Monthly Archives: January 2012

Pretty close to perfect

Joline is not only responsible for this week’s post, but also for the whole new format of the blog in 2012.  I’m really, really glad she had the idea and (have I mentioned this before?) that other people wanted to go along with it.  Joline, I’m happy to say, is also my neighbor, and having neighbors is awesome.   As it turns out, so is brisket.  This blog is getting less and less vegetarian with each passing week…  

At this point in the blog post, Miriam will likely have introduced me in some way. In any case, hello readers of Miriam’s blog, and anyone else who may have stumbled upon this post.

So as Miriam may have mentioned, I am a law student at Penn, and a pretty busy one at that. [Miriam’s note: True story – she’s very busy!] This semester, I decided it would be a good idea to do an internship in DC and commute there from Philly twice a week. Shockingly, I am now incredibly busy, and living in two cities at the same time. One of the things I love about Shabbat is that it forces me to take a break from my life and just enjoy whatever company I might have, be it friends, family, or myself. In that context, this Shabbat was pretty close to perfect.

Dinner was at the Gershman Y, which was doing a special program around the Scottsboro Boys musical, currently playing at Philadelphia Theater Company. Being the kind of law student who is interested in the Scottsboro Boys, I was intrigued, and a few others decided to come too. The food was okay, but nothing to necessarily write home or blog about. I hear the gefilte fish was the hit of the night, but I wasn’t in a gefilte mood, so all I can write about is the chicken. On a scale of greasy/grisley Hillel chicken to gourmet? Somewhere in the boringly average middle. Not one person I knew brought any wine to the meal, and yet, somewhere over the course of dinner we decided to create two new Jewish musicals: “Halacha” and “Minhag.” Perhaps you had to be there?

After dinner, in lieu of seeing the show (too expensive for me, not shabbasdik enough for others), I headed over to Ilana’s for drinks and dessert (and reading of People magazine). It was a remarkably low key end to the evening, exactly what I needed after a long and stressful week. I didn’t drink any of the
alcohol, but the funfetti cupcakes were funfetti – tastic, and the chocolate cheesecake brownies (eaten three hours after the meat consumption, of course) were pretty amazing. I also learned that if you pick the right pictures, Taylor Lautner and Kris Humphries look remarkably similar.

Following a delightful morning sleeping, cleaning, and Zumba-ing, a host of lovely people came over to my apartment for lunch (i’m still in shock that 10 people + baby fit around my table). Having been in and out of town and finals-mode over the last two months or so, I hadn’t been able to host in a while, and
I barely made a dent in my “people to have over” list. Despite being a hippy Jewish liberal from the San Francisco Bay area, I am not a vegetarian, and as such I made a meat meal, which I am always trying to encourage more of in my vegetarian friendly Jewish worlds. (Side note: vegetarians are always welcome
at my house, and I will happily whip up tofu for you to eat!).

I decided to go all out, and made two kinds of meat: BBQ Brisket in my crock pot (easiest recipe in the world at the end of this post), and honey mustard chicken. I also made (for the first time) parve mashed potatoes, green beans, and a decent but not great pumpkin soup. Jo made delicous challah, and Belina contributed a yummy salad of mizuna, onions, and dried cranberries. It may have been the first time I ever ate mizuna, in fact. The rest of the meal was a blur, as often happens when I host, but I think everyone enjoyed themselves and the food. Dessert was i can’t believe its parve ice cream courtesy of Sara, and it all got devoured.

Sometime after we were all way too full, the conversation turned to interdating and intermarriage. It reminded me how blessed and lucky I am to be in a Jewish community where I feel completely comfortable being who I am (that is, the proudly mixed heritage daughter of a non Jewish mother and Jewish father. I decided after a lot of internal struggle a little under four years ago to go through a conservative conversion, and I still struggle with what that means for me in the broader Jewish community.) It is such a huge part of who I am and my Jewish identity that I sometimes forget that not everyone who knows me Jewishly knows that aspect of me, and I found myself at my own meal at my own house telling the abridged version yet again. But that is perhaps a topic for a different time and a different blog. [Miriam’s note: I think it fits in perfectly here, and thank you for sharing!]

Lunch blended into Shabbos afternoon, and a lovely visit from Susie and Mike. We played Settlers of Catan until the sun went down, which was, like the rest of Shabbat, perfection.

Okay, so this blog is about recipes [Miriam’s note: But also about a lot of other things!], so I will leave you with the easiest brisket in the world (and, since I am currently on a bus to DC and don’t have any pictures to provide, Miriam, a picture of Aliza?).

Aliza's new trick is even scarier than gristly chicken

Brisket in a crockpot (hat tip to my friends Sarah and Will, who gave me this “recipe” but probably don’t remember doing so)

One Beef Brisket (mine came from Trader Joe’s)
A bottle/ a bottle and a half of BBQ sauce

Put Brisket and BBQ sauce in a crockpot. Set on low, leave and enjoy life for 7 – 9 hours. (or if you are cooking it overnight like I did, sleep for 7- 9 hours). I added a tiny bit of hot sauce, but that’s not necessary. Depending on how much sauce you use and how long you cook it, you can pull it apart, let it fall apart, or leave it whole and slice it. Or sometimes, the crockpot decides these things for you.

