At The Last Minute…..

….I pulled together a pretty quick and easy Halloween dinner.  (it’s become something of a tradition around here.  Click here to see past meals.)

This year I browsed the internet and found some pretty easy ideas from a number of places.  Without further ado, here we go!

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Halloween Pumpkins

Ingredients:

Sweet potatoes, butter, salt

Directions:

Wash your sweet potatoes.  Prick them all over with a fork and place them in a baking dish.  Bake in the oven at 400 degrees until a fork inserted into them goes through easily (about an hour). Take them out and let them cool.  I sliced mine open lengthwise to help speed that up.  Once they’ve cooled, scoop out the insides and mash in a bowl with some butter and salt.  IMG_7133Using your hands, form small, pumpkin shapes out of the sweet potato.

IMG_7134Add something green (I used broccoli stems) as a stem.  Step back and look how cute…

IMG_7135Jack O Lanterns

Ingredients

White rice, orange or carrot juice, olives or nori, salt, cheddar cheese

Directions:

Combine the rice (I used abrorio because it was the only white rice I had.  Apparently we’ve become a quinoa and brown rice family) with the correct amount of liquid in a pan or rice cooker.  I used one cup of rice and two cups of liquid.  Some of the liquid should be the carrot juice (I used carrot orange because I couldn’t bear to spend $7 on a gallon of carrot juice when I knew we wouldn’t use it and the small bottles were a carrot orange mix.  I think all carrot would be brighter.)– if you don’t mind the taste of carrots, go for all carrot juice for the liquid.  Cook the rice and then set it aside to cool.

IMG_7124I mixed in about a half a cup of shredded cheddar cheese with mine, along with some salt  While it’s cooling, cut face shapes out of your olives or your nori.

IMG_7128With damp hands, form pumpkin balls out of the rice.  Then place your face shapes on top. Add a green something for a stem– again, I used broccoli stems.

IMG_7132Creepy Forrest

Ingredients

Broccoli

Directions

Wash your broccoli and slice into tree sizes.

IMG_7125Cook any way you like (I generally steam or boil) until crisp tender– that is, still bright green and crispy.  I stood mine up in some of the extra rice and convinced the kids that they were giants eating tiny trees.  Hey, whatever works, right?

IMG_7136Mummy Dogs

Ingredients:

crescent roll dough or puff pastry

hot dogs

mustard

Directions

Roll out your dough so that it is thin (not so thin that you see through it but somewhere between a 1/4 and 1/8 inch).

IMG_7120Slice it into ribbons.

IMG_7121Prick your hot dog a few times.  Wrap the dough ribbons around the hot dog, making sure to connect them to each other at the ends.  Set aside one square or roll.

IMG_7122Repeat until all hot dogs are covered, placing them on a baking sheet once wrapped.

IMG_7123Use the leftover pieces that you set aside to make the hat/head bandages.

IMG_7126Bake according to dough package directions (mine was 350 degrees, about 8-10 minutes).  Let them cool and then add eyes using a dab of mustard.  I used a toothpick to place my eyes.

IMG_7138Happy Halloween!!!

 

Mea Culpa

Like clockwork, each year, ten days after the celebration of the Jewish new year, comes the day of atonement, Yom Kippur.  From sundown the night before the sundown the night of, we fast, think about and atone for those we’ve wronged and forgive those who have wronged us.

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In a conversation about this with a friend who was raised Jewish but has recently converted to Islam, we debated the merits of this system.  Every religion has a way of making up for sins- Catholics use weekly confession, for example- and in every religion you can embody the idea or you can just give it lip service.  It’s very easy to be a jerk all year (all week) and then say you’re sorry one day a year (once a week) and then go back to being a jerk again.  Or you can take the idea to heart, really examine how you’ve been living and try to make positive changes.

I use the day as a time to reflect on the last year:  what was I proud of in my behaviors and responses?  What was I not as proud of?  What did I want to pretend I didn’t do?  If something stands out as particularly egregious, I’ll apologize to the person I’ve harmed.  I’ve spent a lot of time studying the ideas of guilt vs. shame and the role of forgiveness of yourself and others and I think that Yom Kippur can serve as a time to really examine and differentiate between those.

