Caring for the sick, homebound with nourishing food
Photo: Ethel G. Hofman
“Gesundheit Kuchen” (aka, “blessing” cake).

By Ethel G. Hofman
(JNS) December is a busy month filled with joy and celebration. But every year, it brings sad news, too. Someone may be sick, homebound or otherwise unable to come to the festive table; accidents and emergencies occur that result in hospitalization; deaths occur and shiva needs to take place. In the Jewish tradition, family and friends rally around community members. Bikur cholim, visiting the sick, is a mitzvah and a comfort to others. The Hebrew words serve as a testimony of the Jewish tenets of caring, compassion, devotion and the incentive to heal.
When these situations pop up and there’s no time to cook, I’ve often resorted to bringing a selection of packaged teas or coffee, or some staples like nuts and dried fruits, placed in a basket or similar container. Still, there’s nothing like a homemade soup or casserole to warm those in need or not home to prepare a proper meal.
You won’t be caught short if you plan ahead. Make a soup, casserole or cake, wrap well and place in the freezer for those times when you can be there to give. The “thanks” is built in.

Tips for safe freezing:
*Freezing prevents food spoilage. It doesn’t kill foodborne bacteria, but it greatly slows down their ability to reproduce. Once thawed, it’s time to cook that food.
*Do not use glass. Glass can crack when subjected to rapid temperature changes.
*Freezer and sandwich bags are not the same thing. Freezer bags are made of thicker plastic and should be used for freezing foods.
*Freeze items like soups in smaller containers. It speeds defrosting and avoids waste.
*Cool cooked foods completely before freezing. Putting something hot into the freezer warms the other foods, causing them to defrost and become unsafe.
*Do not defrost frozen meats, fish or poultry at room temperature or using hot or warm water. This can lead to food poisoning. Move to the refrigerator overnight to defrost.
*When there’s an abundance of fresh herbs, snip or chop, mix with a very little bit of olive oil and divide into ice-cube trays. When frozen, transfer to a freezer bag and zip shut.
*To wrap a frozen casserole: Line the casserole dish with heavy-duty aluminum foil. Then add a layer of plastic wrap. Leave several inches hanging at the edges so that it can be pulled over the top to cover later. Transfer the food to the dish and freeze. Once frozen-solid, lift the lined food out of the dish. Wrap it up with the hanging plastic wrap and foil to cover tightly. Place in freezer. Wash the pan and store for another day.
*Label the frozen casserole with heating instructions: Remove the foil and plastic wrap and place in baking dish. Defrost in refrigerator for 24-36 hours before cooking. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cover thawed casserole loosely with foil. Bake until heated through and bubbly at edges. The final temperature should reach 160 degrees.
Split Pea Soup With Franks (Meat)
Serves 10-12
Cook’s Tips:
*Squash and onion are available all cut up and ready to cook.
*Beef broth and hot dogs can be purchased in a supermarket’s kosher section or at a specialty store.

4-5 frankfurters, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1½ cups diced onion or 2 medium onions, diced
1¼ cups dried split peas, rinsed and drained
12-14 baby carrots, cut lengthwise
2 cups coarsely chopped squash
8-10 cups beef broth
Salt and pepper

In a large pot, fry frankfurters in hot oil over medium-high heat until slightly browned at edges, about 5 minutes.
Add onion, split peas, carrots, squash and 8 cups broth. Bring to a boil, skimming off any froth. Cover and simmer until vegetables are tender and peas are broken down.
Season with salt and pepper to taste.
If too thick, add a little more broth to desired consistency. Cool completely.
Pour into two containers, cover tightly and freeze.
Triple Mac ’n Cheese (Dairy)
Serves 10-12
Cook’s Tips:
*May substitute any other hard cheese for sharp cheddar.
*Substitute Trader Joe’s 21 seasoning for nutmeg.

2 packages (8 ounces each) elbow macaroni
1/3 cup Dijon mustard
¾ teaspoon nutmeg
4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
3 cups small curd cottage cheese
½ cup milk
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese (divided)
2 large tomatoes, each cut in 12 wedges

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Cook macaroni according to package directions. Drain and run cold water through.
Spray a 9×13-inch baking dish with nonstick baking spray.
In a large bowl, mix the macaroni, mustard, seasoning, cheddar and cottage cheeses, milk and 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese. Transfer to prepared baking dish.
Arrange tomato wedges attractively on top. Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan cheese.
Bake in preheated oven till heated through and beginning to brown, 20-25 minutes.
Cool thoroughly before wrapping, label and freeze.
Loaded Chicken, Peppers and Mushrooms (Meat)
Adapted from a recipe generously shared by my friend Shani Feinstein.
Serves 8-10
Cook’s Tips:
*Diced onions and peppers are available in refrigerated section of most markets
*Save time and money by coarsely chopping 3 to 4 onions in the food processor. Then divide into plastic bags and freeze. Ready to use as needed (this tip shared from Patti Saddler, my 80-year-something ElderNet client).
*Rinse mushrooms by running cold water over, removing any soil. Pat dry with paper towels.

