Pass – (is) -Over

Another Seder has come and gone.  As you know, if you read here, Passover is one of my favorite meals to make and one of my favorite holidays to host.  In years past this has been due to the traditions I’ve been able to pass on and the people who’d been around our table.  This year, it was no less true.  We had a smaller number this year and while those who are usually in attendance were missed, it was also nice to be a bit more intimate- I can’t remember the last time we all fit in the dining room.  We also had more children this year which made my heart full in a way it hasn’t been before.

That's Miss M down at the end and Miss C over on the left. They were two of five children in attendance.

Not to turn this into a mushy sermon on how having children has changed my life (it has) but it made a difference to look around the table and see the next generation seated there.  My cousin, my best friend from elementary school and my best friends from high school were all there with their children.  I still think it’s surreal that we all have kids because it seems like just a few hours ago we were late for Latin class.  This year we even had the next generation in pets, brought by none other than Lady Gouda’s sister, who is a dear friend of ours.

Not only did she bring a cute dog, she also brought an adorable and perfect gift for my little sous chef:

But, the food.  Let me tell you about the food.

I tend to serve big dinners family style.  Composed plates are all well and good in restaurants but when you’re at home and serving a large group of people, make them work for it.  Pass those platters, pass those plates, make people get up and move around.  Keeps things exciting and, frankly, much easier for the cook.

Big platter of balsamic roasted veggies. Yum.

So, our menu was hard boiled eggs, matzo ball soup, charoset, mashed potatoes, roasted chicken, brisket, roasted balsamic vegetables, apple matzo kugel, roasted asparagus, chocolate caramel matzo and fudgy passover brownies.  Also some ice cream.  Whew.  Oh, and wine.  Lots of wine.  In the words of Lady Gouda’s Sister, “I didn’t know you got drunk at passover.”  (For those of you not in the know, you are supposed to drink at least four cups of wine during the pre-dinner service.)

Prepping took two days.  I actually cooked the brisket for a day and a half.  It was good.  So good.  So good that I’m angry I didn’t buy a bigger brisket as it was all gone in about five minutes.  No exaggeration.

Brisket top right. It was SO. GOOD.

The new recipes I tried, balsamic roasted veggies and apple-matzo kugel were delicious.  The vegetables were simple but flavorful.  It was a simple recipe- just chop the vegetables, mix up the dressing, combine and roast.  Easy and simple.

The vegetables waiting to be washed and chopped.

The apple mazto kugel was sweet and not dry at all.

Apples, chopped and ready for a mix with brown sugar and OJ.

It was filled with apples, raisins and apricots- which I thought I wouldn’t like as I’m not a huge fan of dried fruit in my food but, somehow it all worked well together.

Kugel on the left. Yum.

Everyone loved the food and there was lots of eating, laughing and general merriment.

A plate full of food (and therefore, love, right?)

So.  Another Seder ended, another spring beginning.  As we say at the end of the seder:  next year in Jerusalem.

Chag Pesach Semach!

 

Not Pass-ive

It’s Passover again!  I was looking back over the blog and was surprised to see that I hadn’t posted much about Passover last year.  I showed you our Passover Plate (here) and how I organized my menu and planning (here).  But I didn’t talk much about the food!  Strange.

Each year at Passover, I think about traditions. (I also think about the playwriting class I took as an undergrad. One of the students wrote a play called, “Passing Over.”  It was a family drama about a son coming home for Passover, bringing his girlfriend.  The mother was the main character and it was about her letting go.  The scenes alternated between present time and the son’s childhood from the mother’s perspective.  I thought it was incredibly well written and I loved the title.  No idea what happened to this student or the play but I think of it every year.  But anyway, traditions.)

Some of the traditions I think about are food-related (shocking), while others are family-related.  Each Passover we make sure to have some non-Jews at the table.  Each Passover I serve hard-boiled eggs after the service, before the soup (My grandmother always did).  Each Passover we make certain to call our family in Israel.  Each Passover we serve Mama’s Sponge Cake (Even though we tend not to eat it).  For me, these large holidays are all about passing on traditions- using the same plates, cooking the same foods, telling the same stories- so that we can pass down a bit of our family through the generations.

