Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Kitchen Confessions

Have you ever made something that everyone loved and then they wanted the recipe from you?  Well, that happened to me yesterday.  I had packed a large slice of pumpkin bread in my son's lunch and he ended up sharing it with some friends at lunch time.  One of his friends told her mother about the pumpkin bread and how much she loved it, and could she get the recipe from me.  I immediately received a text from my friend asking for the recipe.  I thought about it for a few seconds and thought it was pretty funny.  I take pride in the fact that I really do love to cook and bake from scratch. I try to reduce the amount of processed food my family eats.  I'd really rather go for fresh ingredients.

But, sometimes, and here is my confession, I go for "the box".  There are times that you just need a quickie, something you can make fast. Sometimes "the box" is really great, and why bother with making sure you have all the ingredients and measuring each one.  Besides, sometimes the prep work for baking could take up to 20 minutes.  What if you don't have 20 minutes? So, I do think there are times that it is OK to reach for the box. But, here is THE question.  Someone asks you, "Did you make this?" Well, of course I made it.  My hands did open the box, I added the eggs and the oil and water.  I mixed it, put it in the pan and turned the oven on.  I made it. But, what people really mean is, did you make this from scratch? And if you didn't, do you reveal your secret? So, when my friend asked me for the recipe for the pumpkin bread I just had to laugh.  I told her my secret, stating that out of the few things that I make from a box it is pumpkin bread and that it is from Trader Joe's. Oh, sure I know how to make pumpkin bread from scratch, but as I said to my friend, "when something is this good from a box, you don't mess around in the kitchen".  I offered to pick up some boxes for her, to which she took me up on my offer and asked for 5 boxes!

When my son came home from school and mentioned that his friend loved the pumpkin bread, I told him how I had already talked (texted) with her mother. When I told him that the bread was a Trader Joe's mix he said, "Really, this isn't homemade? Why did you give away your secret?" I thought, you know, though I love to spend time in the kitchen, sometimes you have got to be realistic, save some time and go for the box.  No one will ever know, unless you tell them.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Cheering for Pomegranates

I am cheering about pomegranates. Beautiful, red, juicy pomegranates.  I love the deep red color and they remind me of fall and the winter holidays.  If you have never had a pomegranate cut one open, and you'll find pockets of tiny little seeds encased in juice. Though eating them is messy, the red juice will stain your fingers, they are so good for you because they contain high amounts of vitamin C and potassium.  They are time consuming to eat as well, if you just suck the juice from the seed and spit them out, kind of like sunflower seeds.  My husband grew up in Texas and ate them all the time. A neighbor who lived down the street had a pomegranate tree in their backyard.  He would go over there and pick the ripe fruit and eat them right there. That would pretty neat to have a pomegranate tree in your backyard.  I would have a bowl full of them all the time. There are many dishes that you can use pomegranates in. This salad, for example, is fantastic and it really reminds me of fall.  Sweet Honeycrisp apples, which are my absolute favorite, along with the vinaigrette, blue cheese, and candied walnuts is a delicious combination. The juicy crunch from little pomegranate seeds is another added sweet pop of flavor. I am considering making this salad as a part of Thanksgiving dinner buffet. Very easy to make, I hope you add this to your weekly dinners during the fall and winter months.

Green Lettuce with Apples, Candied Walnuts and Pomegranate Seeds
(Recipe adapted from The Dandelion, a restaurant in Philadelphia)

For the vinaigrette:
1 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
1 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup very mild olive oil, such as Filippo Berio Extra Light Olive Oil
Kosher Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

For salad:
1 head of green leaf lettuce, or  butter or Boston lettuce, gently torn
1 Honeycrisp apple, cut in half, sliced thinly
1 cup pomegranate seeds (about 1 pomegranate)
1/2 cup crumbles blue cheese

For candied walnuts: (Or use store bought)
1 small package chopped walnuts (about 2 onces)
1/3 cup sugar or light brown sugar

Whisk first four ingredients together in a small bowl.  Gradually pour oil and whisk together to combine.  Use can use a small blender or Cuisinart. Season with salt and pepper to your taste.