12 chicken thighs (about 3½ pounds), skinless and boneless
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 cup diced onions
2 yellow and green bell peppers, diced, about 1½ cups
2 teaspoons bottled chopped garlic
3 (8-ounce) containers of sliced mushrooms
1½ cups ketchup
1/3 cup wine vinegar
¼ cup water
1 tablespoon prepared mustard
2 teaspoons hot sauce or to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Arrange chicken in one layer in large baking dish. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the onions, peppers, garlic and mushrooms. Sauté over medium heat until softened.
Stir in the remaining ingredients.
Cool slightly before pouring over chicken. Cover loosely with foil. Bake in preheated oven 1½ hours or until no red juices appear when chicken is pierced with a sharp knife.
Cool, wrap and freeze.
Doc’s ‘Dump and Mix’ Vegetarian Chili Pie (Pareve)
An updated version of Dr. Walter Hofman’s prize-winning chili.
Serves 8-10
Cook’s Tips:
*Personalize: Add dried cranberries, grated tart apple or even a spoonful of creamy peanut butter, if desired.
*Pepperidge Farm puff-pastry sheets are OU pareve.
*Keep those kitchen shears handy. Snip cilantro, parsley or any herbs.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ cup diced onion
1 can (14½ ounces) diced tomatoes, Italian style
1 can (15½ ounces) great Northern white beans
1 can (15½ ounces) red kidney beans
2 cups bottled Bloody Mary mix
1 package (1.25 ounces) Tex-Mex chili seasoning
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon snipped cilantro or parsley
1 package (12 ounces) veggie ground round
1 sheet prepared puff pastry

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.
Add onion. Sauté until soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Do not brown.
Add all remaining ingredients, except pastry, crumbling the ground round. Stir and bring to simmer.
Transfer to a 9×12-inch baking dish. Cool slightly.
Cut the pastry into 1-inch strips. Arrange in a loose lattice pattern on top of chili.
Bake in preheated oven until chili is bubbly and pastry is golden, 25 to 30 minutes.
Cool completely before wrapping, labeling and freezing.

Vegetable Frittata with Tomatoes and Basil (Pareve)
This can otherwise be known as a Sephardic kugel.
Serves 6
Cook’s Tips:
*1 large baked potato yields about 1 cup mashed.

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup diced onion
2 cups frozen mixed vegetables
1 cup pareve mashed potato
1 tablespoon snipped fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried
½ teaspoon salt
3-4 grinds black pepper
6 eggs, lightly beaten
8-10 cherry tomatoes, quartered
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Spray an 8-inch-square baking dish with nonstick vegetable spray.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion and mixed vegetables. Cook over medium heat until vegetables are tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl.
Add the potato, basil and salt and pepper. Mix well.
Whisk in the eggs until combined with veggies. Transfer mixture into prepared baking dish. Arrange tomato on top, skin-side up.
Bake in preheated oven 25 minutes or until firm in center.
Cool completely, wrap and freeze.
New Homestyle Meatloaf (Meat)Serves 6-8
Instead of all beef, the combination of turkey and beef make for a moist, lower-calorie loaf.
Hard-cooked eggs in center, boost protein, look attractive when sliced thickly.

Cook’s Tips:
*21 Seasoning is available from Trader Joe’s. Eliminates measuring out half a dozen seasonings.
*Chili sauce may be substituted for ketchup.
*Keep a supply of latex gloves handy to mix items like meatloaf or to toss a big salad.

¾ pound ground beef
¾ pound ground turkey
1 cup matzo meal
¼ cup seltzer water
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons 21 Seasoning
½ cup ketchup, divided
2 hard-cooked eggs, shells removed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, thoroughly mix the beef, turkey, matzo meal, seltzer water, beaten egg, Worcestershire sauce, seasoning and ¼ cup ketchup.
Press half the mixture into a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan.
Place the hard-cooked eggs, end to end, on top. Carefully press the remaining meat mixture on top. Spread the remaining ¼ cup ketchup over top.
Bake in preheated oven, uncovered, for 65 minutes or until juices run clear when pierced with a knife.
Cool completely before wrapping, labeling and freezing.
‘Gesundheit Kuchen’ (Dairy)
A Hofman family favorite, this “blessing” cake recipe was brought over by German Jews in the early 1900s. Rich and moist, it was served at a bris, engagement party and other celebrations.
Serves 15-18
Cook’s Tips:
*Cream cheese no longer comes in 3-ounce packages. Use an 8-ounce package, plus a rounded tablespoon of cream cheese.
*Wondra flour works well. It’s OU pareve. Or sift all-purpose flour before adding.
*No need for a tabletop electric mixer. An electric hand mixer is all that’s needed.

1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
9 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1½ cups sugar
4 eggs
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons baking powder
Powdered sugar to sprinkle

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Spray a 10-inch Bundt pan with nonstick vegetable spray.
In a large mixing bowl, beat butter, cream cheese and sugar until pale and fluffy, 1-2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, with 1 tablespoon of the flour to prevent curdling, beating after each addition.
Add vanilla, baking powder and remaining flour, ½ cup at a time, beating well between each addition. Spoon batter into prepared Bundt pan.
Bake in preheated oven until cake is golden and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
Cool 5 minutes in pan.
Loosen edges with a round-bladed knife before turning onto a wire rack to cool. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Wrap, label and freeze.

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