It means that I can tell stories about my great-grandmother, even though I don’t remember her.  It means that I make my matzo balls the same way my grandmother did and, by extension, so will my children.  It’s a way of connecting us over time, through generations, across geographical borders.  Which is true of food in general- when I make the tuna salad that my cousin in Israel makes, I’m bringing a bit of her to my table- but becomes more true when it’s a traditional food at a traditional holiday time.

Which is what Passover is all about for me.  Traditions and connections.  When we open the door for Elijah, I know that many families that live on my street, and the next street over and the next town over and the next state over and the next country over (well, you get the idea) are all doing the same thing.  When we giggle and look for the afikoman, I know that other families are doing it at the same time we are.  It’s a connection.

This year we’re celebrating Passover a day late in that we’re having our first seder on the second night.  Some families do a seder on the first and second nights but we’ve always just done the one on the first night.  This year, what with me going back to work this week and with two young kids, I decided to not aim for perfection but instead to relax and have dinner on the second night. It feels just slightly wrong but I’m mostly over that.

I spent some time today cooking and will the majority of the cooking tomorrow.  When I can, I’ll have my daughter help me (she’s a good stir-er for a few minutes at a time) and this year, because it’s on a Saturday, my best friend from elementary school will be joining us and has offered to help cook.  That is the other piece of the holiday for me- the friends.  Standing side by side in the kitchen, chatting and cooking, is something I value.  Some of my best conversations have happened that way.

At any rate, this year we’ll be having chicken and brisket Holiday mashed potatoes, of course, and Chocolate Caramel Matzo.  And no Passover meal is complete without matzo ball soup.  Plus the seder plate. I’m trying a few new dishes as well- balsamic roasted veggies and apple matzo kugel.

Here’s the state of my fridge, the night before:

Hard boiled eggs are cooked and peeled (white bowl on bottom left); brisket is cooked and ready to be put back in the oven to be warmed (middle left).  Veggies are waiting to be prepped (in two bottom drawers), and the chicken is waiting to be roasted (bottom left).

My daughter discovered the seder plate today.  She is a bit obsessed with birthdays now and spent a good twenty minutes stacking, counting and arranging the smaller plates on the bigger one, while saying, “Happy to you….happy to G-“.  I think she thought they were small cakes.

Hopefully I’ll remember photos tomorrow and will be able to post a bit more next week about the new dishes and the tried and true ones.

Chag Pesach Semach (happy passover holiday) and Happy Easter!

April Fool

In honor of April Fool’s Day, I give you this:

Burgers and fries, right?

Nope!  Cupcakes, brownies and sugar cookies.

Food masquerading as other food.  What better way to trick on April 1st?  (For the record, I despise practical jokes.  They’re usually mean and I just can’t get behind mean.)

Easy to do, especially if you use mixes.  Which I did, at least for the cupcakes and the brownies.  And some of the frosting.  (Thanks to Bakerella for the idea)

Basically, bake the brownies and the cupcakes.  Then cut out rounds from the brownies, slightly smaller than the size of the cupcakes.

Get your frosting ready- you’ll need red, yellow and green. You can purchase said colors or make a basic buttercream and color that.  I did both:

Slice your cupcakes in half and place a brownie round on top of the bottom half.  Frost a bit of yellow and red frosting (mustard and ketchup) on the brownie, near the edge.

Then use the green to represent lettuce- sort of on top of the red and yellow and in a wavy kind of pattern.

Top with the upper half of the cupcake, at a bit of an angle so you can see the colors underneath.

You could get really fancy and put sesame seeds on top of the “buns”- brush with a little bit of water and sprinkle the seeds on top.

Make sugar cookies (I like the Hippo’s recipe) and roll the dough out pretty thin.  Slice it into fries- don’t worry too much about them being even as all fries aren’t. Bake and when you take them out of the oven sprinkle them with sugar (to emulate salt).

