Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Merry, Merry Christmas...and last minute gift ideas

I will be taking a break over the holidays.  The Friday Night Dinner Project and other posting will resume in the new year.

If you are looking for any budget, beautiful, DIY last minute gift ideas I highly recommend Brandy's list over at The Prudent Homemaker.
Note:  The free music is only available to download in the US.  I tried many ways to get around it, but in the end I am trying to get a good friend in the US to download it for me and then send me the files.

Thank you for visiting my little blog over the past few months.  I look forward to sharing with you in 2015.

To all my Jewish readers, chag sameach.

Merry Christmas to all, may you be blessed enough to share some special moments with your family this holiday season.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Friday Night Dinner Project: Dinner with Chuck

For this week's Friday Night Dinner Project I chose the "Dinner with Chuck."  Who is Chuck?  Chuck is Bonnie Stern's nephew, Corporal Chuck Krangle of the Canadian Armed Forces.  The menu is one she prepared for him when he returned to Canada from Afghanistan.  People who know me know that I am a huge supporter of our military, so the theme behind this menu right up my alley.

Don't forget to buy Friday Night Dinners and cook along with me!

Roasted Cauliflower with Tahini
Well, when I went to use my cauliflower it was not looking particularly fresh.  I ended up not roasting any cauliflower, but I did make the tahini sauce which I used on the roasted brussel sprouts (more on that below).

Oh falafel.  It's so good.  This recipe is simple and quick to make (if you don't count the overnight chickpea soak).  The one thing it made me realize is how much I want a really good food processor.  At the moment I just have a little mini one.  But alas, space, money, etc.
Anyway, my favourite way to eat falafel is stuffed in a pita with red and green peppers and either tzatziki or hummus.  Today I just served it as a snack, with red peppers and hummus.  You can make your own hummus, however on this plate is Sabra hummus (my favourite store bought hummus).  Sidebar: Costco Canada is now carrying garlic flavoured Sabra hummus.  You can get two massive tubs for $8.00.

Roast Chicken on a Rack
I had to deviate a bit from the menu here.  A few weeks ago our roast pan died and it has not been replaced (hopefully it will be for a Christmas present, but if not I will be ordering one up).  As a result, there was no roast chicken on a rack.  Instead I roasted some chicken breasts in a casserole dish (not the same, but still good).

Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Having never cooked Brussels Sprouts before (because I don't like them!), this recipe was a pleasant surprise.  I guess anything can taste good with a little roasting, olive oil, salt, and spices.  These were actually not too bad, and this is coming from someone who cannot stand Brussels Sprouts.  We sprinkled them with the tahini sauce.  It was a nice touch.

Creamy Mashed Potatoes
Seriously, it's mashed potatoes.  It would be pretty sad if you messed these up.

Chocolatiest Chocolate Chip Cookies
Attention, attention!  This week's menu is all.  about.  the desserts.
These cookies are amazing.  Amazing.  You know when you are throwing in a cup of butter and 375g of assorted chocolate that they are going to be good.  I used President's Choice Chocolate Chunks for this.  Good choice.  I also deviated a bit and substituted some plain chocolate for Reese's Peanut Butter Chips.  Because my husband loves them.  These cookies are simply delicious.  Be very careful not to overcook them - they might not look done after the recommended cook time, but they are.  Trust me.

Chuck's Chocolate Brownies
When I read the ingredients for this recipe, my eyes started to bulge and I feared for my waistline.  10 oz of chocolate, plus 2 cups of chopped chocolate, plus 1 cup of butter, plus 2 cups of sugar..........yikes!  Then I realized this recipe makes a 9x13 pan of brownies.  Somehow this made me feel like I had just cut the calories in half.  Ha!  Well these have just come out of the oven and are still cooling so I can't comment on their taste quite yet.  I can however comment on the batter (like any good cook I saved some of the batter for myself) and it was delicious.  Rich and delicious.  You will definitely want to make these.  And the cookies.  Hello chocolate.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Holiday Fun: The Ugly Sweater Cake

