Grandma Aptaker’s Stuffed Cabbage

17 Jun



Grandma Aptaker was my husband’s grandmother.  She was originally from Russia/Poland, then Brooklyn, and then Pueblo, Colorado.  I learned a lot about cooking from Grandma and this was her most popular dish.

Here is the recipe:

Start with a head of cabbage and separate about 15 leaves from the head by making a cut at the base of the cabbage (near the core).  Work carefully and try to keep them whole.

Cook the cabbage leaves for 15 minutes in a pan of water.  The drain the cabbage and pour cold water over the leaves to keep them from cooking any more.

In a bowl, mix 1 lb of hamburger meat, 1/4 cup water, 1 egg, and 1/3 cup raw rice.  Make 15 little meatballs from the mixture.

Wrap each meatball in a cabbage leaf, as shown in the diagram above.

In a big pot, mix 1 diced onion, 1 can tomato sauce, 1/4 cup lemon juice, and 1/2 cup sugar.  (Splenda is okay). Let this mixture cook about 10 minutes.  Then add the cabbage rolls and cook on low heat for two hours.


This is already gluten free.

For a vegetarian version,substitute 1 lb of sautéed mushrooms for the hamburger; mix with rice and egg as above.

By Randa Dubnick

Drawing is “Diagram for Making Stuffed Cabbage” by Randa Dubnick.  All rights reserved.




Rena’s Chili Egg Pie

16 Jun


This is a dish that my mother used to make.  She came by the recipe from her friend Rena Lifton, so I have always called it “Rena’s Chili Egg Pie”.  This is a great dish for brunch and is very portable, so it is easy to take to pot-luck parties.  It is also a great dish for dairy suppers.

And here is how you make it:

Oil or butter a 9 inch pie plate.  Open a 4-oz can of whole green chilies.  Cut the chilies in half lengthwise and arrange them on the bottom of the pie plate, to act as a crust.  Cover the green chilies with 3/4 lb. grated Monterey jack or cheddar cheese.  In a separate container, beat 4 eggs and then just pour them over the cheese.  Bake at 325* degrees for 45 minutes to an hour, or until done.

Despite the chilies, this is a mild dish. Serve with salsa on the side for those who want more spice..

*If you are baking at high altitudes, lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees.

by Randa Dubnick

Illustration is “Chili Egg Pie” by Randa Dubnick. All rights reserved.

Bubbi’s Passover Sponge Cake

14 Apr

Bubbi's Passover Sponge Cake

The Bubbi in question is Grandma Aptaker, my husband’s grandmother.  She came to Pueblo, Colorado, from Brooklyn, and before that, Russia.  I used to watch her cook, ask questions, and write down what she did.  This is one of the recipes that I transcribed.

Since then, I figured out how to make reduced sugar and gluten-free versions, which appear below.

Passover Sponge Cake

1 dozen eggs, separated

2 cups sugar

2 cups cake meal for Passover (or matzo meal pulverized in processor)

juice of 1 orange

juice of 1 lemon

Beat the egg whites in a large bowl until they are stiff.  In a second bowl, beat the yolks and gradually add the sugar.  Add the lemon and orange juice and beat together.  Then gradually add the cake meal.  Gently fold in the egg whites.

Gently ladle the mixture into an ungreased tube cake pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 1 1/4 hours to 1 1/2 hours.  Slide a knife into the cake to test to see if it is done. (If the knife comes out clean, the cake is done.)

Invert the cake pan on a plate and let it cool.  Slide a knife around the inside and outside edges to make it easier for the cake to slide out.

I love this cake the way it is, but you can add grated orange and lemon peel if you like.  If you want to be fancy-schmancy, serve it with sliced strawberries.

And for adaptations:

–For a reduced sugar version, replace one cup of the sugar with Splenda.  (NOTE:  the Splenda available to consumers is not Kosher for Passover.)  Another alternative is to cut the sugar down to 1 1/4 cup.  This will reduce the volume of the cake just a bit, but the cake holds together with 1 cup of sugar.

–For a gluten-free version, replace the matzo meal with potato starch (Kosher for Passover readily available). The texture is a little different, but this is still a lovely cake.

Reduced Sugar and Gluten Free Sponge Cake

You can make a gluten-free cake with reduced sugar.  Here is what it will look like.

Recipe Card for Grandma Aptaker's Sponge Cake

And here is my recipe card for Grandma Aptaker’s Sponge Cake.

By Randa Dubnick

Drawing is “Bubbi’s Passover Sponge Cake” by Randa Dubnick.  All rights reserved.