Assemble and serve- see if you can fool others.

Happy April Fool’s Day!

Lucky Food

Happy New Year’s Day to you!  Did you eat your lucky foods?

I made the hippo’s black-eyed peas and sausage.  For the most part, I followed her recipe but I did make a few adaptations.  It was delicious.  I also tried an…. intriguing dessert.  More on that at the end.

The Hungry Hippo’s Lucky New Year’s Stew

Ingredients:

1/2 onion, diced

2-4 garlic cloves, smashed

1 carrot, peeled and diced

2-4 sausages (I used sweet and hot Italian chicken sausage and used 1.5 of each- saving the other 1/2 of each for a soup later in the week)

1-2 cans black eyed peas, drained and rinsed

1 large can diced tomatoes

Olive oil

Directions:

Pre-heat your oven to 350.  Rinse, peel and chop your veggies.  Heat a heavy, oven proof pot on the stove and add a few tablespoons of olive oil.  I think I threw in a little bit of butter as well.  Do this over medium-high heat and when the oil/butter is hot, add your onion, carrots and garlic. Let them soften but be careful not to let the garlic burn since burned garlic both smells bad and tastes bitter (right K?!).

Meanwhile, in a frying pan on the stove over medium-high heat, brown your sausages.

Sausages never look pretty to me. So phallic.

Once the veggies have softened, add the tomatoes and stir.  Let this stay on the heat while you finish cooking your sausages.

Once your sausages have cooked and cooled a bit, slice them into discs.  It’s ok if they haven’t cooked all the way through since they’re going in the sauce to cook longer anyway.

Add the sausage to the pot with the veggies and put into the oven, covered.  Let it cook for about 15-20 minutes.

Add the drained and rinsed beans.

Put this back in the oven and let it cook for as long as you want- I think mine was in for about 40 minutes.  Check it from time to time to ensure that it’s not burning and that the liquid hasn’t all evaporated.  The sauce will thicken up as the liquid from the veggies evaporates.  I let mine cook with the lid off.

I served mine with mini corn muffins crumbled on top.  It was delicious- and lucky!

So, the intriguing dessert.  I’ve seen these in Whole Foods the last few times I’ve been in there.  I will say that I almost never buy baked goods because that’s something I can easily make at home.  Plus, then I know what’s in them- that whole keeping things shelf-stable makes me nervous.  But I just kept seeing these and wondering.

French Toast Cupcakes (yes, that's bacon on top)

 

So, I had one.

Really, bacon. Real bacon. How is it not rancid or rotten? I have no idea.

 

I have read about the bacon-as-sweet craze and I get it.  I really do- salty and sweet.  How can it be wrong?

The verdict?  It was, um, interesting. The cupcake tasted like french toast, kind of.  It was more of a spice cake with cinnamon.  The frosting was sort of maple-y but not very much so.  The bacon?  Kind of went with it.  It was salty and contrasted nicely with the extreme sweetness of the frosting.  Overall, though, I’m pretty sure I could pass these up if I see them again.  And I have three more left.  First come, first served, people….c’mon by!

 

 

End of the Year

This vacation week has just flown by and I have no idea where the time went. Part of it was sucked into napping with the toddler (both because I am entering my last few weeks of pregnancy and so am exhausted and HUGE, and because the poor babe came down with either pneumonia or bronchitis- they couldn’t tell which- and so has been needing extra mummy snuggles) and part of it was spending time with those I love and rarely see.  It’s been nice but I haven’t done a whole lot of cooking.  I had wanted to blog about the yummy caramel popcorn I hinted at here but when I made it again this morning, I forgot to photograph.  Sorry.  Another time.  I also meant to try this sweet potato spoonbread from Lady Gouda but while I have the sweet potatoes in my fridge, I just haven’t had time.

Instead, I will leave you with a few thoughts on New Year’s Foods, so that you can get ready for the next year.