First off, I do not do cake decorating.  I am horrible at it and I do not have the time or patience for it.  I actually think it is an art, and in this particular area of art I have zero talent.  However, the mother of one of my friends is incredibly talented when it comes to the fine art of cake decorating.
Butterface Cakes is run by the mother of my dear friend Jayna (hence the nametag on the cake below).  I have tasted her delicious cakes, cupcakes, and cookies on many special occasions.  They are always beautiful and delicious.
 This Ugly Sweater Cake is a wonderful holiday project for anyone who likes to decorate cakes.  You can visit her blog by clicking here for a complete tutorial on this cake.

Source: Butterface Cakes

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Friday Night Dinner Project: Standing-Up Dinner

This week's menu is slightly delayed because....chaos!  But here it is:  Standing-Up Dinner

Caramelized Onion Mini Quiches
Very good.  It turns out that making your own mini tart pastry from scratch is super easy!  It did not take nearly as much time as I thought it would.  I did not have the supplies to do the recommended blind bake, so instead I just baked them empty.  They rose slightly, but I used my handy Pampered Chef Mini Tart Shaper to push them back down and fill them after the pre-bake.
As for the filling, I found the recipe made more than I needed, but maybe you won't have this happen.  I wasn't sure about the Cambozola cheese, since it is a blue veined cheese and I hate blue cheese.  However, it turned out to be just fine because the blue vein in it is very mild.  I'm sure you could use brie instead if you are truly terrified of the blue vein.
These would be amazing to make ahead and freeze for a party.  I have been eating them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.....they are rich and delicious.  (Here is the recipe for Caramelized Onions, but not the mini quiches)

Standing-up Fish Stew
Ever since giving birth to my son I've had a serious aversion to fish and seafood.  I made this stew, which is full of salmon and white fish (I used tilapia) and was hesitant to eat it.  Once I paired it with the homemade Roasted Garlic Aïoli and croutons I found it quite delicious.  I also tried serving it over rice which was also good.  The recipe says it makes 8-10 servings but I would put it closer to 12-14 unless you eat large servings.  This recipe goes a long way - which is good because it contains about $45.00 worth of fish.

Salad Skewers
I had this as just plain old salad because I did not have any skewers on hand.  Because of this, I bought the pearl sized bocconcini cheese.  I just like the way they look.  You can't go wrong with this salad and you cannot possibly mess it up.

Sesame Bread Biscuits
Unfortunately I have no picture or link for these.  I did not actually make them this weekend, but I have made this recipe many times before.  It is so quick and easy to make - a wonderful quick bread recipe.  I have sprinkled these biscuits with sesame seeds, za'atar and brushed them with olive oil.  They are great with toppings or plain served with jam for breakfast.  They are best served straight out of the oven.

Sticky Toffee Cake with Butterscotch Sauce
When my husband saw me boiling the dates for this recipe on the stovetop he said, "that looks disgusting."  He was right.  Now I totally appreciate Bonnie's comment that "some restaurants make the mistake of sticky date cake" and people refuse to try it.  My husband tried it and loved it.  It's a wonderful recipe.  I also sent some to my mother-in-law (not by mail) and she loved them just plain without any of the sauce.  There are delicious and very sweet when served with the sauce.  I highly recommend serving them with French Vanilla ice cream.

And that's a wrap for this week.  Buy the book (Friday Night Dinners) and follow along!!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Be Generous

Please take some time this week to be generous, whether in spirit or with goods, or both.  There are many people hurting this holiday season.  Even the smallest gesture can make the world of difference to someone in need.  You may regret missed opportunities, but you will not regret helping someone.  You do not need to look for someone in need.  We do not always know by appearances who is in need.  Be generous with a friend, a colleague, a neighbour, a client.  When you are generous with others, it warms your soul.