Pink Soup

16 Feb

Pink Soup (Illustration) FIXED

Shortly before I got married, I asked my husband’s grandmother, Grandma Aptaker, to teach me to make this soup. This is a recipe for beet borscht and it is not only delicious but it is the most amazing color:  hot pink, fuchsia, acra-violet.  A few months later, I served this soup to my cousin David, who came to visit our little apartment in married student housing (at CU, Boulder). He took one look and said “Oh, pink soup,” and that’s what I have called it ever since.

Grandma Aptaker made this with a soup bone, but you can use stew meat  instead. And if you want a vegetarian or pareve version,  you will find alternatives below. Just scroll down a bit.

But first, here is Grandma Aptaker’s original recipe:

Step 1.* Boil soup bones in 3 quarts of water for one hour.  Remove from heat and discard soup bones. Let the broth cool and skim off the fat.

*(See below for options made with stew meat instead of bones, and for vegetarian version)

Step 2. Add 2 diced onions, 2 minced cloves of garlic,  and 1 1/2 c. chopped cabbage.  (If you like, you can use red onions and purple cabbage, just for the color.) Add salt to taste.  Cover and cook over medium heat for two hours.

Step 3. Add two 15 oz cans of diced beets (undrained).  If you want to use fresh beets, this would be about 4 cups of fresh beets, peeled and diced.

Step 4. Then season with 1/4 c. lemon juice (fresh if possible), 1/4 c. ketchup or tomato paste, and 3 T. brown sugar. (If you want to use Splenda or Stevia, that works too.)

Step 5. Cook an additional 30 minutes; taste and correct the seasoning. Depending on the amount of water and beets, you may need to add more seasoning. Just try to maintain the same proportion of  ketchup, lemon juice, and sugar to keep the balance of sweet and sour the same.

And that’s it. Serve hot, and enjoy.

Alternative Step 1 for stew meat version:  In Step 1: Instead of beef bones, use 1/2 pound of stew meat, diced into small pieces (1/2 inch); brown in a little olive oil, add  the water, and boil for 20 minutes.  Then proceed with the rest of the recipe, resuming at Step 2.

Alternative Step 1 for vegetarian (pareve) version:  In Step 1, use 1 cup of portabello mushrooms, diced into small pieces (1/2 inch); brown in a little olive oil; add the water, and boil for 20 minutes. If you like, you can add 1 T balsamic vinegar to the water for more flavor and color.  Then proceed with the rest of the recipe, resuming at Step 2)  You could also use this version as a cold soup, and add sour cream.

By Randa Dubnick; Illustration is “Pink Soup” by Randa Dubnick; all rights reserved.


Watch this space for our new cookbook!

31 Jan


Keep an eye out for our first cookbook, due out this spring! We will be self-publishing it as an illustrated eBook and as a print-on-demand bound book.

Legendary Green Chili

23 Sep

Legendary Green Chili

The Legend
The story begins in 1968 in Pueblo Colorado, at the snack bar in Crown Discount Center where my fiancé was a cashier. His father was the store manager and loved the green chili served at the snack bar. One day I was in Crown Discount while my father-in-law-to-be was eating green chili so I tasted it and it was excellent. I was soon to be married so I asked the cook at the snack bar if I could get the recipe. She was a little reluctant but I assured her that I was moving far away (Boulder, Colorado) and the recipe was just for home use, no danger of commercial competition. So she wrote it down.

After we got married and moved to Boulder, I decided to make green chili. This was one of the first things I cooked in my very tiny kitchen in married student housing at the University of Colorado, so I was careful to follow the recipe as written.

I knew something was wrong as soon as I tried to taste it! As I lifted the spoon toward my face, the inside of my nose started to burn and my eyes watered!
Later I realized that the recipe called for 1 can of jalapeño pepper but it should have been 1 jalapeño pepper, not a whole can. But at the time, I just knew that my green chili  was far too spicy to even taste, never mind eat!

But we were broke and didn’t want all that food to go to waste, so I added lots of canned tomatoes until the green chili was still very, very spicy but actually edible, and  in fact, delicious. We had a lot of it, and green chili filled up my new pots and pans. We ate as much as we could, put the rest into Tupperware, and jammed it into our tiny married student housing freezer.

We were eating that stuff for months and served it to anyone who showed up. Its reputation grew. In fact, it was so spicy that friends and relatives would come to visit and have a bowl of this legendary chili to cure a head cold! It really could break a fever.

I have made green chili ever since, but with the correct recipe, printed below, which calls for one or two jalapeno peppers, not one or two cans. This will make a delicious green chili that it is hot and spicy but will not burn the inside of your nose at arm’s length. It is quick and easy to make, and a great recipe to serve for a crowd. And I still believe it has curative powers.