Jewish Tradition is to eat something sweet at the New Year (Rosh Hashannah).  There’s a lot of honey involved.  Honey Cake is the most common use, along with dipping apples in honey.

Chinese Tradition is to eat foods that have symbolic shape or have names which sound like the words for fortune or luck.  For example, Sticky Rice Cakes have symbolic significance on many levels. Their sweetness symbolizes a rich, sweet life, while the layers symbolize rising abundance for the coming year. Finally, the round shape signifies family reunion.  Noodles represent a long life- they say it’s bad luck to cut them.  I’d say make the Asian Chicken Soup and add some looooong noodles.

Spanish (as in Spain and the former Spanish and Portuguese Colonies such as Venezuela) tradition asks that you consume 12 grapes at midnight, one at each stroke of the clock, each representing the coming months.  The goal is to swallow all the grapes by the last stroke of midnight.  I was only in 5th grade when we spent Christmas and New Year’s in Caracas but I distinctly remember this tradition and how hard it was- I’m pretty sure I didn’t swallow all of them.

Southern U.S. tradition says that you should eat black-eyed peas- dried beans which, when re-hydrated and cooked, swell to resemble coins- for good luck and fortune.  This year I’ll be making the Hippo’s Black Eyed Peas and Sausage.

Round cakes, sometimes with things hidden in them (such as a whole almond) are often used as well to bring good fortune to the new year.  The person who has the thing in their piece of cake is said to be blessed with an upcoming lucky year.  I would favor this chocolate cake from Epicurious.com and maybe add an almond or other large-ish whole nut for the lucky find.

Lots of people go swanky for new year’s eve.  If that’s your fancy, you could try the elegant and easy salad from Lady Gouda, beef wellington, roasted root veggies and an impressive looking but easy to make dessert like this one.  If you’d rather go comfort, you could always try  Chicken Stew With Biscuits,  Italian Wedding Soup, African Chicken Soup or some kind of fish like this one or this one– fish are also considered a lucky food to eat.  For comfort desserts you can’t beat chocolate in any form- cookies, cake, pudding…. maybe just have a chocolate meal?  (And suddenly, an idea for a blog post is born!  Perhaps in the new year, around my grandmother’s birthday as she loved chocolate even more than I do!)

And, according to Epicurious.com:

In addition to the aforementioned lucky foods, there are also a few to avoid. Lobster, for instance, is a bad idea because they move backwards and could therefore lead to setbacks. Chicken is also discouraged because the bird scratches backwards, which could cause regret or dwelling on the past. Another theory warns against eating any winged fowl because good luck could fly away.

This year, like last, I’ll be celebrating the new year with my daughter while my husband works.  This year, unlike last, my husband will be home before midnight so he’ll continue the tradition passed on by his family of having a male be the first person to enter the house for the new year.  He’ll throw on some shoes at midnight, walk out to the sidewalk, look around, and come back into the house.  Exciting, no?
I won’t be making any resolutions this year and my hope for the coming year is to have a healthy, happy baby boy (who, please, oh please, comes on or after his due date so that I can be as ready as possible) and to continue working together with my husband to be the best parents we can, the best partners we can and the best people we can.
I would like to post more in the new year but am not sure how realistic that might be, given the new baby.  We shall see.  I love the comments I get here, both from those I know and those I know through the internet. I always feel lucky when others read here, so thank you!  My goal is to post more Grandma recipes along with stories celebrating her life and our family.
Regardless of what you eat, how you celebrate or what resolutions you make, I wish you all a coming year filled with laughter, love, peace, joy and delicious food.

Christmas Eve 2011

What’s your Christmas Eve tradition?  Until a few years ago, mine was to have dinner with a dear friend and her family.  It started when I was in the 7th grade and continued, almost unbroken, until maybe two or three years ago.  The dinner kept expanding and incorporating new people (girlfriends, boyfriends, adopted siblings, parents) and eventually it was several tables long and, I imagine, quite the event to prepare. It was a true Italian feast- homemade pasta and sauce (tomato and pesto), shrimp and scallops and wonderful desserts. It was a lovely tradition while it lasted and I will always remember it fondly.