Friday Night Dinner Project: Israeli Dinner

This week's menu for the Friday Night Dinner Project is the Israeli Dinner.  This was my first week back to fulltime work (complete and utter chaos), so I was not sure if I would be able to get a menu done, but I did.  I find I am making big batches of dishes so that I can have meals for us at least until Wednesday from these menus.  Also, I am really in love with the Egg and Smoked Trout Salad with Capers from last week's menu.  I actually picked up more smoked trout yesterday so that I can make it again this weekend.  I have been taking it to work with crackers for breakfast.  I digress....

First up on this week's menu is Pomtinis.  I made the non alcoholic version, which is essentially pomegranate juice mixed with ginger ale.  These drinks always seem festive to me, so I am still putting them in the Christmas glasses.  They would be oh so refreshing in the summer in a nice pitcher full of ice, sliced oranges, and pomegranate seeds.

Kebabs on Cinnamon Sticks
These are meant as a lovely appetizer, but I actually wanted to use them as meatballs so I made them without the cinnamon sticks (although making them this way would be wonderful for a party!).  I was delighted to read that I could put them directly into the oven and bake them without browning them first (skipping this step just means they do not have a nice glaze to them).  I made them using all beef, but they would be amazing with lamb or the beef/lamb combo that is recommended.  These meatballs were so fast to make and taste wonderful.  They are excellent for a party appetizer or for a quick dinner.

I served the Kebabs (or meatballs as I made them) on top of Couscous with Preserved Lemon, Dates and Almonds.  This is another dish that was so quick and easy to make.  You could easily make the meatballs and couscous along with salad in 30 minutes.  The dates add great flavour and moisture to the couscous.

Grilled Eggplant with Tahina and Tomato Lime Salds
Well I have to be honest and say this dish was not my favourite.  Likely because it features eggplant front and centre, and I do not like eggplant.  Although in other dishes from the book (like the vegetarian lasagna and the roasted ratatouille) eggplant also makes an appearance, and I like them, I just couldn't embrace this one.  I did make it so I could try it but......this girl just does not love eggplant.  It looked very pretty though, and I'm sure eggplant lovers would thoroughly enjoy it.

Chicken Tagine with Honeyed Tomatoes and Chickpeas
This is a lovely chicken recipe, full of flavour.  It pairs well with the couscous and a salad (sorry I forgot to take pictures of the Salad with Pomegranate dressing).  The really nice thing about this recipe is that it makes lots of meat, and it is very tender.  If you are cooking it for a small family it could last for several meals.
Spice Mix

This is what it looked like coming out of the oven

Individual Halvah Soufflés
If you are looking for a "wow" dessert that is quick and easy to make, this might be it.  These look very beautiful and have a lovely flavour.  They are surprisingly rich.  I tried them both with a chocolate sauce and sprinkled with icing sugar.  I loved it with chocolate sauce.  My husband preferred it with just icing sugar.  A very nice way to finish the meal.

That's it for now.  Happy cooking!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Friday Night Dinner Project: Rosh Hashanah (New Year's Eve)

If you are looking for a menu to serve at a fabulous New Year's Eve dinner party, look no further.  This is it.  For this week's installment we cooked the Rosh Hashanah menu.  The Jewish New Year has already passed, but if you are celebrating the Christian calendar New Year I highly recommend this selection.  This dinner is truly special.

This menu is also special because for the first time (literally) in the almost eight years we have been married I had to send my husband out to do the grocery shopping.  He described himself as "a lost boy" trying to find things like smoked trout, fresh tarragon, and pomegranate molasses in the store.  He survived and came back with an interesting assortment of items.  

Let's dive in....