For candied walnuts, toast walnuts on a baking sheet for 5 to 7 minutes at 350.  Remove from oven.  Heat sugar in a pan until it begins to melt. I used light brown sugar and it took several minutes before the sugar began to melt.  When it does, add the walnuts and toss to coat with the sugar.  Add a pinch or two of salt.  let cool on baking sheet.

Combine the lettuce, apples, and walnuts.  Toss with dressing, you may not need all of it. Garnish with pomegranate seeds and blue cheese. Serves 4.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Hail to Kale!

Curly Kale
I had never had kale until earlier this year when I had roasted it with some mushrooms. I have to say I really love kale. With all the attention that kale has been getting for its health benefits and discovering that most of my friends have been enjoying the green leafy super food, I've had my radar on kale. Kale has many significant health benefits such as, it can lower cholesterol, it is an antioxidant and it supports eye health  and it is super high in vitamin K, which can reduce the risk of cancer.

If you have never tried kale before it tastes like a cross between cabbage and spinach, in my opinion, but it has also been described as a cross between asparagus and brussel sprouts. Kale is a tough fibrous green, so it is best to eat it either sauteed or roasted, but if you want to use it in a salad you want to break it down so it is not so tough.  You do this by using lemon juice in the dressing and let it marinate to break down the stiffness.  You can also soften the leaves by messaging salt and lemon juice in to the leaves for a minute or two and let it sit for a few minutes. Also, when using kale you want to remove the thick stem that runs through the leaf.  

There are many different types of kale.  The variety that is most commonly found in the grocery store is curly kale,  which works well when sauteing or roasting. Other types of kale include Lacinato kale (aka dinosaur kale), and Tuscan kale (aka black kale). These types are good in salads.  So, since I've been looking out for kale recipes, here are a few salad recipes that are delicious to try. What is so great about kale salads are that they are easy to make and they can sit in your refrigerator with the dressing on, unlike a lettuce salad which will get soggy.

Kale Salad

Marinated Kale Salad with Gouda and Apples (From Southern Living, September 2012)

1 Granny Smith Apple
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoon honey
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 bunch Lacinato kale, stemmed and chopped
1/4 cup shaved aged Gouda cheese

Cut apples in to small chunks. Whisk together lemon juice olive oil, honey, salt and pepper in a large bowl.  Add kale and apples and toss to coat.  Cover and chill for a least 2 hours or over night.  Toss Gouda cheese before serving. Serves 6 to 8.

Marinated Kale and Green Bean Salad
(Bon Appetite, July 2012)

1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 bunch Tuscan kale, center ribs remove, leaves cut in to strips
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound green beans, trimmed
14 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

Combine oil, lemon juice, honey and red pepper in a large bowl.  Add kale.  Toss to coat. Season to your taste with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate kale for 2 hours or overnight.

Cook beans in a large pot of salted boiling water for about 4 minutes.  Drain, and transfer to a bowl of ice water to stop cooking.  Drain and dry beans.  Add to kale, top with grated cheese. Serves 6 to 8. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Latkes, Jello Molds and Eulogies

I attended the funeral service of a friend's mother today.  Her name was Vilma. The rabbi, who had not known her, described her so well from all the heart felt stories and memories that were shared with him.  The word that he chose to describe her best, and the one word that left an impression on my mind today was "balabuste".  A balabuste is a yiddish expression describing a "good homemaker".  Other definitions describe the word as a "perfect housewife" or a "gracious hostess".  After listening to the rabbi describe this woman it woud seem as a very fitting word to use.  She was gracious, a welcoming hostess, very skilled in the kitchen and took care of her family in every way.  She cooked for every holiday, not wanting help, never complaining, and doing it all herself.  She didn't like a mess in the kitchen and she probably cleaned as she cooked, so not to have to do it later.  She was probably very effecient in every area of keeping a house and taking care of her family.