Without her house to go to, I was sort of lost on Christmas Eve.  I honestly can’t remember what we’ve done for the last few years.  This year I decided perhaps we needed to start a new tradition- dinner together.  Now, during the workweek, we sometimes have dinner together.  By which I mean, we try, but as my husband went back to school a few years ago his schedule is, um…. different.  On the nights he doesn’t have class or isn’t working, we all sit together for dinner.  There are plenty of nights where this doesn’t happen but we try.

For Christmas Eve, we decided that I’d feed the toddler at her regular time (which is when we usually eat, one step removed from the early bird special time!) and then after she went to bed, he and I would sit down for a somewhat elegant meal without her.  Which may be the first time we’ve done that.  Ever.

What to make?  Mac and Cheese, of course, though not the cr$%^p from the box that he favors.  And not the baked kind, which he does not love.  Instead, I made this Alton Brown version which is quite similar (though far less chemical-tasting) to this from the box.  I also made potatoes with cheese which were supposed to be all fancy-like but ended up flat and frisbee-like.  More on that in a minute.  For the main dish, I made beef wellington which is something we had at our wedding and which, four years later, my husband still talks about while getting all misty-eyed.

Ok, so the potatoes first- get the semi-failure out of the way first, right?  I made mashed potatoes and added a little bit of flour and egg to stiffen them up (I would have used potato starch but I didn’t have any).  I also added a fair amount of cheddar cheese (shredded).  Then I dumped it into a ziplock with the tip cut off and a pastry tip inserted.

Sad, deflated "pastry" bag

I piped it out onto parchment and threw it into the oven.

I'm aware that they look like piles of doo-doo. This was my first clue that something was amiss.

I was going for something like this.  My mistake, I think, was too loose a mixture and not broiling right away- I wasn’t paying attention and put them in on bake, which allowed them to do this.

Now, they were tasty- sort of a crunchy, cheesy crust and a smooth creamy interior.  But they were not pretty.  Oh well.  Experimental cooking at its best, I suppose.

On to the beef wellington.  A word about my version- it’s an amalgamation of a bunch of different recipes.  It never comes out the same way twice.  And I definitely can end up with some soggy bottom dough (which happened this time- it was not my best cooking day).  If you are looking for the perfect beef wellington, I suggest going to cooks illustrated as they have quite an extensive recipe with many steps and directions and I have no doubt that theirs comes out perfectly.  If you want something a bit more user-friendly and you don’t mind slightly soggy bottom dough, go with mine.

Beef Wellington

3 lbs beef tenderloin (full confession, I can almost never find this and tend to just use good steak)

1 package puff pastry, defrosted (I use Dufour brand and it’s great)

8-10 cremini mushrooms, washed, stemmed and quartered (fascinating bit on mushrooms here)

olive oil, butter

salt, pepper

Splash of sherry or marsala wine (optional)

1 egg, splash of water

Directions:

Season your beef with salt and pepper.

No tenderloin this time, I used I think boneless ribeye. Maybe? I can't remember.

Heat a bit of olive oil in a skillet over medium to high heat.  When hot, add the beef and sear it on all sides. You do not want it to cook through.

Set it aside to rest and cool.  CI will have you wrap it in plastic wrap and chill it for four  to twenty four hours (this is after you already let the tenderloin sit over a rack/pan in the fridge for something like 24-48 hours.  Too many steps for me!).  I simply wrapped it in plastic wrap and let it chill it the fridge while I did other stuff- about an hour or so.

Don’t wipe out your pan, just take it off the heat and set  aside while you prep your mushrooms.

Wash and remove the stems.  Cut any large ones into quarters.  Add them to your food processor and process until very fine.

In the skillet that has the oil and leftover beef bits, add about a pat of butter and heat over medium heat.