First up is a beverage, Sparkling Pomegranate Sangria.  Soooo good.  This is a very refreshing drink.  I would love to serve this at a holiday party, I even brought out my Christmas glasses to drink it in.  We made the non alcoholic version, using orange juice concentrate instead of orange liqueur and soda water instead of sparkling wine.  The other adjustment was that instead of pomegranate juice, I used blueberry pomegranate juice.  This was not on purpose - my beloved grabbed the wrong kind on his adventures in Longo's.  It was still very good.

Next up:
Egg and Smoke Trout Salad with Capers
I wasn't sure how I would feel about this, if it would be too fishy....it's not.  It's very nice.  Bonnie recommends serving this on challah, or gourmet breads.  I decided to put on crackers, garnished with fresh chives, to make a bite sized appetizer.  I liked it.  I am actually packing some for my lunch tomorrow.  Oh, and I do think it would be excellent on challah as well.
Yemenite Chicken Soup
I am going to have to update this post later.  I have made the soup (pictures below), but I haven't actually tasted it yet because I am letting it sit overnight so I can scrape the fat off tomorrow.  Here are the pictures, I can't comment on the taste quite yet.

The Entrée:
Rib Roast with Garlic Mustard Rub
Excellent.  Just excellent.  We made it using a sirloin roast and the flavours the Garlic Mustard Rub infuse through the meat are just wonderful.  I cooked it until well done instead of medium rare, simply because I knew we would have leftovers and I like well-done meat for leftovers.  You can find the recipe here.

Country Mash
This.  Is.  Amazing.  It is so simple, essentially a mashed potato mix with white potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, and carrots.  It tastes absolutely wonderful.  I could eat a lot of this.  If your kids do not like eating their vegetables, this is what you should be making!!!

Rib Roast with Garlic Mustard Rub, Country Mash, a small piece of Ratatouille Tart, and Spinach Salad
Roasted Ratatouille
This is a beautiful, colourful dish.  The eggplants, zucchini, peppers, and cherry tomatoes really create a lovely pop of colour.  What really makes this recipe, for me, is the roasted garlic.  I have to be honest and say that neither of us are huge fans of these vegetables, so I knew that serving it on its own as a vegetable side probably wouldn't work in our house.  Instead, I served it first on top of pasta and sprinkled with mozzarella.  It was good.  Then I used the leftovers to make the Ratatouille Tart that Bonnie includes in the sidebar of her book.  Essentially, it is the Roasted Ratatouille in a pie shell, topped with Swiss cheese and an egg and milk custard.  This was very good and I really enjoyed it.

A slice of Ratatouille Tart with Spinach and Orange Salad with Honey Orange Dressing

Spinach and Orange Salad with Honey Orange Dressing
Never would I have though to pair oranges with avocado as Bonnie does in this salad, but it is a great combination.  I am not a fan of citrus-y salads, so I did not think I would like this but I was wrong.  It was quite good and the citrus flavour is mild.  The dressing calls for pomegranate molasses but I did not have any on hand so I used some maple syrup instead.  The dressing is quite light and refreshing.  Again, Bonnie Stern offers up a delicious homemade dressing recipe that could easily be used to make many different salads.

Ruthie's Apple Cake
Ruthie's Apple Cake is without a doubt the best apple cake I've ever tasted.  Hands down.  I would eat this cake over apple pie any day.  Any day!!  It reminds me of a pie (it is a layer of batter, topped with loads of fresh apples, then topped off with a thin layer of batter), but it is so much better.  Truly divine.  This recipe will definitely become a staple in our house!!  I served it with French Vanilla ice cream, but if you are wanting to keep things kosher, Bonnie recommends a caramel sauce.  I will be trying that next time.

Chocolate Bark with Almonds, Ginger and Orange Peel
A simple, delicious, easy to make chocolate bark recipe.  This would be lovely to send home with guests (as Bonnie suggests in her book), or to give as gifts over the holidays.  The thing that I love about it is that you can add your own twist by using different nuts or dried fruits.  I will definitely be making this again - my grandfather absolutely loves chocolate bark so I think he might be getting a tin of this in his stocking!

