Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Latkes - Old & New

In honor of Chanukah, I made latkes last night. Let me start by saying that I love latkes. Simple, savory comfort food. Makes me feel like I am channeling my Jewish ancestors.

The traditional way to make these potato delights is to grate up some peeled potatoes and some onion. Add salt, pepper, flour and egg to bind up the mixture. Then you fry up the mixture like pancakes, preferably in a cast iron skillet. That's it. Easy peasy, as Kara would say.

A few notes on the basic recipe: Many people let their potatoes drain before mixing them up with the rest of the ingredients. I never have the time/patience for this, and I think my latkes are still pretty darn good. Also, many people - like my grandmother - would insist that latkes be made by grating your potatoes, and knuckles, on a box grater. I have done this many times. But I find that you can get an equally authentic product using a food processor with the shredding attachment. 

Because my mom and I have been participating in a fall CSA this year, I have an abundance of butternut squash. And if I am honest, I don't really like butternut squash that much. It's good as soup - for about a day. And I usually roast, puree and freeze up cubes of it to add to the instant mac and cheese my kids love and therefore assuage my guilt about feeding them instant mac and cheese. I was struggling to come up with uses for the all of the squash that are languishing in a box in our garage when I came across this recipe from Cooking Light that I had torn out and shoved in my recipe folder last year. Last night I gave it a try and found it to be excellent. I didn't follow the recipe to the letter, big surprise, but even as a blueprint, it was great. The curry makes these latkes a little spicy and very aromatic. I served them up with the traditional sour cream and added a side of mango chutney. They are hearty, too. I ate them as a main course last night and tonight.

Give latkes, of any variety, a try. They are incredibly flexible. Nearly impossible to screw up. Easily made vegan (no egg, use soy/rice milk instead) or gluten free (no flour, use corn starch or any gf flour). Happy Chanukah!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Peanut Butter Pretzel Bars

Peanut Butter Pretzel Bars.

Make them right now.

Do not pass go.

I found this on Dinner With Julie, a very cool blog with lots of delicious recipes. These bars will make you a the most popular party guest, the MVP of the cookie exchange, the most-loved employee at the office potluck. Amazing.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

BBQ Beef - Holiday Party Perfection

The season of frolicking is upon us. As I have written about before, we really get into the Christmas spirit here. Decorating, eating, drinking, hanging out with family and friends - all of which we lump into the general term "frolicking." Last weekend the frolicking began in earnest when we hosted both of our families over for tree trimming and dinner. I have been known to go a little overboard when guests are eating with us (see Vegan Dumplings post of late), but in the holidays I do my best not to make things overly complicated.

To that end, I am all about the slow cooker for parties. For this event, I made bbq beef. In a couple of weeks I will pull out the slow cooker again so Dave can make his famous pulled pork. Pulled meats are the best for parties: they are almost entirely hands off in terms of preparation; they taste delicious; they look impressive (ie people will have a totally unrealistic view of your work ethic).

Here is what I did for the beef:
-I used a chuck roast, a rump roast and a round roast. Yes, I was also cleaning out my freezer. I am not sure about the weight of all this beef but I am going to say it was quite a bit.
-Chop up one large onion, a few cloves of garlic and toss into the slow cooker.
-Salt and pepper the meat and throw it in.
-Pour in one bottle of dark beer. We used Magic Hat Howl which was yummy by itself as well.
-In a small mixing bowl I combined a can of tomato sauce, 1 cup brown sugar, scant 1/4 cup mustard, a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce, chili powder, garlic powder and some cumin. Basically, I made a raw bbq sauce.
-Dump the sauce over the meat. Turn the cooker to high and go do something productive/unproductive. I stuffed so much meat in the cooker, it took almost 7 hrs on high. Just check on it every hour or so. You want it all to fall off the bone.
-When the meat is done, take it out and shred it up. Pour out the liquid in the cooker, but reserve some in case your meat gets dry later. Return the meat to the cooker and stir in about a cup of bbq sauce. Add enough sauce to get the taste and moistness that suits you.

We served this up with coleslaw on little dinner rolls that I got from Costco. I have been known to make my own rolls, too, but I was feeling sane this time so I went with store-bought. A good decision because they were delicious. An ideal holiday party meal.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Get Your Craft On

You know you have issues when your husband sees your latest project and comments, "The girl is crafty like ice is cold." That's right -- my recent foray into the craftosphere has made Dave go all Beastie Boys on me.

Now that Kara is old enough to actually participate, I thought it would be fun to make some gifts this year. My mom gave me an a copy of Family Fun Magazine that came to her office, and I saw these two projects. One is a woven fleece scarf and the other is stenciled dish towels. (By the way, it's moment like this - ie typing the words "stenciled dish towels" - that I think that I have gone way way over the edge.)