Of course, for the last several years I’ve been pregnant or breastfeeding so I have been excused from fasting.  I still thought and was careful but I ate.

It is traditional to have a somewhat sparse but filling, non-celebratory dinner both before and after the holiday.  The break fast meal is generally dairy.  This year we’re planning to break our fast with a meal at a new dumpling house ( I am so. excited.  See this post for why) which, while not the same place as referenced in that post, may be able to rival it.

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For the night before, I went simple.  I made Mushroom Popover Pie which I found on a recipe card send to me by Jewish Women International, a great organization to which I donate every year.

photo 2I served it with a homemade challah.  It is Shabbat, after all.  It’s not pretty but it is yummy.  And not decadent at all, which is somehow fitting.  It’s a recipe by Mollie Katzen and can be found here.

photo 4So, on this Yom Kippur Eve, I wish you time to reflect upon your year.  I wish you the ability to see the positive and the negative and to have the strength to change what you dislike.  I wish you an easy but significant fast and I wish you peace.

Finally, as someone I know and admire in the blog world says, I wish you enough.

5774

L’shanah tovah!  Happy new year!  Once again, Rosh HaShanah is upon us.  This year it came so very early.  So early, in fact, that it is still 80 degrees and no one feels like eating fall food.

photo 1

Family photo for the new year.

Which is handy since this year, for the first time in at least ten years (probably more), I did not host a gathering for the holiday.  I started adjuncting (is that a word) at a new college yesterday and was not able to either cancel my class (first one of the semester) or manage to cook for all.  I had thought maybe a brunch today but most of those who would attend were working (naturally).

So it was just a small family dinner this time.  I made a roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, sautéed greens (leeks, kale and spinach with garlic), cole slaw (I had some cabbage to use up) and cauliflower. Not really holiday food.  But the desserts…. those involved the apple and honey that the holiday requires.

My HipstaPrint 995575301_15I made individual upside-down honey apple cakes and a honey walnut apple crisp.  Neither were particularly fancy or pretty but both were pretty delicious and homey feeling.

I used Mark Bittman’s recipe from his How to Cook Everything book– but I have the app on my iphone– it was free or very, very discounted at one point- and it was ok.  Kind of bland so if I were to do it again, I’d probably up the apples and maybe incorporate them into the batter as well.  The apple crisp was a total improvisation.

Either way, I wish you all a new year filled with joy, laughter, happiness and love and free from pain, sorrow and hardship.  Happy 5774!

Mini Honey Apple Upside Down Cake (Mark Bittman)

Ingredients

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1/2 cup brown sugar

2-3 apples, peeled, cored and chopped

1 cup buttermilk

2 eggs

1/2 cup white sugar

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

a few tablespoons of honey

Directions

Preheat your oven to 350 F.  Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter and use it to liberally grease the muffin tins- along the sides as well as the bottom.  You may not use all the butter but there should be a good amount in the tin when you’re done.  Sprinkle the brown sugar in the bottom of each muffin slot.

Peel, core and chop your apples.

My HipstaPrint 995575301_14MIx them with the honey so that they are coated.  Sprinkle these into the muffin slots on top of the brown sugar.  Set this aside.

My HipstaPrint 995575301_13In a medium bowl, mix the salt, sugar, flour and baking soda.  Technically, Mark suggests to mix the wet ingredients in a separate bowl and to add them gradually to the dry ingredients.  I did not do this.  Instead, I dump the wet, unmixed, into the bowl and then mixed it all that way.  Either way you choose, add the buttermilk, eggs, and the rest of the butter (melted) to the dry ingredients and beat until combined.

My HipstaPrint 995575301_11Pour the batter into each muffin tin, ensuring that all the apples are covered.  Bake for 15-25 minutes or until the tops are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

My HipstaPrint 995575301_6Let them cool in the pan for 5 minutes.  Run a knife or soft spatula around the sides of each muffin to loosen them.  Then, place something large, like a sheet pan over them.

My HipstaPrint 995575301_4Flip this over.

My HipstaPrint 995575301_3Each little cake should release.  If it doesn’t, sort of wiggle and shake the pan and if that still doesn’t work, use the soft spatula to scrape out the rest and sort of put it back together with your fingers.

My HipstaPrint 995575301_1Let them cool a bit before you eat them as the sugar/butter/apple combo is the temperature, roughly, of molten lava.