Ginger Crackle Cookies
Make these cookies.  You will not regret it.  The recipe is here.
I made them extra big, because they are extra good.

Cookies, begging to be eaten!

And that is it.  I cannot say enough good things about this week's menu.  I post links to Bonnie's recipes when I can find them in places where they have been reprinted with permission.  If you are enjoying these posts, I highly recommend purchasing your own copy of Friday Night Dinners and cooking along with me.  As you can see in the pictures above, even my one year old enjoys reading Bonnie's book and adding his own notes to the recipes.  

Thank you all for reading!  See you next week...

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Back To Work

Posting has been light this week because it is my final week of maternity leave.  I have been working a bit (in preparation for my return), but on Monday I go back to full time work.  I will miss my little guy so much, but I am so thankful that I have a great job to go back to.  I am even more thankful for the wonderful daycare I found for my son - his caregiver there is a wonderful lady and I feel at peace leaving him there in the morning.  Earlier this week I was feeling kind of sorry for myself (which I think is actually sinful) because so many of my friends are stay at home moms and I have to go back to work.  I definitely needed to snap back to reality which is that my husband and I both have great jobs and we are so very, very lucky.  Please let me share a few things that made me realize how wrong and foolish I was to be throwing a little pity party for me:

Both my husband and my father were in unrelated car accidents this week.  Neither of them were seriously injured.  Yes, there is significant damage to both of their cars but in the big picture does that really matter?  No.

When I went to my office to meet with the girl covering my mat leave, I found out that she is also a young mother (of a 2 year old) who has desperately been looking for full time work for 2 years.  Covering my job for a few months was the first steady job she was able to secure.  My job is such a blessing.

I was driving home from a meeting when I heard an announcement on the radio for a fundraiser and swab drive.  It was being run by Canadian Blood Services for a young father of four who is in desperate need of bone marrow.

I got home and opened up the newspaper to read an article about a young mom, also a mother of four, who went to pick up her son - felt a shooting pain in her head and then went to the doctor to discover she had an incredibly rare form of brain cancer.  Thankfully, she is in remission.

All of this to say that I was a complete boob for letting these "poor me" thoughts creep into my brain.  Sinful.  Anyway, I think my confession time is over.

My posting schedule will likely change over the next couple of weeks, but the Friday Night Dinner Project continues (I have some of it in the oven right now!).  I also have a number of posts on remodeling and thrifting for décor in the works.

I do like to keep posting on some current events, particularly those relating to Israel, however time often limits my ability to do this.  If you are interested in this type of news I urge you to follow me on Twitter (link in right sidebar) which I can update more frequently.  Alternatively, Laura Rosen Cohen runs a wonderful blog over at www.endofyourarm.com

Thank you so much to all of you from across the globe (in particular Germany, Canada, and the United States) for following me on this crazy journey in life.

Free Stuff! (Optimum Rewards Day)

Today was a bonus day for Shopper's Optimum cardholders.  I redeemed 95,000 points to get $210.00 worth of FREE stuff!  The great thing is that Shopper's Drug Mart also had lots of great sales on.  The end result was that I had three (yes, three) carts full of stuff that I only paid taxes for.  

You can see my haul here.  Just to recap: that is $210.00 of FREE groceries, toiletries, and a few small Christmas gifts.

If you live in Canada - get an Optimum card.  Read my Optimum maximizing tips at this link.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Friday Night...Birthday!

There will not be a Friday Night Dinner Project post this week, due to my son's birthday party which took place over our weekend.  The Friday Night Dinner Project will be back in full force next weekend.

In the interim, a few notes about the birthday party...

I started trying to plan a big Truck and Tractor themed extravaganza.  At some point I realized I did not have the energy, more specifically the time, to do present Modern Motherhood Perfection at the party, so I toned the plans way down.  We invited family and a few friends over for an open house style party.

The party started with some appetizers that are featured in the current issue of Ricardo magazine.