Oh, and yes, green chili is red. (The peppers are green but in a tomato-red sauce )

The Recipe

Cut 1lb beef stew meat or (or chuck or round steak) into 1/2 “cubes,  and sauté in olive oil, and season with a little garlic salt.

Add 2 large  (28 oz) cans tomatoes with liquid, 2 small (4 oz) cans chopped green chili, and 1 or 2 chopped jalapeño peppers (canned or fresh)*

Simmer 1 hour
Serve with white flour tortillas

*Be careful when you handle jalapeños. Don’t touch eyes or nose after touching a jalapeño pepper. If you have disposable kitchen gloves, use them.


Meat (or not)

–If you are looking for authenticity, the Crown Discount Center snack bar made this with pork. I use beef and there have certainly been no complaints.
–You can use 2 to 3 cups diced leftover roast beef if you prefer.  Just add to the soup.
–You can use chicken if you don’t want to use red meat. Cut the chicken meat (thigh or breast) into small cubes and proceed as above.
–If you want a vegetarian green chili, just leave out the meat altogether; add extra garlic and an extra can of tomatoes (2 cups).


–By all means use fresh chopped tomatoes if you have them.


–I use one jalapeño. If you want a mild chili you can omit the jalapeños altogether. If you like it hot, use two.  A lot of the heat in the peppers comes from the seeds. Leave the seeds out for a milder version.

Wheat/gluten-free options;

–The chili is already gluten free. There are gluten free flour tortillas on the market which are a bit stiff but warm them in the microwave and dunk them in your chili and they will be fine. Or serve with corn chips or a side of white rice (but NOT in the soup ).

By Randa Dubnick
Illustration is “Legendary Green Chili” by Randa Dubnick
All rights reserved

Colorado Red Chili

12 Jul

Front Range Memory WDCT

I ate lots of chili while I was growing up in Colorado.  But I came by this chili recipe from an unconventional source, a folksinger  named Francis Love,* who played the banjo and sang in local venues in Pueblo, like the Irish Pub. While she sang, her husband, Alan Love (professor of Political Science) was back in the kitchen, cooking chalupas for everyone to eat at midnight.  (But that’s another story and another recipe.) When some professors and students at Southern Colorado State College started a coffeehouse above a small bookstore, Francis agreed to perform there too. As a bonus, she brought along a big pot of home-made chili to serve at the coffeehouse. It was great chili, so I asked how she made it. She told me and I took notes. (I was getting married soon and was collecting recipes.) And this is how I have made red chili ever since.

Colorado Red Chili

Chop one large onion and put it in a soup kettle and saute the onion in a little bit of olive oil. When the onion starts to brown, add one pound of hamburger meat.  Season with 2 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp.pepper.  As the meat browns, add 2 T chili powder and 1/4 tsp garlic powder.  When the meat is thoroughly cooked, add two large cans tomatoes with liquid (approx, 32 oz each can). You can cut up the tomatoes by running a knife through them while they are still in the can.  Then add two cans of pinto beans (approx. 16 oz each can), with the liquid.  Bring the mixture to a boil, and simmer gently for about one hour. Taste and add more chili powder if needed . If you want more chili, just double the recipe.

Serve with white tortillas

Some tips: the choice of chili powder is very important.  I like classic chili powder (no additional other flavors). And use good canned tomatoes, or good fresh tomatoes  if you have them.  You can cook your own pinto beans (as I did as in when I lived in married student housing) but canned pinto beans are fine.

And for every palate:

If you like it very hot, you can experiment by adding with other types of red chilis, but go easy!

If you don’t eat red meat, ground turkey works fine.

If you want a meat-free chili: ground meat substitute made from soy works fine, but instead I suggest  just adding another chopped onion, and an additional can (2 cups) of pinto beans. If you want a richer flavor, try adding 1T balsamic vinegar or 1T cocoa powder (yes, really) .

If you don’t want to eat gluten: The chili is already gluten free.  There are gluten-free flour tortillas on the market, but so far I haven’t found any that I like well enough to recommend for this.  Instead, substitute large corn tortilla chips.  Blue corn tortilla chips are a nice option for a party.

This is great for a cold winter’s night in Colorado, or anywhere else.

*If you want to know more about Francis Love, follow this link to read an interview with her musical partner Mike Dunn. There is a link to a recording so you can hear her sing.

Image is “Front Range Memories” by Randa Dubnick

written by Randa Dubnick

all rights reserved