I had lots of apples leftover and so made a sort of shallow dish apple crisp.

Improvised Apple Crisp

Ingredients

1-2 peeled, chopped apples

few tablespoons of honey

dash or two of cinnamon

1/2-1 cup toasted walnuts

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup sugar (white)

1 stick of butter, cool, sliced into cubes

Directions

Toss your apples with the honey and cinnamon.  Add the walnuts and place into a shallow-ish baking dish.  I used a pie plate.  (Full disclosure- I forgot I had walnuts and added them in on top of the apples but under the topping.  If I did it again, I’d mix it in with the apples so this is a case of do as I say, not as I did!)

My HipstaPrint 995575301_10

In a small bowl, mix the flour and sugar. You can add some cinnamon here, if you like.  Cube your butter.

My HipstaPrint 995575301_9

With clean hands or a pastry cutter, add the butter.  Mush it around until it’s sort of sandy and pebbly feeling.

My HipstaPrint 995575301_8

Spread/sprinkle the topping over the walnut-apple mixture.

My HipstaPrint 995575301_7Bake at 425 for 10-20 minutes or until the top starts to brown.  Turn the oven down to 350 and bake until the apples are tender.

My HipstaPrint 995575301

Kiss Me, I’m (1/4) Irish!

Living in Boston means that St Patrick’s Day is a true holiday. There’s the parade in Southie, the green beer everywhere and the long standing tradition of corned beef and cabbage. I’ve heard, though I am not sure it is true, that there are more celebrating the day here than in Ireland itself.

In my younger, before children days, I’d go my favorite Irish bar, conveniently located a block from where I lived at the time. The Hippo and I spent many an afternoon there, talking with Mike, the older Irish bartender, who would tell us we were too pretty to put up with crappy guys or that we were too cute to stay single for long. St. Patrick’s day there was like any other day but more crowded and more green.

Now that I have two kids, three jobs, two pets and assorted other responsibilities, my bar days are pretty much over.  I am ok with this, as I never really took to green beer anyway.  I’ll be spending the day of the parade at the ballet (talk about a 180!).  Tonight, however, I celebrated through food, making corned beef and my own version of colcannon.  I share it with you in case you, too, have moved past your green beer days.

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Corned Beef and Colcannon, 1/4 Irish style

Corned Beef

1 first cut brisket (I use the Wellshire Farms one) with the seasoning packet

Enough water to cover

1/2 cup brown (or dijon but brown is better) mustard

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup water

Directions:

Throw the corned beef along with the seasoning into a slow cooker. Cover with hot water so that the meat is submerged by about an inch.  Cook on high for 8 hours.  Take it out and put it on a sheet or broiler pan.  Let it start to cool a bit and heat your oven to 350.  In a small saucepan, combine the mustard, water and sugar.  Cook over medium high heat for about five minutes, so that it starts to reduce a bit.

photo 2Brush some over the top of your meat and put the meat in the oven.  Cook for about half an hour, basting every five to ten minutes.  Take the meat out and let it rest for about five to ten minutes before slicing.

Colcannon (sort of)

Ingredients

4 potatoes, peeled and sliced into even pieces

1 stick of butter (yes, I said a stick)

2-3 tablespoons sour cream or plain greek yogurt

1/2 onion, chopped

3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped

several handfuls of fresh spinach, washed and dried

Directions

Place potatoes into a saucepan and cover with water.  Add a generous amount of salt.  Boil over high heat until potatoes are soft.  Drain and add the potatoes back to the pot.  Mash them.

In a skillet over medium heat, melt the butter.  Add the onions and garlic and cook until soft, taking care not to let the garlic burn.  Add the spinach and mix until it wilts.  Dump the whole thing in with the potatoes and mix well with a large spoon.  You may need to add a bit of milk or more butter or sour cream/greek yogurt to get the texture you like.

photo 1We also made brownies, at the toddler’s request.  photo 3They were great- fudgy and sweet and just the right amount of crunch on the top. We used this recipe.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  Don’t forget to wear green and be safe!!

 

Chag Semach!

