) with 1 1/4 c. hot water, 1/3 cup honey,  3 tablespoons lemon juice, and 1/8 tsp. salt. Let the mixture set slightly in the fridge for about 45 minutes.  (Don’t leave it much longer or it will set too much to whip.) Remove the mixture from fridge and whip it with the electric beater till it forms soft peaks (maybe 10 minutes).

In a second, smaller bowl, beat the chilled evaporated milk until soft peaks form. Whip it as much as you can stand. Again, this takes about 10 minutes .

Combine the two mixtures and beat some more until it forms stiff peaks. (Another 10 minutes)

Prepare 1 1/2 cups crushed vanilla wafers in the food processor. Line the bottom of an 8 x 13 or 9 x 13 inch pan with about 1 cup of the wafers.

Ladle in the strawberry-milk mixture. Smooth it out gently, and sprinkle remaining crumbs on top. Refrigerate until set.

When you are ready to serve this, garnish at the last minute with small strawberry slices.


Other flavors: you can use ginger snaps or chocolate wafers instead of vanilla wafers.  Try cherry or raspberry jello with chocolate cookies, lemon or orange jello with ginger snaps.

Go nuts: You can use chopped nuts to replace part of the cookie crumbs, which is another chance to add flavor: pistachio, almond, walnut.

Make it pretty: garnish with small pieces of fruit or lemon rind, but wait till the dessert is set and add at the last minute.

For a reduced sugar version: substituting finely chopped nuts for all or part of the cookie crumbs will help.  You can use sugar-free cookies.  And this recipe does work with sugar-free jello. Please note: You can’t make a completely sugar-free version of this dessert because the honey is needed to make the mixture stable enough to set. (The honey also makes the sugar-free jello taste better.)

For a low-fat version, you can use low-fat or nonfat evaporated skim milk.  I tried this and was surprised at how well this worked.  The texture is a little lighter and you might have to beat the mixture a bit longer.

The recipe worked even when I made both substitutions: sugar-free jello and evaporated skim milk.

However, with any substitution, the texture and taste might be a little different or might not set up as well depending on conditions.  If you plan to serve this for company, another option is to serve it in small glass dessert dishes or cups.

For a gluten-free version: use gluten-free vanilla wafers or gingersnaps. Or just use finely chopped nuts instead.

For a vegan and/or non-dairy (pareve) version, whip coconut milk in place of the evaporated milk.

And for a kosher version, check the gelatin package for your preferred label.

For an upscale version, knock yourself out and use whipping cream instead of the evaporated milk.

Written by Randa Dubnick

Image: Vanilla Wafer Ice-Box Cake by Randa Dubnick

All rights reserved.

Queijo Coalho, Receita da Thais (Thais’ Recipe for Brazilian Grilled Cheese)

30 Aug

Queijo Coalho
This is a recipe for traditional grilled Brazilian cheese, but Thais’ version gives it an American twist, a dipping sauce of maple syrup.

This recipe is by our lovely Brazilian friend Thais Pompeo de Pina. My husband and I first met her parents, Sandra and Rene, in 1968 when we were neighbors in married student housing at the University of Colorado. Although we only see each other on rare visits back and forth to the U.S. and Brazil, we have remained very close through the years. And we have enjoyed getting to know their daughters Thais and Taina and watching them grow up. A few years ago, Thais and Taina visited us here in Massachusetts and we learned that they love American pancakes with maple syrup. So it made me smile to see maple syrup as a key ingredient in Thais’ recipe.

Thais’ recipe (a receita da Thais):

In Brazil, queijo coalho comes in packages, with cheese in sticks and already skewered.  Make sure the cheese is very cold. Grill at 250 to 300 degrees Farhenheit (120 degrees to 150 Celsius). You can use an indoor grill. Cook for about two minutes, turning until each side is browned.  Watch carefully, looking for the cheese to brown a little on the edges.

Take the cheese off the grill. Let it cool for a minute or two so it can be handled and will hold its shape.  Gently pull out the skewers. Cut into squares. Pour maple syrup into a shallow plate, about 1/8 to 1/4 inch deep.  Add the cheese squares to the plate.  Serve with toothpicks (flags optional).

This is great with drinks, especially caipirinha!

Thais at the grill

Thais Pompeo de Pina at the grill

Tia Randi’s Notes on Cheese for Grilling in U.S.

It may be a bit of a challenge to find queijo do coalho in the U.S., but try Brazilian grocery stores. In the past, queijo coalho has been sold at Costco and sometimes is available through You can order it from Orrna Foods ( based in Florida. On their site, search for “Coalho Cheese”.