Once the butter is melted, add the finely chopped mushrooms.

Let them cook over medium heat until all the liquid is released.  They may start to stick to the bottom of the pan and when they do, I add a splash of sherry or marsala wine to help degalze the pan and add some extra flavor.  I add a pinch of salt and pepper as well. Again, cook until all the liquid has evaporated.

Set them aside to cool.  Pull out your puff pastry and lightly flour the surface you’ll use to roll it out.  Place the sheet on the floured area and lightly flour the top.

Roll it out, gently, until it is large enough to cover your meat (heh-heh, that sounded dirty.  Yes, I’m a 12 year old boy.).  Keep moving it around so that it doesn’t stick.  I lift mine and flip it every few rolls.  Since I had two steaks, I cut mine in half and rolled each half to size.  You’ll need to put it in the fridge after rolling to let it firm up again.  I did this by using the packing it came in to help fold it back up without it sticking.

Let it chill for a bit- this is when I made the potatoes and when I took a few photos of the toddler amusing herself with my baking things.

Ok, now that everything has chilled, set up your assembly line.  You’ll need your mushrooms, some egg wash (1 egg lightly whisked with a bit of water), a pastry brush, a sheet pan with parchment on it, your beef and your pastry dough.

part of my assembly line- not shown, the parchment pan

Pre-heat your oven to 450 degrees.  Lay out your dough on the sheet pan.  Spread the mushrooms on one side (I used half for each steak). You may need to use your fingers. Make sure to leave some space around the edges.

Place your steak on top of the mushrooms.

Brush the egg wash around the edges.

Fold the other half of the pastry dough over and seal the edges.  I’m sure you could do this in an extremely pretty way but I didn’t.

Brush with egg wash.

Repeat with the other steak/dough if you have two.  Put them in the fridge for a bit to let the pastry firm up again.

Bake in the oven until the internal temperature of the beef reaches 113-155 for rare (15 minutes), 120 for medium-rare (20 minutes).  Take them out and let them sit for 10 minutes (to allow the juices in the beef to re-distribute) before slicing. 

Slice and serve.  Yum.

Obviously, the thicker cut of meat you use, the higher your wellington will be.  This worked just fine for us but again, the bottom was a bit soggy.  Traditional recipes also use pate and have an accompanying sauce, usually some sort of red wine-based.  Some recipes use pate and mushrooms on all sides.  For us, this was relatively quick, easy and somewhat outside our usual fare.  It may be the start of a Christmas Eve tradition!

How Festive

Well, hello there.  Is it the holidays already?  How on earth did that happen?  I say it each year but this year it feels especially true:  where does the time go?!

Tonight is the first night of Chanukah.  We’ll be celebrating with latkes and applesauce.  We’ll also be having the elegant salad from Lady Gouda.  For an even better applesauce than mine, go to the Hippo’s site and use her Nana’s recipe.  On a non-cooking note, for some great children’s books about Chanukah, go here and read all about them- just in case you need some good bring-to-dinner gifts.

We’ve also managed to put up our tree in honor of my husband’s Christmas holiday.  I have to admit, I find the tree really pretty. Although, it was my husband’s job to decorate it this year so he’s been doing it slowly, over the last week or so and as a result not all the ornaments are up yet.  In fact, he didn’t put up any of the really pretty, personalized ones that we have, instead, he used the cheap, $10 Walgreen’s ones we bought twelve years ago for his first tree.  I suppose there’s some sentimental value in those but…  I like our pretty ones better!  As he points out, I could be helping but, you know, I’m not.

I’ve even managed to finish most of the holiday shopping (each year our list gets smaller but the children start to edge out the adults!).  And, of course, have begun and completed the holiday baking for friends and co-workers (at least round one.  I’ll do another round this weekend to bring with me as we go on all our playdates next week.   We have a LOT of playdates.  I’m excited.).

A bonanza of cookies (chocolate peanut butter and chocolate peppermint).