 In Joline’s honor, why don’t you sign up to blog for a week?  



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Sheva Brachot Shabbat

This week, we get to hear from Alex, the kallah (bride).  Mazel tov!  Truly, getting to celebrate with Alex and Jonathan at their wedding was an absolute joy, and having their sheva brachot Shabbat chronicled here is a definite privilege.  Just because the only picture here right now is of chili, everyone and everything at the wedding was beautiful, and hopefully I’ll be able to update this post with a picture of the festivities in the near future.  

On a personal note, writing about my own Shabbat meals is a habit that’s proving hard to break.  I went to four Shabbat dinners on Friday, and I spent much of the time going between them thinking about how I’d write about my night.  But my last meal of the night was at Ilana’s with the newlyweds, and this might be the first Shabbat of my entire life where I ate red meat for dinner and again for lunch.  Jonathan gets an extra mazel tov for that one.  

For the regular readers of this blog, a few months ago, you read about us getting engaged; now six months later we’re celebrating our first Shabbat as newlyweds.  During the Jewish wedding ceremony the sheva brachot (seven blessings) are recited and are then repeated at festive meals for a week following the wedding to allow you to celebrate with the larger community.  Our favorite matchmakers, Miriam and Ilana, each were kind enough to host a sheva brachot meal for us this week.

Miriam hosted on Monday (I know it’s not on Shabbat, but it’s related to eating and being Jewish, so we’re close).  The theme of Miriam’s meal was the “seven blessings of Grad Hospital” featuring food inspired by neighborhood restaurants with the hope that it would motivate us to move back to the neighborhood soon.  We had:

1)     Beer inspired by Sidecar
2)     Israeli salad inspired by La Va
3)     Build-your-own grilled cheese inspired by Beauty Shop Café
4)     Sweet potato fries inspired by Ants Pants
5)     Spicy green beans inspired by Grace’s Tavern
6)     Grape leaves inspired by Divan
7)     Cupcakes from Pamcakes

Everything was delicious and makes us even more eager to find a house in the neighborhood.  [Miriam’s note: It’s always nice to know when my plans work the way they’re supposed to!]

Jumping to Friday night, Ilana hosted us for a wonderful Shabbat dinner.  We started off the meal with Beverly’s challah (dipped in honey instead of salt—a wonderful post-wedding tradition) with hummus and guacamole.  The main course was meatloaf with mashed potatoes, roasted Brussels sprouts, stuffing, green bean casserole and tofu for the vegetarians at the table.  I’ve never had meatloaf before and previously wasn’t particularly interested in it.  I was wrong!  This meatloaf blew away all my preconceived notions of meatloaf.  It was moist and flavorful, and has convinced me to reconsider my position on meatloaf.  However, even better, was the totally not-parve tasting mashed potatoes.  Apparently the secret to making parve mashed potatoes good is adding A LOT of margarine and Coffee Rich creamer.  I’m totally stealing this trick.

For Shabbat lunch we wanted to thank some of the people who had hosted us this past week by having them over for lunch.  The wintery mix (that thankfully held off until after our wedding weekend) meant breaking in our brand new crock pot for beef chili.  Jonathan had been promising beef chili to Miriam since her conversion from vegetarian to not-so-vegetarian.  A 6 ½ quart crock pot (with 3 pounds of beef in it) awaited her arrival.

Recipe for a normal sized pot of chili (multiply by about 1.5 to make a giant crock pot):

–          Dice and saute 2 large onions, 6 cloves garlic, 1 large green bell pepper and 1 chili pepper or 2-3 jalapeno peppers in a large pot
–          Brown 2 lbs ground beef and drain off excess liquid.  Add meat to pot with onion mixture
–          Drain and rinse 3 cans of kidney beans and add to pot
–          2 28 ounce cans diced tomatoes added to pot, reserve liquid in case you need more liquid later
–          1 can tomato paste added to pot
–          Season to taste with:

  • cumin (about twice as much as you think you need)
  • molasses (a decent pour)
  • 2-4 cinnamon sticks
  • 2-4 bay leaves
  • chili powder
  • smoked paprika (we used both hot and sweet)
  • black pepper
  • white pepper
  • sea salt
  • cayenne pepper
  • allspice
  • clove
  • cocoa powder
  • finely ground coffee
  • garlic powder
  • onion powder
  • oregano
  • chili flakes
  • Tabasco sauce

–          Alternatively just add the entire contents of your spice cabinet.
–          Simmer for 1 to 12 hours.  In the crock pot we did 13 hours of cooking on low with 8 hours of being kept warm, while re-seasoning every few hours.