I couldn't help but see some similarities between myself and this woman.  I prefer to do it all myself as well.  I enjoy keeping house and cooking and entertaining.  Characteristics of the role of a woman that may seem very old fashioned today.  This euology of a woman who I didn't know, made me remember how my husbands grandmother used to call me a balabuste and I remember the first time she called me that.  My husband and I were newly married.  I was begining my love of cooking.  While in college I had began to collect recipes and cookbooks, waiting for the day I could really spend time in the kitchen cooking and baking.  My husband's grandparents were going to come over for dinner one Sunday afternoon.  After much contemplation, because my husband's grandfather was a pickey eater, I decided to make something they would be familar with.  Something "old school".  I made homemade cornedbeef and cabbage with garlic butter knots (I was really in to making bread back then).  The table was perfectly set with all the dishes and serving pieces we had received as wedding gifts.  And during dinner Grandma Phyllis had complimented the meal and called me a balabuste.  That moment was such an honor for me, a young Jewish woman at the time.

Vilma's eulogy reminded me that from as far back as I can remember, all I ever really wanted was to be a good wife, to care for my family and to throw fabulous parties.  I would imagine that how I grew up influenced this.  Both of  my grandmothers were balabustes.  My grandma Sarah who cooked tradional Jewish foods and food from her homeland Russia and kept house, and my grandma Rae, who was always a gracious hostess and had hors d'ouerves in the freezer just in case someone dropped by for a visit.  My mother was a balabuste too. My father, a physician, worked all day.  My mother took care of the house and my sister, brothers and I. She cooked every night of the week.  My father would come home, pour himself a glass of Johnny Walker and unwind from the day of screaming kids and inspecting hospitals (he also worked for the Chicago Board of Health).  My mother would have an entire meal waiting from salad to dessert.  She ironed shirts and sheets, collected S&H stamps, and she knew how to throw a party. She was a good wife.

Like Vilma, who ironed her husband's under shirts, I admittedly fold my husband's underwear and I steam his polo shirt collars.  Like Vilma I enjoy cooking and planning a party with all the details. My husband will usually tease me at the end of our parties and say, "what a wonderful party for you" because he knows how much I love to plan them.  From the eulogy I gathered that Vilma was a great cook and I noticed that many people were nodding their heads up and down in agreement when the rabbi mentioned how good her latkes and jello molds were, or how she used to serve fruit, the crispest grapes, when guests would stop by, and always being the gracious hostess.

Eulogies are comforting.  They are supposed to be.  They help us remember a person's life.  It helps us to talk about a loved one and to remember all that made them who they were.  To me, even if you didn't know the person, after listening to a eulogy you wished you had know that person.  Sometimes you can relate a person's life to your own.  Sometimes you learn something that you didn't know, like about an a particular era, or event.  Sometimes you hear about a person's life and you want to aspire to be like that person, even if you didn't know them.  What I took away from today was that in many ways I really got what I had wanted for myself.  I am a good wife and mother. I am known amongst my good friends and family as the "Jewish Martha Stewart", a term that I am honored to be called. And what I learned from Vilma is that I could be better.  I could better focused on some things, whether it be being more involved in my children's schools, or an interest of a friend.  I liked it when the rabbi asked Vilma's family if she had any hobbies and they said no.  Her hobbies were her families interests.  She took time to learn and listen from those around her. Though I don't like a mess in the kitchen either and I want to do it all myself, I need to allow people to help when they offer.  I need to learn to take things a little slower and enjoy things a littler better than I do.  Vilma was a true balabuste, and though it's a little old fashioned today, but then again I am a little old fashioned, I am proud to be a balabuste too.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Comforts of Writing and Food