Peppermint brownies (I confess, I used boxed brownie mix- I love the Ghirardelli Triple Chocolate Brownie– and added peppermint extract- about 2 teaspoons and crushed candy canes into and on top of the batter).

I also made caramel peanut popcorn which is just so. good.  that I promise to share the recipe with you when I have better photos.  (I’ll make more during round two of the holiday baking extravaganza).  Here’s what I did manage to get:

The plain popcorn, the popcorn in the process of becoming enveloped in yummy, decadent caramel and the dregs of the caramel left in the pot.  Yum.

Then there was the packaging.

I do have one more baking project before the end of the week.  At one of my schools we have a weekly morning meeting and since it’s the last one before vacation, I wanted to bring yummy things.  I’ll bring some cookies, of course, but then I was given these by a friend:

They are crying out for some buttermilk biscuits and/or scones.  So I will make those and bring these beautiful jams with me for the meeting (H. & J. if you’re reading this, you’ve ruined the surprise!  But at least you know what to expect).  It will be festive- how can we go wrong with “Holiday Jam”?!

Whatever you do for the holidays, I wish you laughter, love, joy and an enormous amount of delicious food.  Enjoy!

And a P.S. of sorts.  This was our holiday gift to ourselves.  Introducing our Baby Boy, due in about 7 weeks (brought to you by some amazing technology):

Scary Dinner

I love Halloween.  The candy, the costumes, the chance to make your food fun.  This year for dinner we had Eyeball Soup, Pumpkin Grilled Cheese, Worms and Dirt, Spiderweb Eggs and Ghastly Ghosts.  Mmmmmm.  The best part?  After dinner we took the toddler trick or treating- and she actually SAID “trick or treat!”

Scary Dinner 2011

Eyeball Soup

Based on this martha stewart recipe.

Ingredients:

1 onion, chopped

3 tablespoons butter

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 cans crushed tomatoes

1 quart chicken broth

salt, pepper, oregano, basil (to taste)

1-2 cups half and half, milk, or cream

small balls of fresh mozzarella

several olives stuffed with pimento

Directions:

Melt the butter in a soup pot over medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion is soft but not brown.  Don’t let the garlic burn.  Add the tomatoes and then the broth.  Stir and let it warm up.  Add the spices, turn the heat down to a simmer and let it cook for about 45 minutes.  (I did all of this ahead and let it sit in the fridge overnight)

Let it cool a little bit and then run it through the blender in batches until it’s smooth.  Or use a stick blender in the pot (won’t get as smooth but if you’re not Martha Stewart, you might not care).  Return to the heat and slowly whisk in the dairy (milk, cream, whatever). It will lighten it up and you can do this to taste as well.  Let it sit on low heat while you make the eyeballs.

Slice your olives into thirds.  Make sure to keep the pimento intact.

Using a small melon baller- or maybe a tiny spoon?-  scoop out a little bit of the mozzarella ball.

Place the third-ed olive into the dent left in the cheese and you’ll have some eyeballs.

You could even have a whole plate of them, just staring at you.

Float them in the soup after you ladle it into bowls.  Creepy.

We served this with grilled cheese pumpkins- just cut the pumpkin shape out before you grill the bread.

We also had spiderweb eggs, from this Martha Stewart recipe.  It’s a clever idea but since I don’t peel eggs well, I delegated that task to the husband. Who discovered that they don’t peel easily and also look better when you leave on the membrane.  Ick. I couldn’t get a really good photo of these but they were pretty neat.

Finally, we had worms in dirt, again, thanks to Martha Stewart.  It’s basically canned black beans, heated and chopped and then hot dogs boiled and arranged.  Still, sort of fun.  Just make sure you cut your hot dogs thin enough.  Start by cutting them in half.

Then cut them in slices- if you’re really careful, you could probably get about four from each half.  I was not careful and ended up with odd numbers. Mine were also a little thick.

Throw these into a pot of boiling water and when they start to curl, take them out.  Spread your black beans on a plate and then arrange the hot dog worms to look like they’re squirming and moving around all over.