To counteract the intenseness of the chili, we started with a salad of baby spinach, green pepper, green beans, tomatoes and almonds and roasted cauliflower with a Dijon mustard glaze.  In cooking the cauliflower, I had my usual round of “is there going to be enough food?!?”  This is a common theme in Miriam’s blog posts and with everyone who cooks Shabbat meals regularly.  I might suggest re-naming the blog, “Food Anxiety: How much food do I need for a Shabbat meal.”  For dessert, I made a lemon pie and there were peanut butter-marshmallow fluff-brownies courtesy of Dalia from Wednesday night’s Sheva Brachot meal.

Lunch wrapped up around 4 so by the time we took our Shabbat nap it was time for havdallah ending our great first married Shabbat.

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The moral(s) of the story

Naomi is our guest blogger this week.  You might remember her from, well, pretty much every meal I ate around the time Aliza was born, and many meals before and since, plus one notable time that I compared her to an angel.  She praises her friends many in times in the post, though I continue to think I’m the one who should be offering the praise for Naomi and all my  other friends who have been part of this project.  Speaking of which, click here to sign up for a week to blog!  And, speaking of projects, check out my new blog/advice column for the Jewish Exponent: Miriam’s Advice Well.  Please submit questions!!  And now, without further ado or self-promotion…Naomi’s post!

For my turn on this blog thing, I said I’d write when there was Heymish, because I knew that there would be lots of good food and company to talk about.  And so after several slightly confusing emails with Miriam and Warren and Beverly (while she was in Israel), we decided that Heymish, and therefore my blogging turn, should be this weekend.

Which all worked out beautifully except for one small issue: In a highly unusual turn of events, I didn’t cook one single solitary thing.

But that’s ok! Because Miriam said we didn’t have to cook to blog, and I did eat a lot.  Plus I have things to say, and you are here reading them. All of which is to say that you’re stuck with me, for this week anyway.

So. Like I said before, this was a Heymish week. Heymish, for the uninitiated, is a lovely minyan (prayer group) that meets around once a month in people’s houses for Kabbalat Shabbat (Friday night services) and a veggie potluck dinner. This month we met in Beverly’s and my living room. It was bitter cold. Perhaps the first (or arguably the second) really cold weekend we’ve had all year. There were also a couple of other fun things going on in the community that night. All of which gave us a cozy turnout, at around a dozen people. I led part of the singing, which was super fun even though I didn’t really have my voice back all the way from being sick and the singing promptly caused me to lose it again temporarily. And after that came food! Some highlights…

-Warren’s amazing vegan dish involving white beans and fennel
-Beverly’s famous Challah
-Rebecca’s (visiting from all the way up in MA) kasha and mushrooms
-Mattea’s veggies over rice. (Quote: “I couldn’t find hazelnuts, so I couldn’t make a dessert.” I love my friends.)

And remember how I said I didn’t cook? Well, my contribution to the potluck was paper goods to eat it all on. This is actually a very important ingredient to a successful meal. (At least usually, though I happen to have had a memorable meal without those things.) And also I cleaned my living room and set up chairs, so really I did help make eating happen.

And that was my evening. But Shabbat wasn’t over yet. Because it always keeps going till the stars come out on Saturday. But also the Shabbat fun wasn’t over yet, which is what I meant to say in the first place. And that is because it was also a Tikvah weekend.

And Tikvah, also for the uninitiated, is another minyan. But this one does Saturday shacharit (morning services) and lunch, as well as some other things. The lunch is sometimes a potluck and sometimes ‘catered’ by one of the organizing committee members. And guess what? I’m lucky enough to have a committee member for a fiancée.  (Did you know that in French, women get more e’s?) Beverly, with the help of Mattea and Joline, made a beautiful meal of DIY burritos, inspired in part by Marc’s having made that same meal last week. It was still bitter cold, so Tikvah also had a cozy crowd at about 25, and we all ate heartily. And I think that there are enough leftovers currently in my fridge to feed me well past the time in the not too distant future when I get tired of
eating burritos every night. Yum.

And that about wraps it up! [Miriam’s note: burrito pun intended?] I think the moral is that food and prayer are fun community activities. But the moral might be that I have awesome friends (and especially an awesome fiancée) who make it possible to have a hard week at work and not have to cook every week to have Shabbat meals. And the other moral might be that I love it when Heymish and Tikvah weeks line up just right. Although the moral could be that when it’s your turn to write on this blog you’ll get to ramble as much as you want, like I did. Take your pick.

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For the first post of this new year, our blogger du jour is someone you’ve already heard a lot about: husband, father, and ice cream creator extraordinaire, Marc.  He has a lot of nice things to say, and he planned a really great birthday weekend for me.  But there were a ton of poppy seeds in the house; he just didn’t know where to find them.  And the absence of chana masala at my Indian food birthday party was totally deliberate — he let my successful cholent masala from last week have the last word.  Also, he does not do the potato dish justice.  It was that good.

Well. It’s about time. Miriam wrote her blog for just over a year, and now she’s handing it off. To us. First, to me. And that means I get to dish!

First things first. One. Miriam didn’t make any of the recipes she talked about for a year. Not a single one. It was all Chefbot 3000. Which she didn’t even buy for herself. It was sent to our address by mistake and she thought we should “just keep it.”