It feels good to get back to cooking and sharing with you all again.  I can't believe my last post was July 11th!  Between summer activities and having some technical issues with Google Chrome, I really missed writing.  I don't want to disappoint you, I did cook over the summer, but I didn't take the time to document everything. I couldn't find that balance between having everyone home from school, working, and fulfilling my duties around the house, that everyone had gotten used to when I wasn't working.  How can I have it all?  I'm still trying to figure that one out.  Balancing everything and having everyone happy is tough.  Cooking and writing make me happy. So, I still need to incorporate this in to my routine.  Just as certain foods are comforting, this whole process is comforting to me.  Cooking and writing gives me energy.  I love to see all those "likes" to a picture I posted on Facebook, and I love to have questions asked about searching for recipes and cooking techniques. This whole "project" has been a learning experience for me.  I am not a professional writer, or food stylist, or photographer or chef for that matter.  I'm just someone who really enjoys to cook and who wants to share my experience with others. What I hope you find comforting is that my experiences are real.  I actually try the recipe I find to share. The pictures are taken with my iPhone. There is no scaffolding to hold anything up, or paint used to make something appear to be grilled or roasted.  This is authentic. These elements, I hope, make it comforting to you and I truly hope that I inspire your table. The twists and turns, successes and failures and tapping into my memories of cooking and entertaining has been cathartic. This exploration of food is helping me to realize who I am, and it is helping me to emerge out of self doubt and move in to a role of self empowerment and worth.  So, when over the summer my husband asked me, "What are you getting out of this?", that is what I should have said. 

Why do we love "comfort foods"? Comfort food is generally something that is easy to prepare, unsophisticated, and is psychologically comforting.  The food may have a nosalgic or sentimental feel, and is usually high in carbohydrates and rich in calories.  This is why it is so comforting. For this recipe I did manage to reduce the calories by making some changes to the original recipe. The original used whole milk and I omitted the sage, lemon butter that you are supposed to pour on over the top after its cooked. I did add the sage to the sauce mixture and a few leaves on the top as it baked.  If you don't like sage you could substitute thyme. Sage and butternut squash are a classic combination that I really like together, and my kitchen smelled divine while this was baking. Try this recipe over the weekend or when you have some extra time. This dish would make a great meatless option, served with a salad on the side.  You could even serve this as a side dish to chicken or on your Thanksgiving table. This recipe is a pleaser and a keeper! I hope you try it.

Butternut Squash Lasagna - Adapted from Brian Malarkey

1 large butternut squash – Peeled, cored and sliced thin 1/4 inch
10 to 12 pasta sheets – no boiling, oven ready.  I used Trader Joe's brand
1 handful spinach
6 to 8 cloves garlic
1 bunch Italian parsley
1/2 stick of butter
¼ cup flour
3 cups reduced fat milk, not skim
4 cups shredded mozzarella
1 cup Parmesan cheese
6 to 8 sage leaves, plus some for top of lasagna
Salt and pepper and olive oil spray
Pre-heat oven to 375F

Lightly spray a sheet tray with olive oil and place the slices of butternut squash on it, season with salt and pepper, repeat another layer until all the butternut is layered.  Cover with foil and bake for about 10 to 12 minutes until the squash is cooked yet still firm.

While that is cooking start on your roux:  Melt ½ stick of butter in a large pot until almost browned, whisk in the flour and continue to cook for about 30 seconds. Slowly whisk in the milk and bring to a boil. Add garlic and continue to cook at a medium heat until mixture thickens.  This could take 10 min or less. Transfer the mixture to a blender and blend in the spinach and parsley. DO NOT cover top tightly while blending. Season with salt and pepper to your taste.

Begin the layers:  Cream Sauce on the bottom, making sure to coat the bottom well, then pasta, cheeses, and butternut squash. Repeat.  Make sure the top layer has cheese on top.  Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes, remove foil and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes or until the top is crispy golden brown.  Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Butternut Squash, Sage, Garlic, Spinach
Assembly Process
It's done.  So yummy!

Seasonal Foods