Mmmm.  Dirt.

We ended our dinner with ghastly ghost cookies served in a makeshift chocolate pot de creme– I had to use up the egg yolks left from making the meringues.

And because you can’t have Halloween without a costume, here’s the toddler:

Happy Halloween!

Halloweeeeeeeen…..

Clearly, as it’s Halloween RIGHT NOW, I haven’t yet made my scary dinner.  I did some prep work yesterday but the majority of the food happens tonight.  However, I thought I’d get you in the mood with a dessert recipe, just in case you’re stuck for something tonight.  This one is pretty quick and effective. A few thoughts:

1.  When you’re piping them, don’t use a decorative tip.  Use a smooth one.

2.  Also, make sure your ghosts stand straight up.  Mind tended to lean which, while appropriate for Passover, was less appealing for Halloween.

3.  Mine needed to bake longer than the recommended 75 minutes, more around an hour and thirty or forty minutes.  I’m not sure why.  Perhaps my eggs were really moist.

4.  For the record, I actually hate meringues.  But other people seem to enjoy them.

Ghastly Ghosts (from Food Network)

Ingredients

3 large egg whites

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

3/4 cup white sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup chocolate chips

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In the bowl of an electric mixer with a whip attachment, beat the egg whites, cream of tartar and vanilla until frothy.  Beat in the sugar and increase the speed to high.  Beat until stiff peaks form- it should take six or seven minutes.

Place the mixture into a piping bag with a large, plain tip.  Or use a ziplock bag with the tip cut off.  Either way, roll up your sleeves because this is a messy, sticky project.  Pipe the batter out in swirls that top each other, sort of piling circles on circles.  Sadly, it will look a little bit like white dog poo.  (Not a comparison you want to make with food, but there it is.)   It should make about 8-10.

Bake for an hour to an hour and forty minutes- the cookies will sort of dry out and crack a little bit.  Let them cool completely.

Melt the chocolate chips in a small bowl it  the microwave.  I did it in 30 second intervals and stirred in between.  It took only a  minute.  Pour the chocolate into a small ziplock bag and cut a very tiny hole in the edge.  Pipe on the eyes to make your white mountains/piles of white dog poo into ghastly ghosts.  They’ll actually be kind of cute.

 

Food Fun

At work this week someone asked me, “So what’s your Halloween menu going to be this year?”

I had no response.  The truth is, I had completely missed the fact that it’s October.  I mean, I’d written the date a zillion times but had not connected it to the actual month, if that makes any sense.  I’ve been spending so much time with my head down, barreling through all that needs to be done that I forgot to remember that it’s October.

You see, October is a month filled with significant dates for my family.  It’s the month in which my mother’s friend was born, the month in which one of my cousins was born and the month in which that same cousin’s father passed away.  October is the month in which, four years ago, I got married and the month in which, twelve years ago, my grandmother passed away.  Needless to say, October always comes with mixed emotions for us.

But October is also Halloween, one of my favorite food holidays.  You can see my past Halloween menus here and here.  I love food that looks like something else or food that creates a mood or setting.  So after my co-worker asked me, I started to wonder what I would do this year.  Last year the baby didn’t really appreciate what I was doing.  This year, she still won’t but she’ll be able to help make it (thanks to my in-laws who just purchased me a version of this).

So I sat on the sofa last night and browsed Martha Stewart.  Full disclosure, I dislike Martha because she makes me feel inadequate.  Nonetheless, I found some great recipes to try this year and the husband got in on the act as well.  He was sitting next to me on the sofa and got sucked into the pictures.  This year we’ll be trying Eyeball Soup, Spiderweb Eggs, and worms in dirt.  I’m not sure about dessert yet.  These Zombie Rising Cupcakes look cool but seem to be an awful lot of work.  Maybe we’ll try some eyeball cookies or cupcakes.

At any rate, expect a post sometime after Halloween to discuss how this all went down.  Here’s hoping for spooky, fun and delicious!