Two. There’ve been a lot of people coming through our house this year, and we’ve gone to a lot of other people’s houses. So straight out, who are our favorite people? [edited]

Three. Aliza happens to love the blog, and she usually likes (at least the smell of) the standard Chefbot options, but she thinks that the WordPress interface leaves a lot to be desired.
All right. On to this recent weekend. It was Miriam’s birthday! Hooray!

I wanted to take the opportunity to help make her life the way she wants it to be. Which of course we try to do for each other all the time, but a birthday is a good time to redouble efforts. And, as pertains to this current article, that includes meals.

Friday night, I hoped to prepare something reminiscent of Miriam’s meals growing up: a recipe I learned from her and her mother, fried tuna patties with rice. It’s basically tuna salad with bread crumbs and/or wheat germ / and eggs, fried in patty shape. (I used stuffing and wheat germ this time).  [Miriam’s note: previously referenced as salmon patties here and here.  And for future reference, this is how you’ll know something’s actually edited.  Hi Marc!  Thanks for writing!]  We only had one egg, which wasn’t enough, so they mostly fell apart. To try to redeem the (admittedly yummy) tuna chunks, I put cheddar cheese on them and baked them in the toaster oven. This at least made something “new” — tuna melt patty stuff — instead of something that missed the mark (falling apart tuna patties). This process falls under the advice, “if at first you don’t succeed, redefine success.”

For Saturday, Miriam requested the company of Beverly and Naomi. And they went for it. Great! Beverly just got back from Israel this week, and we hardly ever have such a small meal. It’s hard not to start to include more and more people, but when you make an effort – a real effort – a small meal is possible. Indeed, the progression of meals went from 2 (me and Miriam, described above), to 4 (me, Miriam, Beverly, and Naomi) to 16 (Saturday night, to be described below.) This means the next meal would have to have had 256 people, and the one after that, 65,536 Yikes. Have you ever tried cooking for 65,536? This is beyond the means of even Chefbot 4000. Especially for soup.

I’m just kidding about Chefbot. Thanks for being a good sport, Miriam!  [Any time!]

So Saturday day, we had tacos. It’s easy – just put out taco components, and tell people it’s a meal. It’s like opening your refrigerator and saying “enjoy the fusion buffet.” Even better, change out the fridge light for a colored “party light” and play some techno in the background and they’ll line up.

All right. Saturday day very pleasant. Then a nice walk around town, pleasant weather. Funny for January 7, but very nice. Thanks, weather.

And then, home for the big birthday bash: Indian food! Weeks before, Miriam requested “Indian” food for her birthday. I knew she meant the subcontinent of India, not Native American cuisine, mainly because we eat and enjoy Asian-Indian food now and then, but never Native American cuisine. (Save for popcorn, OF COURSE). had awesome alt-text!  Props!

Shout-out to Swiss Haus! So much easier than last year's cake ....

I had sent out an email asking people to bring Indian food if they wanted. I called it something like a “Malava Malka Birthday Party.” Malava Malka is a fun meal after Shabbat. Having a meal after Shabbat time is a lot less stressful than Shabbat meals in some ways — people can cook, use appliances, buy ingredients they forgot, ring the doorbell, put on music. And, Saturday night is still very much the weekend in these parts, so both observant and non-observant people are typically in a pleasant, non-work state of mind. Saturday night is as far from work as one typically gets. So it’s the best of both worlds!

In addition, I planned to 1) microwave a bunch of prepackaged Indian food bags, and 2) cook some things after sundown (after sundown so observant people could join in the cooking fun). I ran across a nice-looking Indian cookbook and bought it, and asked Miriam to pick out one recipe that we would make. She chose “Alo Korma.” I love Alo, and I love Korma (usually chicken), so this sounded great! Earlier in the week, we went to the Indian/Pakistani grocery on forty something and Walnut near the Restaurant School where I used to teach and picked out relevant ingredients. I got the rest from Whole Foods, and Saturday night, it was on!

Rebecca brought ingredients to replicate last week’s Champagne Punch. Mattea, who brought Roti, helped a ton cutting potatoes and measuring out and roasting spices, and Ilana and Ariel relieved in about the fifth and successfully closed. I made a huge heaping ton of rice; Yael and David-Zvi brought some yummy potatoes and peas; and Ilana brought an excellent rice pudding, the leftovers of which are the most recent thing I’ve eaten at the time of writing.

Here’s the Alo Korma recipe from Rocky Mohan’s The Art of Indian Cuisine
1lb Potatoes, drawn and quartered (really, washed and twelfthed, approximately)
1/2 cut Yogurt (I tried to make my own the night before, but was disgusting, so I used Cabot Greek Yogurt from the store)

Dry roast and grind to a paste with a little water:
3 Tbsp Almonds, blanched, peeled, and sliced (bought, from Whole foods, slivered)
3 tsp. Coconut, grated (bought, from Whole foods)
3 tsp Poppy seeds (we didn’t have enough poppy because we tripled the recipe; substituted sesame)
3 tsp Coriander seeds
3 tsp Red chilli

1/2 cup Ghee (bought, from Whole Foods; we didn’t have enough for triple recipe, so substituted otherbutter)
1/2 cup Onions, chopped (Miriam chopped them!)
2tsp Ginger paste (bought, from Whole Foods; from China; with HKK heksure)
2tsp Garlic paste (also Whole Foods)
salt to taste
and I added Cayenne at the end, to taste.