Goat Cheese and Beet Crackers - this is a super simple but super delicious appetizer.  I made it using pickled beets from my garden that I canned this past summer, Carr's crackers, goat's cheese, and honey.  They were quick and easy.  One note: keep a close eye on these while they are under the broiler - it does not take long before the crackers start to burn.

The substance of the meal involved a frozen turkey, which I am a huge fan of as previously noted.

The day before the party, I roasted a turkey.  The day of the party we sliced it for sandwiches and we had a make your own panini buffet (even though we actually just had buns from Costco and no paninis).  If you are looking to save money, it's actually cheaper to do the roast turkey dinner but given lack of space and the number of people we were having I wanted something that would be easy for people to carry and eat.

And there you have it.  Buns from Costco (which I presliced before putting them in the basket), mayonnaise, dijon mustard, some vegetables, lettuce and tomatoes, red onion, turkey, Swiss cheese and Havarti cheese, all lined up in a row before the Cuisinart griddler with panini press.  I had lots of refills for each station waiting in the wings (it was a 16lb turkey!).

Finally, there was the dessert buffet.

From right to left:  In the 125ml Bernardin jars with green lids was Lemon Tiramisu.  This was featured a few weeks ago in my Friday Night Dinners Project - the Vegetarian Dinner.  I put the leftovers in these individual serving sized jars and froze them for the party.  I took them out the day before the party and put them in the fridge.  When I was still in theme mode I was going to label them as "John Deerimisu" which I thought was pretty genius.  It is!  But then I didn't label them so instead they just looked pretty with their green lids.

To the left of the Lemon Tiramisu are cupcakes.  Rainbow Bit.  From a mix.  Because you can't have a kids birthday party without rainbow chip mini cupcakes smothered in vanilla icing and sprinkles.

Beside these, in the yellow Le Creuset ramekins is "Really Easy Chocolate Cupcakes" from Bonnie Stern's Friday Night Dinners.  I have not yet featured the menu this recipe is included in (you can find it here), but I make it often- I use plain yogurt instead of buttermilk.  I made it as a 9x13 cake and froze it.  Before the party I thawed the cake and broke it into pieces which I used to fill the ramekins.  I like to top the cake with French Vanilla ice cream and a Strawberry Maple sauce.

Finally, at the end of the buffet on the cake plate are more cupcakes.

And that was our party menu, not including drinks.  I am pretty sure nobody left hungry.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Modern Motherhood Perfection

I read this article earlier in the week, a few things stuck out:

No longer are kiddie parties an event of pizza and sheet cake. The trend is for moms to themselves bake and decorate an elaborate cake in cohesion with the party’s theme. Yes, kiddie birthday parties now have themes.
It’s all so twee and cute. The best part is that it all seems almost, possibly, within reach.
Thanks to social media and sharing, not only will the perfect homemaker show you her photos of little Penelope’s perfect “Frozen” birthday party, but also where to buy the milk in glass bottles with colored paper straws, where to get the printables for seating cards and how to painstakingly construct that life-sized Queen Elsa cake.