Chag Semach!  It’s Purim or what I think of as the Jewish Halloween.  When my husband asked me what the story was, I will confess that I had to go look it up.  I could only remember a few key words… Queen Esther, Hayman, gallows, the annihilation of the Jews (again) and a three pointed hat.  Click here   for a better explanation.

The upshot of it is that we spent Saturday making Hamantaschen, the traditional Purim cookie.  I used the recipe posted on one of my favorite Jewish websites, Kveller.com.  No photos as I made it but I did get one of the finished product.  We made strawberry, apricot and (untraditional) chocolate.  I wanted to make the poppy (mohn) filling but it was too complicated.  Maybe next year.

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Not Your Bubbe’s Latkes

It’s still Chanukah so I wanted to give you one more holiday recipe to try before the holiday that celebrates all that is oil is over.  (For an interesting take on what Chanukah truly means, read this NYT article, written by a high school friend).  The basic potato latke can be found here.  I thought I’d try to jazz it up with a sweet potato version.  I was in a hurry so some of the measurements are a bit sketchy but if you’ve made the white potato version, you have an idea of the texture you need.

Sweet Potato Latkes

Ingredients

1 large or 2 small sweet potatoes

3-4 eggs

1/2 cup- 3/4 cup flour

1-2 teaspoons baking powder

salt, pepper and cinnamon to taste

oil for frying

Directions:

Peel your sweet potato.  I had an abnormally large one which also looks kind of…phallic.

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Grate your sweet potato.  I use the cuisenart but you could do it by hand.  Be careful of your fingers.

photo 2

In a bowl, mix the potato with the eggs, spices, flour and baking powder.  You want to make sure the potato is coated well and that the mixture is spoonable into a pan.  It won’t be a batter like for true pancakes but it will still work, trust me.  photo 3Heat some oil- a tablespoon or so- in a frying pan over medium high heat.  Not so high that the oil will burn but hot enough so that the oil is sort of shimmering and the batter will sizzle when added.  Add about a tablespoonful of batter and flatten it with the back of the spoon.  Cook until browned and then carefully flip.

photo 4

Cook until browned and eat immediately.

photo 5

So, these were delicious.  I didn’t add onion, which is used in traditional latkes, because I wanted the sweet potato to be the star.  I experimented with the flour throughout and realized that I prefer mine with less flour- it makes them more crispy and potato-y.  Regardless they were great- I didn’t even need sour cream or applesauce, though both would have been good.  Bonus?  Sweet potatoes are better for you than white- more fiber, antioxidents, folate (for those of you trying to conceive or currently gestating) and a lower glycemic index.  Plus, as stated above, just damn delicious.

As we head into this crazy holiday season, I wish you and your family love, joy, laughter and stomachs full to the brim with delicious, comforting, satisfying food.

 

Happy Halloween 2012

Around here we’re recovering from Hurricane Sandy.  We were lucky- we didn’t lose power, no trees came down and our basement is only mildly damp.  Others weren’t so lucky- I have friends both near and far without power and with no hope of it returning for some time to come.  Wherever you are, I hope that you are safe, dry and ready to celebrate Halloween.

For some scary food ideas, try these posts from my Halloweens past:

Halloween: Eyeball Cupcakes, Ghastly Ghosts (potatoes), Green Gruel with Eyeballs, Mummified Meatloaf

Scary Dinner: Carrot Fingers, Frankenpeppers, Tarantula Cookies

Halloweeeen: Ghastly Ghosts (cookies)

Scary Dinner 2:  Blood Soup with Eyeballs, Pumpkin Grilled Cheese, Spiderweb Eggs, Worms In Dirt

Halloween Snacks:  Vampire Apples, Cheezy Monsters, Owl Cupcakes

 

Halloween Snacks

If you’ve been reading along here or if you’ve browsed the recipe index (which is totally due for updating….one of these days), you’ll know that I love the food part of Halloween.  For the last few years I’ve tried to make a “scary” dinner each Halloween.  You can see what I’ve made before by clicking here, here, here, and here (included there are ghastly ghosts, mummy meatloaf and eyeball cupcakes, among other things).  This year, because I suddenly have both less time in the kitchen and a somewhat picky eater around, I went for less of a dinner theme and more of a snack kind of thing.