1. Whisk the yogurt with the roasted paste. Mix well.
2. Heat the ghee; reduce the heat, add onions, ginger, and garlic pastes. Fry until golden brown.
3. Add the potatoes and ry until golden brown. Add the yogurt mixture and salt. Cook for 5 minutes and add 3/4 cup of warm water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook until the potatoes are tender and the gravy is thick.

Miriam loved it. And we’re about to eat it as leftovers. And then more rice pudding.  [Miriam’s note: Marc also got me MFK Fisher’s The Art of Eating for a birthday present, so we both expect a lot more food-related inspiration coming up.]

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It’s the End of the Blog as we know it…

And I feel fine!  Better than fine, in fact!  It’s been an amazing year, a crazy year, and a really, really exhausting year, but I turned 30, I had a baby, I made a lot of food and a lot of messes, I wrote about all my Shabbat meals for the whole year, and I lived to tell about it.

And now, it’s in your hands. Ok, our hands.  The blog is going to continue in 2012, but this year, a different person is going to write the post for each Shabbat.  I’m still going to be putting it all together, but other people are going to be sharing their experiences.

Here’s what I’m asking:

(You may have seen this before, and you may see it again.  We have 52 weeks to fill, after all.)

Click here to access the google doc of next year’s Shabbat dates.  Write your name next to one of them.  When that week comes…

1) Write about your Shabbat experience in 300-700 words.
2) Include a recipe (doesn’t have to be something you made that week – could just be something you like to eat!).
3) Include a photograph of food or something else related to your Shabbat experience.
4) Refer to people by first-name only, and try to ask their permission first.
5) Send me your piece by 10:00 p.m. Sunday night for posting.
And an addition since the last time I posted this:
6) This is a low pressure situation.  I want people to participate because I’ve had fun doing this and I think you will, too.  I want to demystify Shabbat, encourage people to cook more, and contribute to my friends and my community and my ever-enlarging circle of people taking care of themselves and each other.  You don’t have to be a gourmet cook or an accomplished writer.  You just have to have an openness that you’re willing to share.  Or be a curmudgeon and share.  That works, too.

My list of other thoughts about your participation is at this post if you want more context.

I’ve thought a lot about how to wrap this up, and I’ve come up with a lot of variations.  But here’s the one I like best: I don’t have to!  This past year’s project has set the stage for other things to happen, but I’m not totally bowing out, and even after all this writing, one of my favorite things about Shabbat continues to be the fact that it happens every. single. week.  It will after the blog is done, and even after I’m done.  I don’t need a conclusion about Shabbat because nothing is concluding.

Thanks for reading.  Thanks for eating.  Thanks for putting up with me writing about you, the intricacies of various facets of the Philadelphia Jewish community, the complexities of making ice cream, and a lot of recipes including chickpeas.  Thanks for gushing at all the pictures of Aliza.  I hope you learned something.  I hope you felt inspired.  I hope you felt connected.  And I hope you’ll share your own Shabbat experiences in 2012!

Underneath the main chorus at the end of the afore-alluded-to song, there’s another phrase that gets repeated over and over again: “Time I had some time alone…”  That also resonates with me, and I’m considering a short hiatus from hosting meals.  It might not happen.  It probably won’t happen.  But I feel fine.

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Blogstravaganza Shabbat Part 2

If my blog were a sitcom, this would be the clips show.  Whereas the conceit for Friday night was that everyone else should make their most impressive dish, my plan for Saturday lunch was that I would make the best of from the past year of my own cooking.  In reality, lunch turned out to be a combination of that plan plus cooking with phyllo dough, something I’d wanted to do all year and never got around to.

The menu

Carrot ginger soup – This actually never made it into the blog, but I made it for myself a few weeks ago and couldn’t get enough, plus, it’s as easy as it gets: saute some chopped onions or shallots in oil and/or butter.  Add a pound or so of chopped carrots and saute a while longer.  Add 4-6 cups of vegetable broth, bring to a boil and let simmer.  When the carrots are tender, turn it off and blend it with an immersion blender (use caution if using a regular blender – learn from my mistakes!).  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve hot or cold.

Cholent masala (an advanced draft) – I really, really wanted to get this right before the  blog ended.  I wouldn’t say it tasted restaurant grade, or that I could ever recreate exactly what I did, but it had the right consistency, and that in itself was a huge accomplishment.  I cooked it on high for about 8 hours, low for another 5, and then kept it on warm all night.  I also spiced it right before serving and used a crazy amount of curry and garam masala.  And though I couldn’t find kosher-certified tamarind paste or powdered mango, I used a healthy dose of lemon juice, and it really worked.

