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Mandelbread and Other Secrets

March 18, 1998|BARBARA HANSEN | 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

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