My son's birthday party is this weekend.  I started out with a big theme and all kinds of theme related ideas, because I am an A type personality who loves this kind of stuff.  I was going crazy coming up with all kinds of theme stuff.  Then I realized that I do not have time to do all this stuff.  I am in my last few days before going back to full time work, and am trying to finish up all those projects that I thought I would have so much time for while on mat leave.  I am still breastfeeding, which means I am pumping when my son is at daycare.  I am trying to keep everything in our house afloat.  So, you will all understand when I do a little write up about my son's birthday party why I decided to forget about the printout labels I planned for all the food, the frosted personalized jars I was going to make for each attendee, and the elaborate truck and tractor shaped food.  All these things are fun and totally fine to do, but if they have become the expectation for birthday parties there is a serious problem.  Why are we doing this to ourselves?  (Unless we want to...)
On the birthday party note - another thing that has come to my attention recently is that kids will not eat junk food.  My sister-in-law told me she had a birthday party for her son and a number of the boys there were refusing cake and ice cream because they were health conscious.  This blew her mind.  Seriously, I love that parents encourage their kids to eat healthy snacks but since when do five year old boys refuse one piece of cake with a small scoop of ice cream at a birthday party?  This is a control issue that can easily snowball into an eating disorder, it's no wonder that doctors have recently identified a new, unhealthy trend - orthorexia.  
Anyway, getting back to motherhood perfection for a minute.  There are so many blogs on the internet featuring pictures of perfectly manicured nails, blending a perfectly healthful drink, in a perfectly immaculate house it is no wonder that moms are feeling the pressure.  Somehow this seems attainable.  Especially when so many of these bloggers are moms.  I do not think there is anything wrong with these blogs, I love reading them myself.  The problem is that sometimes we become disconnected from reality.  I started this blog to share my experiences of being a working mom who holds strong family values, in the hope that some people might relate to what I write, and that maybe somewhere along the way someone might learn something useful that can help them.  If you are looking for a blog of motherhood perfection you are on the wrong site.  My house never looks perfect.  I am in the middle of about 7 different projects.  My son's birthday party tomorrow and I am wondering how I am going to find the time to finish icing the cupcakes, pickup the final groceries, and clean the house before company arrives.   But I love it, and I love my life.  It's an organized mess.
On that note, I have to go put a turkey in the oven before I run to work, before I pick up my son from daycare.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

"I don't think I've seen you here before..."

Heartbreaking and beautiful:

The middle child, he said, also wanted to donate to her brother, but was not a match. So instead, she made an IV bag full of decorations and stars and hearts, and they "dripped" it down to her brother, so that all her love would drip down to him. And he hugged her as he told me this part. For her part, she seemed puzzled at the attention, but I was mesmerized by the entire tale as I think only a fellow parent could be. 

Never take your health, or the health of your loved ones for granted.  It can be taken in an instant.  Cherish every single moment.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Friday Night Dinner Project: Nostalgia Dinner

For this week’s Friday Night Dinner Project, we made the Nostalgia Dinner.  This week, at least for me, it was all about the challah.  More on that later.  This is a wonderful dinner, featuring both Sephardic and Ashkenazi dishes.  It is the perfect meal for the cold, snowy day we are having here in Ontario. 
Before I dive in – if you do not have a copy of Friday Night Dinners you can purchase one here.

Whiskey Sours
The first thing on this menu is a drink, which I actually did not make.  I do not drink whiskey, and I cannot imagine how to make a non-whiskey Whiskey Sour….so I cannot comment on this recipe.

Lentil Soup with Caramelized Onions

This soup is quick andeasy to make.  It is flavourful (thanks to the onion, garlic, and cumin) but not hot which is just how I like it.  The soup pairs wonderfully with the challah.

Friday Night Brisket
This recipe reminded me of one of the truly special things about this book – Bonnie Stern’s thoughtful commentary which is woven into each recipe.  She provides excellent tips to help the reader as he or she works through the recipes, she offers great suggestions for using leftovers or substitutions.  However, the thing I like the most is reading her memories of family dinners with everyone from friends, to children, to parents and grandparents.  Any regular readers of my site know how important the family meal is to me.

This was my first time cooking a brisket.   I am pretty sure it was also my first time eating one.  I have to confess that my husband actually cooked this recipe (I prepped everything for him but then my little one had to go to bed.  My husband stepped in and finished the recipe, he did a great job.  He’s not a cook – at all – but he followed the instructions as written and it turned out wonderfully.)

With regards to the brisket – whenever I need a special piece of meat and I am downtown Toronto, I go to Carnicero’s in the St. Lawrence Market.  Unfortunately I was not able to get there this week, so I purchased our brisket at Costco.