If you can’t find queijo coalho, you can use other types of grilling cheese available in the U.S. Only a few kinds of cheese will hold their shape when grilled. I list a few suggested types below. Most grilling cheeses are made with rennet.* Follow time and temperature directions on the package of whatever cheese you are using. The substitutes will not taste identical, but all are mild, slightly salty cheeses, like queijo coalho.

Buy an 8 to 10 oz block of the kind of cheese you are going to use and cut it into sticks, 1″ x 1″ x 4″. None of the substitutes listed below come with skewers. If you want to use skewers, you can buy wood ones and soak them for 20 minutes before you insert them into the cheese.  But you don’t need the skewers; you can just turn the cheese sticks with tongs. Then slice the grilled sticks of cheese into squares and proceed as above.

Possible substitutes in the U.S.:

–Tropical Brand, a New Jersey company with Cuban origins, makes a grilling cheese and frying cheese, both of which would work. Tropical is carried at Costco, BJs, Walmart, and Market Basket (Boston area), as well as in Latin American groceries. I bought Tropical’s frying cheese (Queso de Frier) at BJ’s and cooked it on the grill for this recipe. It worked well at medium high heat.

–Yanni Grilling Cheese (Karoun Dairies in California) is a Mediterranean grilling cheese. You may be able to find it at Whole Foods; you can order it from Amazon. If you want a kosher* and/or vegetarian option, Yanni grilling cheese is made with a kosher (and plant-based) rennet and all Karoun brand cheese is kosher.

–Halloumi cheese works on the grill and is available at Whole Foods. There are kosher versions of halloumi cheese but they may be hard to find.

*Most grilling cheeses are made with rennet.  If the rennet is not plant-based and/or kosher, the cheese will not be kosher.
Original recipe created by Thais Pompeo de Pina;
“Tia Randi’s Notes on Cheese for Grilling in the U.S.”
by Randa Dubnick
Illustration “Queijo Coalho” by Randa Dubnick. All rights reserved
Photo: “Thais Pompeo de Pina at the grill” by Randa Dubnick. All rights reserved

Grandma Aptaker’s Chocolate Chip Slices

29 May


Grandma Aptaker was my husband’s grandmother. She was born in Russia, raised her family in Brooklyn, and came out with them to Pueblo, Colorado, which is where I met her. Before I got married, I used to watch Grandma cook. I asked her questions while she worked, and wrote down the recipes.

These cookies are shaped like mandelbrot or biscotti. This mildly sweet cookie is basically of Ashkenazi (eastern European Jewish) origin, but I have always loved the addition of the very American chocolate chips. These cookies are slow starters but believe me, they are addictive.


Grandma said, “Make the dough”. So mix together in a glass bowl:

3 eggs; 3/4 cup sugar; 3 cups flour (1/2 cup more if necessary), 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 cup of oil, 1/4 cup of orange juice, and “a little bit lemon juice,” about 2 tablespoons.

Mix with a spoon or by hand. The mixture should be the consistency of cookie dough, but just a bit stiffer. If the dough is too sticky to work with, add a 1/4 cup of flour. This depends on the size of the eggs, humidity of the air, and the whims of fate. If you really need to, add an additional 1/4 cup of flour, but try to avoid it because you want the cookies to be soft. Make the dough into a ball.

Grandma said “roll out the dough.” Here is how: put a few tablespoons of light oil on a cookie sheet. Use a paper towel to spread the oil over the cookie sheet and wipe off the excess to get a very light coating of oil. Then put the ball of dough on a cookie sheet and gently pat it into a rectangle on until it’s about a 3/4 inch thick all around.

Grandma said “sprinkle with chocolate chips and roll up.”* Sprinkle 1/2 to 3/4 cup chocolate chips onto the dough.  I would normally say that there’s no such thing as too many chocolate chips, but in this case you don’t want to use too many because the chips will melt and run together. The chips should be about 1/2 inch apart on the dough.  Then roll up the rectangle into a log, starting at one side and rolling it like a jellyroll. The log should be almost as long as the cookie sheet and about 3 to 4 inches wide. Pinch and tuck the last edge under to seal.

Bake at 350° for about one half hour to 45 minutes. When it’s done, let it cool and then slice it into about 3/4 inch to 1 inch slices. If the slices are too thin, the cookies will crumble.