Sesame noodlesAlways good.  Always a crowd-pleaser.

Spanikopita – I made spanikopita filling way back last January, and I had phyllo dough in the freezer for pretty much the entire year, but I never managed to put them together.  Using up the dough was a blog ending requirement.  Turns out there was twice as much in the package as I needed, and it’s still sitting in the fridge.  Basically, I made the filling then sandwiched it between two layers each made of five sheets of phyllo dough, which Mattea helped keep damp until I was done brushing the previous layer with olive oil.  For sure the texture would have been better right out of the oven (as it was when I tasted that square out of the middle) rather than cold the next day, but that was minor in comparison to my excitement at having conquered the project.

Tzatziki – Goes so well with spanikopita and, thanks to its similarity to raita, with the cholent masala as well.  Greek yogurt, lots of minced garlic, chopped cucumber, lemon juice, salt and pepper.  Can’t get enough of it.

Skordalia pie – When I g-chatted Alex at 11:00 Thursday night to ask what else should go with the planned menu, I was thinking veggies, something light, certainly not another olive oil-laden phyllo pie.   Yet, making something that didn’t require another trip to the store and that would use up more of that pesky dough won out over all of Alex’s well-balanced suggestions.  With Mattea and Rebecca, we made a mashed potato, caramelized onion, feta filling and prepared it the same as the spanikopita.  And due to my previous success with skordalia, we decided to name it accordingly.

Leftovers – I really had not planned for this when I came up with the menu.  There were so many leftovers from Friday that people wanted to keep sharing, that we basically had a whole other course of leftovers.  And, thanks to Ariel’s brussels sprouts, it worked out perfectly that I didn’t actually have a vegetable on the menu.

Citrus shortbread cookies – The last time I made this, they were basil citrus cookies as per the actual recipe, but without the basil they went a bit better with the ice cream.

Chocolate orange gelato – My favorite ice cream place back from when I lived in Cambridge, MA had chocolate orange ice cream that I absolutely lusted after all the time.  When we got the ice cream maker, I knew I was destined to recreate it.  Using the Mexican chocolate base, but with orange extract (added at the end) instead of cinnamon, this is to die for.  And, though everyone assumed Marc made it, actually, it was me!  I know my way around the ice cream maker well enough…

The scene

As soon as people started leaving Friday night, we started resetting the table for Saturday.  Marc said, “What if it were 12:30 on Saturday and lunch were about to start?  Would we just go for it?”  Given how baby-induced sleep deprivation has affected my sense of time, I was like, “yeah, sure, it’s lunch time.”  But it wasn’t.

There were only thirteen people for lunch (see this post for more on how I quantify small meals).  Since everyone at lunch had been there the night before, I worried that people might be a little sick of each other, so I posed this conversation starter:  Marc and I quest for finding the perfect chana masala in restaurants and also to be able to recreate it for ourselves at home.  What foods do you quest for?  I was glad to hear people’s responses and even gladder that actually no one seemed sick of each other at all and didn’t need me to facilitate conversation.

At the end of lunch, we said birkat (grace after meals); I generally don’t remember to and thought it would be a good way to wrap up this year of meals.  Then we went for a baby-nap-inducing walk, which essentially kicked everyone out.  Shabbat ended in a couple hours anyway, and everyone had New Year’s Eve plans, so the timing was actually pretty great.

And the food was great.  And the company was great.  And the year was great.

Stay tuned for another post from me later in the week about transitioning into the next phase of the blog…

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Blogstravaganza Shabbat Part 1

Happy New Year, and this is it: I followed this project through and wrote about all my Shabbat meals for 2011!  For most of the year, I reported on what happened without going too far out of my way to find things to write about.  But, in honor of the final Shabbat of 2011, I orchestrated two incredible meals (I’ve decided 2012 is not the time to be bashful).  I cooked my heart out, and I encouraged my friends to do the same.  The results transcended my expectations.  So did the leftovers.   It was blogstravagantic.

I started cooking Thursday night.  Actually, I reserved Thursday for baking.  I kicked things off by making a double batch of round challah — it is the new year after all! I made 2 “everything” loaves and 2 craisin loaves with Mattea’s recipe, and I think everything challah will be my new standard.

I also made meringues for the first time ever, inspired by a Bon Appetit recipe for peppermint meringues.  I have a nostalgic thing for meringues because a close family friend always use to make them when I was a kid (I also wrote a play about meringues in college, but that’s another story).

Friday morning, I woke up giddy about everything that lay ahead, and I got right down to the cooking.  Rebecca and Mattea came by to help, we made most of the lunch food (see part 2, coming soon), my favorite mac and cheese, and favors for the dinner guests.

So here was the conceit: Invite a huge crowd for Friday dinner and encourage everyone to make their favorite/fanciest/most impressive dish for, as Marc said, “the fanciest potluck anyone’s ever been to.”  We ended up with 21 people, all seated around one long table, with assigned seats (the champagne flute favors had everyone’s names on them).

Then, in part to gear people up for the next year of blogging, I asked everyone for a recipe and a picture.  Don’t get overwhelmed – just imagine how overwhelming the eating was!    And, while some may say I have a proclivity towards over-ambition when it comes to cooking/entertaining, especially with a baby around, somehow it all came together.

Rituals and Drinks

Aileen and Brian (who get the award for traveling from the farthest away to be here) brought wine and kosher organic Finger Lakes grape juice.  Belina brought vodka.  Edward made seltzer.  Marc made a couple of pitchers of champagne punch and  kept coming up with various other chocolate-y alcoholic creations as the night went on.  Only one involved 99 Bananas.

1st Course

Alex made crackers and red pepper spread; as previously stated, making crackers is just impressive.

Allison made a salad with pears and I don’t even know what else.  But fancy.

Susan made mushroom salad, and I was a bad host by refusing to try it even though she said it’s the best most delicious way to eat mushrooms.  I just couldn’t do it.  But I was so happy for other people to enjoy!

Marc tried a new version of honey butter salmon in toothpick-appointed appetizer portions.

Honey Butter Salmon

Start with boneless salmon fillets at room temperature.  Melt a stick of butter and an approximately equal amount of honey in the microwave.  Put the salmon in a nice glass baking dish that your wife recently gave you for Chanukah.  Smother the salmon in the sauce, cover with tinfoil, and put in a 250 degree oven for about an hour.  It’s done when a paring knife easily goes into the salmon.

Rebecca’s cheesy spinach artichoke dip is an automatic crowd-pleaser, and since she cooks by feel rather than quantity, yours might turn out a little bit differently, but with this combination of ingredients, you’ll be fine.

Cheesy Spinach Artichoke Dip

Sauté onion and garlic
Add defrosted and squeezed spinach and artichokes
Salt and pepper
Cream cheese
A little mozzarella
And a lot of Parmesan
Mix ingredients together, put in pan top with more cheese bake till cheese is golden, melted and delicious…let cool or you will burn your tongue!

Soup Course

Warren, of course, out-fancied everyone by making potato fennel soup and individually garnishing 21 bowls of it with fennel and smoked salmon.

Main Course

Things just got crazy here.  There was so much food.  As previously mentioned, I made my mac and cheese, since it’s one of my favorite things to eat and has been the most-often requested recipe over the course of the year.  This might have been my best batch of it yet.  I credit Rebecca’s stirring.  And the full-fat cheese and cream cheese.  Oh yum.

Josh made Shepherdess Pie and takes the award for best blog homage.  Check out the design in the sweet potatoes.

Shepherdess Pie

It’s a 5-layer dish.  These quantities will serve 12ish people from a
lasagna-size pan.

Bottom layer: 3/4 to 1 cup (measured dry) rice or another grain,
cooked to package directions first
Next layer: 1.5 to 2 cans creamed corn
Next layer: 1 to 1.5 cans refried beans
Next layer: 1.5 to 2 cups shredded cheese
Top layer: 2.5 pounds sweet potatoes, mashed (boil a huge pot of
water, cut the sweet potatoes into 2-4 big hunks each for faster
cooking, drop them in for 20ish minutes or until they feel mashable,
the skins should come off easily after boiling, and then mash them)

Be patient layering.  (Refried beans don’t spread easily.)  Draw a fun
pattern in the potatoes with a fork.  Then cover and cook the whole
thing for 25ish minutes at 350, or until the cheese looks nice and

Emily made Penne a la Vodka, which I don’t think I’ve ever had before.  But clearly I liked it, since it’s the thing I was eating cold out of the dish in the kitchen during clean-up when I really, really didn’t need more food.

Penne a la Vodka

1 lb penne
½ c. butter
1 jar tomato sauce (16 oz) – preferably a tomato basil sauce
1 large yellow onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 c. light cream
1/3 c. vodka
½ c. parmesan
Salt, black pepper, and crushed red pepper to taste
Fresh basil

Prepare the penne according to package directions.  Set aside. Melt the butter over medium heat and when it begins to bubble add the onion.  Stir frequently.  When the onion is translucent and soft, add the garlic and sauté for an additional two to three minutes stirring constantly. Add the vodka.  Cook until most of the vodka has bubbled away. Add the cream and the tomato sauce.  Let the sauce simmer for about twenty minutes or until thoroughly heated. Add in the parmesan, crushed red pepper, salt, and black pepper.  Pour the sauce over the pasta and just before serving sprinkle chopped fresh basil over the pasta.

Alex also made stuffed mushrooms and while I stayed away from her mushrooms, too, I did eat the eggplant filling and watched the mushrooms themselves disappear.  Again, happy for others to enjoy.  I just don’t do fungus.

Deborah has been working on perfecting her Poutine, and shared the latest version with us.

Vegetarian Poutine

Cheese curd (milk and vinegar
Mushroom gravy (onion, garlic, mushroom, butter, flour, vegetable broth, vinegar, soy sauce)
Potatoes, butter, onion

I seem to have just the ingredient list, so based on that and the picture, you should be able to reconstruct it!

Edward made two kinds of couscous, and says, “The recipe is rather ad-hoc.  It essentially boils down to the following: simmer some vegetables, butter, and seasonings in water for while (mine included carrots, celery, onion, garlic, ginger, and cauliflower).  After the liquid has simmered and reduced for a while, use the liquid to make couscous (for regular, just add dry couscous to equal volume of hot liquid and let sit off the heat; for israeli, simmer the couscous in the liquid for about ten minutes).  Once couscous is ready, add in veggies of choice (I added veggies from the broth, as well as garbanzos, baked potato pieces, and sauteed onions), some harissa for spice, some oil or butter, and salt and pepper to taste.  As for the seltzer, I hope no recipe is required….”

Ariel honored Ilana by making roasted Brussels Sprouts, which were delicious and provided some much-needed relief from all the dairy.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

1) Preheat over for 400F
2) Prep brussel spouts: wash, remove any yellowed outer leaves, trim the edge
3) Mix brussel sprouts with oliver oil, kosher salt, black pepper, garlic (optional), & lemon juice (optional) — I didn’t really measure anything, just put in some of each, enough to coat and season.
4) Spread on baking sheet and roast in the oven for ~40 minutes, until browned. Mix around on the baking sheet mid-roasting to promote even browning.

Like them or not, they grow cooler than pretty much any other vegetable.

Cody made hash brown casserole and proclaimed it “the most unhealthy thing on the table,” because dessert hadn’t yet been served.

Hash Brown Casserole

30oz shredded hashbrowns
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese
10-12oz sour cream
8oz (melted) butter
Spice to your preference (salt & pepper, bbq, etc)
Bread crumbs of your choice
1can cream of celery soup

After patting dry the hashbrowns, mix everything (but bread crumbs!) together in a large bowl. You’ll need to be liberal with whatever spice you use, if you want it noticed.  Pour/distribute into a baking dish, then top with bread crumbs. Cook at 350 for 50-70m. Plan to work out a little extra the following few days.

Jo made tofu stir-fry with peanut sauce and described the stir-fry as “just a vehicle for the sauce.”

Peanut Sauce

2 tablespoons of peanut butter (can be crunchy or regular, works either way.  Works also with low-fat, if you’re into that sort of thing)
~2 teaspoons of soy sauce
Squeeze a small honey “bear” for ~3 seconds
5 shakes of garlic powder
Mix in a bowl.  Add hot water until you like the consistency of the sauce (no more than a couple of tablespoons)
Please note: these are approximations, basically I just start with two tablespoons of peanut butter and add the other ingredients til the sauce tastes/looks good.  Also, I can’t take credit for this recipe, my friend Uri taught it to me–also with no exact measurements.

Naomi, at my request, made BBQ tofu.

Shoshanah made fake meatballs which, if I remember correctly, were some combination of ground pecans, breadcrumbs, eggs, and spices in a sweet and sour sauce.

Jewish food paranoia: persistent, pervasive, and delicious.

Soapboxing/Grandstanding Interlude

We needed a bit of a break to let people digest, so I took the opportunity to reflect on the year, thank everyone for participating so grandiosely, encourage more Shabbat meal hosting, invite people to sign up to blog for a week in the coming year, announce my new gig as an advice columnist for the Jewish Exponent, and stand in awe of my amazing friends who are willing to go along with all my crazy schemes!  (At the time, that might have come out as “willing to put up with all my crap…”)

Dessert Course

Jonathan’s Chocolate Pie with a side of whipped cream took over the distinction of unhealthiest thing on the table.

Mattea made pear cranberry gingersnap crumble that all got gobbled down.

Pear, Cranberry and Gingersnap Crumble (Recipe from where it was adapted from Sweet Melissa Patisserie)

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons packed dark or light brown sugar
1 cup gingersnap crumbs (about 16 storebought cookies)
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon table salt
Pinch of white pepper, especially if your gingersnaps aren’t particularly snappish
1/2 cup (4 ounces or 1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

2 pounds (about 4 to 5) large ripe pears, peeled, halved, cored and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Combine the flour, white sugar, brown sugar, gingersnap crumbs, ginger, white pepper, and salt. Mix in the melted butter until large crumbs form.

In a 1 1/2 to 2 quart baking dish, stir the pears, cranberries, lemon juice, lemon zest and vanilla. Whisk the sugar and cornstarch together in a small bowl, then combine it with the fruit mixture in the pan.

Crumble the topping mixture over the fruit. Place the crumble on a foil-lined baking sheet (especially if using a 1 1/2 quart baking dish–I didn’t have any issues in a 2 quart dish though) and bake it for 45 minutes, or until the crumble is a shade darker and the fruit is bubbling. Serve immediately (or bring to a Shabbat dinner and share with 20 of your closest friends).

My peppermint meringues, so lovingly made to the appropriate crispiness on Thursday night, took the distinction of stickiest thing on the table.

So.  My longest post yet, with the most pictures, the most recipes, and the most people included.  And this is just Friday night.  It was a serious blogstravaganza.  Part 2 coming soon.


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