The recipes I used can be found via Dinner: A Love Story blog (my new favorite) and Hungry Happenings.  You’ll also note that this is the most processed I get in my cooking.  While most of the time I bake from scratch, this year I opted for both cake mix and pre-made frosting.  Hey, it’s a once-a-year kind of thing.

Vampire Apples

Ingredients

apple, peanut butter (optional), slivered almonds

Directions:

Slice your apple into lip shaped wedges.  I used an apple corer/slicer and then cut those wedges in half.

Spread a little bit of peanut butter across the bottom apple (or you could use cream cheese or nothing, up to you- I was hoping to get a little bit of protein into the toddler).

Shove a few silvered almonds into the other half of the apple, to look like teeth.

Put this half on top of the peanut butter half.  Repeat.

Cheezy Monsters

Ingredients

8 oz cream cheese

8 oz shredded cheese (I used a taco cheese mix)

1/2 cup bacon bits

more shredded cheddar cheese

a few slices of white cheese

food markers or black olives

Thin pretzel sticks

Directions

Mix together the cream cheese, shredded taco cheese and bacon bits.  I used the food processor because I’m lazy like that.

Make sure it’s all combined well.

Let it sit while you prepare the rest.  Slice eyeball shapes from your white cheese.  You could use a fondant cutter but I used a corer of some kind- not sure if it was meant for apples or strawberries or what- it was Grandma’s- but it worked perfectly for this.  I then colored in the eyeball with a food marker.  You could also use thin slices of olives, I think.

I see you….

Break the pretzel sticks into halves or thirds.

Pour your shredded cheese onto a plate.  Using your hands, scoop out small amounts of the cream cheese mixture and roll into balls.  Drop them into the shredded cheese and press gently so the cheese will stick.

Place on a platter. Dab a little bit of the cream cheese mixture from the bowl onto the tip of the pretzel stick.  This will be the glue for the eyes.

Place an eyeball on the stick – gently!

Stick this into the cheese ball.  Repeat as many times as you like- some of mine had one eye, some had two and one had three.

I struggled with the mouths.  In the end, I tried an almond sliver, colored with a food marker, a pretzel stick, a piece of green olive and cheese colored with a marker.  The original post used black olive slices.

I think they’re pretty cute, if I do say so myself.  And rather tasty, if you like cheese.  Which I do.

Owl Cupcakes

Ingredients

Cupcakes (any flavor.  I used boxed chocolate)

Chocolate frosting (a buttercream type, if you’re making from scratch)

Oreos (or other chocolate sandwich cookie)

M & M’s – orange and brown (eyes and beak)

Directions

Make your cupcakes.

Make sure that someone is around to help you lick the bowl.

Once they’ve baked and cooled, frost them.

Separate your cookies so that you have two with white filling for each cupcake.

Place two cookies on each cupcake to be the eyes.  This would have worked better if I had made the tops of my cupcakes flatter but I didn’t have the time to be nit-picky.

Add one orange M & M between the cookies for a beak.

Dab a tiny bit of frosting on the back of two brown M & M’s – put it right over that “m”.  Place them on top of the white part on each cookie, for eyeballs.

Try not to die because they’re really, really cute.

5773

L’shana tova!  It is once again Rosh Hashannah, the Jewish New Year.  We celebrated on Sunday night with our usual Big Dinner.  I tend to make the same foods each year- mashed potatoes, brisket, roasted chicken, steamed green beans and squash soup.  This year I also made honey-ginger glazed carrots, spinach with pine nuts and raisins and noodle kugel. More on the kugel later.

We had many of our regulars and a few new faces. Some came from the next town over, one came from across the ocean. One person announced a pregnancy (not me, thank goodness!  I’m all set for now!), another reflected on family bonds.  One of my dear friends from high school arrived with a notebook full of memories that made us laugh and miss another friend who is no longer with us.  Overall, it was a wonderful night, full of laughter, wine, love and yummy food.

I spent all day cooking.  Plus juggling the two kids. It was not the easiest meal I’ve made.  Usually my husband helps a bit but he was otherwise occupied this year.  I have some pride that I got it all done!  I even remembered to provide after naptime snacks.

I can’t believe it, but I did remember to take some photos.

Carrots, peeled and waiting for slicing.

Potatoes.  They look so healthy.  Just wait until I boil them and then add gobs of butter and cream.  The result?  Delicious and decidedly not healthy.  At least for the body.  I’ve been told that my mashed potatoes heal the heart and soul.