Our dutch oven was not big enough to hold the brisket (now I know what I need for Christmas!) so we cooked the stovetop portion in a large skillet, and then transferred everything to a 9x13 stone dish for the oven portion.  Bonnie Stern suggests cooking this a day or two ahead, so my husband cooked this the night before we ate it. We reheated it (as instructed in the book) the next day and served it with salad and mashed potatoes (the potatoes were the only dish not actually in this menu, but I just love them).  We also made the roasted broccoli to have with leftovers. 

The brisket was delicious.  The meat was so tender and the sauce poured over it as well as the potatoes made it the perfect meal for a winter day.

Pierogi with Potatoes and Caramelized Onions
Well, this is my first Friday Night Dinner Fail.  It was not the fault of the recipe though.  It was the cook.  I had the pierogis all prepared, lined up beautifully on my parchment lined baking sheet, about to go in the pot when….CRASH!!!  Someone (not naming names) knocked it off the counter and they went all over the floor.  I tried to piece them back together, but I did not have enough time to do it properly, so many of them leaked in the pot.  I still ate them (not wasting food!) and even took a picture of them with the salad, but they were definitely not as they should be.  I am hoping to make them again sometime soon as I still have leftover wonton wrappers and the filling was very easy to whip up.

At least they look good in the picture!

Roasted Broccoli
So simple.  So good.  Not much to say about this recipe - straightforward and good.  Somehow salt makes everything (including broccoli) taste better.

Anna’s House Salad
One of the most pleasant surprises of my project so far is all these great homemade salad dressing recipes.  There are so many salads in this book that I had not made before, and every time I am really impressed with the dressings.  I have made my own dressing before, but the variety of different dressings in this book is great.  I am never going to buy pre-made salad dressing again – except for Ranch because I love it. 
The sweet Asian style dressing (recipe here, scroll down) that tops this salad is great.  I served it plain on green leaf lettuce, but it would be wonderful on a salad topped with cashews, chicken and peppers or snap peas.  

Jenny Soltz’s Challah
This recipe begins with a beautiful introduction Bonnie (can I just call her Bonnie? I don’t actually know her…) wrote about her grandmother who raised eleven children and “kept her family in bread all winter by winning first place in the county fair with her amazing challahs” (Stern 94).  Bonnie says she likes to think this was her grandmother’s own recipe. 

This challah is amazing.  It is hands down the best challah recipe I have tried.  I have made this challah, many, many times and it is always loved by anyone who tries it.  (Note: There is also a sidebar here which includes a recipe for French Toast Casserole, made using the challah, which I have made numerous times topped with a raspberry sauce.  It is divine and always gets rave reviews.  It is wonderful for a brunch.  I digress…)

If you are not a bread baker do not feel intimidated, the instructions are very clear and easy to follow.  You need time to allow the dough to rise (twice) but it is not a complicated recipe.  The other thing I love about this recipe is that it uses all purpose flour – no special bread flour kneaded.  Ha!  Get it, kneaded instead of needed.  Sorry, I know I am the only one laughing.  Anyway, this is a beautiful bread.  I usually add about 5 ½ cups of the recommended flour in the bowl, then take it out and start kneading, adding flour as necessary.  Oh it is so, so good.  Do not take my word for it – make it for yourself.

First rise

The three sticks, as I call them

The braid

Brushed with egg


Patti’s Apple Cobbler
This apple cobbler is sort of a cross between apple cobbler and apple crisp.  At least that is what it reminded me of, the topping has sort of a crispy cake like texture.  If ever there was a dessert for Nostalgia menu this is it.  You can drizzle the top with oil (to keep your menu Kosher) or butter.   I used butter and I served Patti’s Apple Cobbler with Breyer’s Creamery Style Maple Walnut Ice Cream.  It was excellent and a wonderful comfort food dessert.

And that’s a wrap.  Until next week.  

You can view previous menus here: