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Stirring the Pot: A Culinary Journey, Never Straying Far from Home

Noelle Zeichner with a slice of sour cream pound cake — her mother's recipe. | Photo by Ruthie Cohen

Noelle Zeichner with a slice of sour cream pound cake — her mother’s recipe. | Photo by Ruthie Cohen

My friend Jeremy is singing his wife’s praises. He tells me that when she makes chicken soup with matzo balls, she places a thin slice of lemon in the bottom of your bowl before ladling in the soup.

“You had me at lemon slice!” I cry. “What a delicate way to jazz up chicken soup. Like a Jewish avgolemono!”

Then the second arrow hits. “Hold on a sec,” I say. “What’s your wife doing making matzo ball soup?”

Unlike me, Noelle Zeichner is not a nice Jewish girl. She is a nice Christian girl who honors traditions and loves to cook and bake. When she married the half-Jewish Jeremy, she embraced Passover seders and matzo balls. And she brought with her a rich tradition of her own.

In Bradenton, Florida, where Noelle grew up, her father hunted quail and taught her to fish. Her mother put up homemade jams and baked mile-high sour cream pound cakes. They ate fried chicken every Sunday. Her mom seasoned dishes simply, with salt, pepper, and garlic. “You don’t need a whole lot,” Noelle notes. “Let the food shine through.”

By her own admission, “you turn into your mother.” Noelle, now a mother herself, puts up strawberry jam and bakes. But she doesn’t stop there. On a culinary journey, she is inspired by world cultures. Her repertoire includes Cuban garbanzo bean soup, souvlaki and homemade pita bread, and white chicken chili, a Halloween must. She roasts tomatoes until they caramelize for a rich cream of tomato soup that is sublime in its earthy simplicity. 

But she never strays too far from her roots and her mom’s delicious sour cream pound cake.

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Tomato Soup

4 pounds plum tomatoes
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided throughout
1 medium onion
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups water
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Slice tomatoes in half lengthwise and place, with the cut side facing up, on large-rimmed baking sheets. Sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper and drizzle with 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Roast until tender and caramelized, about an hour. After allowing tomatoes to cool, peel off and discard their skins.

Coarsely chop the onion and place in a medium pot with the remaining oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook over medium heat until onion is soft.

Add the roasted tomatoes and their juices, cream, and water to the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, about 25 minutes until flavors blend.

Purée with an immersion blender, or in batches in a standard blender, adding more water or cream until soup reaches the desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and crusty bread or homemade croutons.

Noelle’s Mom’s Sour Cream Pound Cake

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3 cups sugar
6 eggs, yolks and whites separated
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups cake flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Generously grease and flour a bundt pan, using butter or spray. Tap off excess flour.

Cream butter by beating with a hand mixer in a large mixing bowl while gradually adding sugar. Continue beating on medium/high until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks, one at a time, and beat until well blended. Add vanilla. Set aside.

In another bowl, combine flour and baking soda.

Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture, in thirds, alternating with sour cream in halves. Begin and end with dry ingredients.

In a third bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Gently fold egg whites into creamed mixture. Pour batter into prepared cake pan.

Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes or until top is browned and cake tester comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack. Invert onto a cake plate.

Serve as is or with freshly whipped cream and berries.

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Ruthie Cohen
Ruthie Cohen moved from New Jersey to Bloomington in November 2011. Every day she marvels at her good fortune to be living in this gem of a town. When she isn’t concocting recipes in her kitchen, you can find her teaching and practicing at Ekah Yoga and VibeYoga and Pilates studios; wielding a hammer or a paintbrush with the mid-week crew folks at Habitat for Humanity; or hanging out with future chess masters at the Crestmont Boys and Girls Club.
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