Chocolate, at the ready for….

…these strawberries, washed and waiting.  When they meet?  Heaven.

The main course wasn’t pretty but, oh, it was tasty.  Every year I buy a bigger and bigger brisket and every year, I am left with nothing but the sauce.

Not pretty at all. But so, so yummy.

Ok, so the kugel recipe.  Kugel is a traditional Jewish dish.  It’s a kind of noodle pudding.  Sometimes it’s sweet, sometimes savory.  If you use dairy in it, it’s often served to break the fast on Yom Kippur.  The thing about kugel is that is it deceptively heavy.  As you eat it, you think, “hmm, ok, this seems to be noodles and some cheese or some sort of creamy something.  It’s ok, kind of yummy.  No biggie.”  However, it sits in your stomach and later you are left with a fullness that can only come from kugel.

After my grandmother died we sat shiva for quite some time.  People brought us food, as is the tradition.  Someone brought kugel and one of my cousins liked this particular type.  She ate some.  Over the course of the day, she had a few more servings.  That night, as we were getting ready for bed, she was overcome with the heaviness.  The kugel had sort of expanded in her stomach, taking up more room than it should.  All she could do was sit in one spot and sort of grunt/moan, “kuuuuuuuuuuu-guuuuuuuuullllllllllll” over and over until it had digested a bit and she could go to bed.  This has become a family joke.  Try it- saying “kuuuuuuuuuuuuuu-guuuuuuuuuullllllllllll” in a sort of low, moaning way- it really does embody that over-full feeling.

So I had to make kugel, of course.  I morphed a few recipes to make mine this year.  I went with sweet rather than savory.  The Rosh Hashanah meal is associated with honey and other sweets, eaten in order to ensure a sweet year to come.  I give you my sweet kugel.  Eat it sparingly, lest you have the kugel moans later.

Kuuuuuuuuuuuu-guuuuuuulllllll

Ingedients

1 package of egg noodles

1 cup of dark brown sugar, with 1/4 cup set aside

1-1/2 sticks of butter, melted

3/4 cup pecans, chopped

4 eggs

1 cup sour cream

1 cup cottage cheese (this is not the place for low fat)

1- 2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla

pinch or two of salt

Directions

Boil water and cook your noodles.  The package suggests 8-9 minutes.  You’ll want them to be on the less done side- al-dente.  They’ll cook in the oven with the custard so they’ll get a bit of liquid there.

While the noodles are cooking, melt the butter.  Pour about 1/3 of it into a baking dish.  I used a 9×12 dish.  Spread it around the bottom and sides.  Sprinkle 3/4 cup of the brown sugar on the bottom, covering evenly.

Press the pecans on top of the sugar, again, covering evenly.  I may toast the pecans before I do this step the next time I make this, just for some added crunch.

Drain your noodles (did you forget about them?) and then mix them with the rest of the melted butter.  I do this in the cooking pot since it’s big enough to hold everything.

Drained and waiting for butter bath.

In a medium bowl mix the eggs, sour cream, cottage cheese, cinnamon and vanilla. If you like that sort of thing, a bit of lemon or orange zest might be nice here.

Mmmmmm. Dairy.

Mix the diary into the noodles and make sure it’s all incorporated.

At this point, if you can stand it, you should taste (for those of you with an aversion to raw eggs, don’t taste this.) and adjust the seasoning.  Mine needed a little bit more salt.  It also needed a little bit more sweet so I added that last 1/4 cup of brown sugar.  Once it’s all mixed, spread it into the pan, on top of the butter/sugar/nut mixture.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for about an hour and fifteen minutes. You want it to be crispy on the edges but not overdone- if it gets too dry, it’s really gross.

Let this cool for about fifteen minutes before you cut into it.  The sugar/butter/nut mixture will sort of harden and become sticky.  If you know that everyone is going to eat it at once, you can flip it over onto a platter and have a very pretty dish.  Otherwise, cut into squares and serve from the pan.

It was such a wonderful night.  All the kids were really well-behaved and had a great time playing together.  They didn’t want it to end- neither did I.