*If you don’t like all this patting and rolling, here’s an alternative method.  Add the chocolate chips to the dough while it is still in the bowl and gently mix the chips in.  Then place the ball of dough onto the cookie sheet as above, and gently shape into a log.

Historical note: many Jewish cake and cookie recipes use a combination of fruit juice and oil instead of milk and butter. The purpose is to make a non-dairy dessert that can be served after a meat meal. However, in this case, conventional chocolate chips instantly make this a dairy dessert.  If you want a non-dairy (pareve) dessert, you  can use dairy-free chocolate chips. See below.


Other flavors:

If you don’t want to make this with chocolate chips, you can make it with butterscotch, peanut butter,  butter brickle, cinnamon, or white chocolate chips.

Instead of any kind of candy chips, you can use chopped dates or chopped dried cherries, dried apricot, or any other dried fruit.

You can use chopped nuts with the chips, with dried fruit, or by themselves.  Just make sure you are sprinkling only about 3/4 cup total of these mix-in ingredients onto the dough.

You can flavor the dough by adding a tablespoon of grated orange rind. You can also substitute all orange juice for the additional lemon juice. You can add a tablespoon of schnapps (any flavor) in place of the lemon juice.


See above. Just substitute vegan or dairy-free chocolate chips. Kosher dairy-free chocolate chips exist but may be hard to find.  But nowadays, it is pretty easy to find vegan (no dairy) chocolate chips in the organic section of the supermarket.


Just substitute your favorite gluten-free all-purpose flour for the flour in this recipe.  Some good ones include King Arthur’s gluten-free all-purpose flour or Red Mill’s gluten-free all-purpose flour.

Reduced sugar

Substitute Splenda for half the sugar, or use Splenda’s baking mix, which is half sugar. You can find sugar-free chocolate chips on the market, or use dark chocolate chips for less sugar. For diabetics, replace half the chocolate chips with chopped nuts (for added fiber).

By Randa Dubnick

Image is “Grandma Aptaker’s Chocolate Chip Slices” by Randa Dubnick

All Rights Reserved

Mom’s Passover Apple Kugel

29 Mar

Still Life with Kugel

This is a recipe for an apple kugel that my mother sometimes made for Passover. I remember that she brought this dessert to my pot luck Passover seder in Boulder back in the 1970s. I have no idea where she got the recipe, but  her typed recipe card has been in my recipe box for years (see below). She shared the recipe with my aunt (her sister Edythe), and with me, and now I am sharing it with you.

Passover Appel Kugel

Yield: 12 – 15 servings

Ingredients: 6 eggs, separated; 1 1/3 cups sugar; dash of salt; 4 cups grated (peeled) apples; 2/3 cup matzo meal; 4 tsp grated lemon rind (or lemon juice); 2 T Slivovitz plum brandy; 8 T chopped pecans

Peel and grate the apples.Separate the eggs.  Beat the egg whites until they are stiff; set them aside.  Beat the egg yolks with 1 1/3 cups sugar and a dash of salt until the mixture is thick and lemon colored.   Stir in the apple, matzo meal, lemon rind, and brandy.  Fold in the stiffly beaten egg whites.  Pour into a greased 10 inch springform pan.  Sprinkle nuts on top. Bake in 350 degree oven for 35 minutes, or until brown and firm.  Cool before removing sides of pan.


So that’s how my mother made this dessert.  She had diabetes and back in the 70s that meant absolutely no sugar.  So she baked this for everyone but couldn’t eat it herself, although she tasted it.  Today the approach to diabetes is different, and if she were still around, I bet we could make a version that she could enjoy.

Reduced sugar version: Use 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup Splenda. Use apple juice instead of brandy.  Add fiber (to counter the sugar) by leaving one of the apples unpeeled.

Gluten free: Use gluten-free matzo meal or almond flour instead of matzo meal

Alcohol free: Use apple juice instead of brandy

Nut allergy: leave out the nuts and after the kugel is baked, sprinkle cinnamon sugar on top.

This is a nice dessert year round. You can get Slivovitz kosher for Passover, but you can substitute any kind of wine or brandy and the recipe will work.

My Mom

Here is my mom, Ruth Zagon, as she looked in the 1970s. I created this digital woodcut from a polaroid taken by my dad, Hy Zagon.


And here is her recipe card, and the recipe in her own words:

IMG_7758 IMG_7760

Drawing is “Still Life with Kugel” by Randa Dubnick

Image of Ruth Zagon is a digital woodcut by Randa Dubnick from a photo by Hy Zagon

Recipe from Ruth Zagon, with adaptations by Randa Dubnick

All rights reserved