I went to bed feeling full of hope for the new year.  I wish you all a wonderful year to come, filled with sweetness and… as a loyal reader is fond of saying…enough.  Peace.

Leftovers, Passover Style (or, how to build a recipe)

One of the things I most admire about professional chefs is their ability to know what flavors will work well together.  Like on Chopped, for example.  A recent episode featured ground lamb, Stilton cheese, eggplant and birch syrup.  Now, if you gave me those, I’d have an idea that lamb and eggplant might go together since they’re both featured in middle eastern cuisine.  And I know that Stilton is like blue cheese so it’s stinky and powerful.  But birch syrup?  No idea about that one. Put them all together in one cohesive plate?  No way!

But if you’re a professional and/or experienced chef, then you know that the sweetness of the birch syrup (which is apparently like maple but “with more pine and wintergreen notes”, according to Aaron Sanchez) will pair nicely with the savory cheese.  You would also know that ground lamb will make a good meatball, particularly if you cook it in something like red wine in order to keep it moist.  You’d know that eggplant needs to be seasoned just so and that to put it all together you definitely need a starch.

I can not claim to be a professional chef but over the years, I have been able to learn what goes together well, partly from eating at restaurants, partly from reading cookbooks and watching cooking shows and partly from experimenting.  I have a sense of how to build a sauce, how to add flavor, how to fix mistakes (too much salt?  add a potato to absorb it) and how to re-purpose leftovers.  Cooked chicken goes well into soup, casseroles, tossed with pasta or with salad.  Lemon, garlic and rosemary are good flavors for chicken.  Apple cider and apple cider vinegar go well with pork.  Bacon makes everything better.

As a result, when I needed to use up leftovers from the big Passover meal, I was able to combine them in a way that made sense, was delicious and was pretty healthy, as well.  I’ll try to talk you through my thought process so you can see how I, a home cook, made it happen.

I had lots of peppers left over since I had intended to make a salad but didn’t.  (Hippo, I am so sorry but this post will have peppers as a main ingredient (and some zucchini as well) and I know how you feel about those.  You could always use cabbage leaves or Portobellos or another vessel.)

I also had leftover roasted balsamic veggies, cooked chicken and matzo. When I lived in Israel, we’d often make stuffed peppers with rice and vegetables.  I’ve also made and have eaten stuffed cabbage as well so I knew that I could chop the chicken and veggies and use those as part of the stuffing.  Crumbled matzo could be substituted for the starch element (usually rice).  I would just need some sort of binder like cheese or egg, to help hold the mixture together.  I peeked into the fridge and, lo and behold, I had some leftover ricotta that needed to be used. I also found some parmesan cheese that could be melted on top.

Thus, a dish was born.

I give you stuffed peppers, passover style.

Stuffed Peppers

Bell peppers (one or two for each person, depends on how hungry you are)

Some sort of protein, cooked: chicken, pork, beef

Some sort of vegetable mixture: mine was a mix of roasted onions, summer squash, tomatoes, garlic and zucchini.

Some sort of starch: rice or couscous would be good; for passover I used matzo

Some sort of binder: creamy cheese like ricotta or an egg or two

Salt, Pepper, other spices to taste, maybe a little cheese for the top

Directions:

Wash your peppers and cut off the tops.  Scrape out the seeds and ribs.

I sliced just a little bit off the bottom so that they’d stand up but you must be careful not to slice so much that you make a hole- your filling will leak out if you do.

Place them into a steamer basket and steam them over boiling water for a few minutes, just until they start to soften a little.  Mine took maybe 5-8 minutes.  They’ll be going into the oven later so don’t worry about actually cooking them.

Meanwhile, chop your vegetables and your protein into small (minced even!) pieces.

Veggies roasted but not yet chopped

In a bowl, mix the veggies, protein and starch (in this case, chopped chicken, crumbled matzo and chopped roasted veggies).

Add your binder- eggs and/or cheese- and mix well. I used ricotta and an egg.

Season with salt and pepper and whatever else you like (go italian with oregano and basil or try something more middle eastern like cumin and turmeric).  Place your peppers in a baking pan and set your oven to 375.

Stuff each pepper with the mixture, topping with cheese if you so desire (I almost always desire cheese).

Bake at 375 until heated through and the cheese on top is melted and lovely.  About 15 minutes for me.