The towels are still a work in progress, but we are on our way with the scarves. Here is one I did on Saturday. It's true, I am so cool that I craft on weekends.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Holiday Jobs


While it is nice to have the kids home all day on Thanksgiving, there comes a point when I am in need of some serious distraction. How many times can I answer the question, "When are they going to get here?" with the appropriate amount of parental civility? When my little girl starts to really ramp up the irritating, I find that nothing works better than giving her a job. She is a master potato masher. She can set the table. She is excellent at anything that involves bossing around her brother, or father for that matter.

This year I found a new job: place card creator. Very effective in getting her out of the kitchen. Very cute result for our Thanksgiving table.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Vegan Dumplings

A couple of weeks ago my friend Katie brought her new boyfriend over for dinner. Once again, I was struck by an irrational need to really impress her new guy. (This neurosis was exacerbated by the fact that said boyfriend in French. Not fair, but true.) It turns out that David, the new guy, is a vegetarian which fits right in with our current eating habits. In any case, I decided to use this occasion to try something entirely new: Vegan dumplings.

After much combing of vegan and vegetarian websites, I finally settled on this recipe for Vegetarian Potstickers on Herbavoracious (an awesome site, btw). My issue with veggie dumplings is always that they are too mushy without any meat to give them some firmness. This recipe seemed like it could counteract the mush factor by using tempeh in the filling.

This recipe is "easy" in the sense that it is straightforward; it doesn't require strange ingredients or any advanced cooking supplied. However, it is time consuming. Folding all of those little dumplings took at least 45 min. While the filling tasted delicious, I added more cabbage than he calls for plus some shredded carrot an finely chopped mushroom. I was pleased that the tempeh did, in fact, make the filling nice and firm. Not a trace of mush.

As I was frying up dumplings, chopping ingredients for our main course of bi bim bop, and whipping up the sauce for both dishes, Dave commented that this might be the most high-maintenance dinner ever. He may have been right, but it was worth it. How often do you get to cook for your friend's French boyfriend? If ever there was a time to go all out...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Peanut Butter Noodles

I was perusing Dinner a Love Story, one on my favorite blogs, and Jenny mentioned that the recipe for peanut butter noodles was one of the most often viewed on her site. Considering that I check out her blog pretty much every day, I wasn't sure how I missed that recipe. Not only did I read it, I made it last night. Fabulous.

A few notes on the recipe:
-I found that 2/3 cup water was a little too much, so I just added a little more peanut butter.
-I also added a splash of mirin. If you like cooking food with Asian flavors, Mirin is a great thing to have in your pantry.  Mirin is Japanese sweet rice wine, though Kikkoman labels it as "Sweet Rice Seasoning" which is pretty accurate. I first learned about mirin when I was working in New York and one of my coworkers told me that, "Mirin is the thing that makes Asian dressings taste, well, Asian." She was right. Like the carrot-ginger salad dressing that comes with your pre-sushi salad? It probably has mirin in it as a sweetener. Enough about mirin. Get some. It's great stuff.
-This recipe makes a pretty good sized batch of sauce. Plenty for two meals.
-Sadly, this recipe did not have the magical effect described in the post -- my kids didn't really like it. Dave and I thought it was phenomenal, however, which makes it a success in my book.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Tahini Dressing

Another lesson from the vegan adventure: It's all about the condiments. If you are going to put grains, beans, tofu and veggies in the center of your diet, you better have some good dressings and marinades to go with it all.

In my vegan research I read Alicia Silverstone's The Kind Life. Don't laugh. While it is enthusiastic in the extreme, she has some good tips and more than a few good recipes. One of the best was her tahini dressing. Tahini is sesame seed paste. It is delicious.

Of course, I am not a big follower of dressing recipes, so I will just give you the gist of it.

This one is most easily made in a food processor. I used my Mini-Cuisinart.
-Put in the food processor 2 cloves of garlic and a chunk of ginger. Chop up.
-Add 2 tbsp tahini, a squeeze of lemon juice, a dash of soy sauce, a couple of tablespoons of rice vinegar and mirin. Blend until smooth.
-Finally add olive oil until you get the consistency you like. Blend. I also added a little agave to sweeten it up. Honey would work well, too.

This will keep in the refrigerator for several days. It is great on salad, cooked vegetables, rice, beans, falafel, tofu. You name it.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Eleven Madison Park Granola

I saw this recipe for granola in the New York Times Magazine on Sunday. Ok, I am pretty skeptical about most granola recipes. I am really wary of recipes that come from super fancy New York restaurants. This formula is not so different from the Mark Bittman template I usually follow. But something about including olive oil and coconut chips just inspired me to give this a try.

It turned out that I didn't actually have any coconut chips, and neither did Trader Joe's. But I did have pepitas, oats, grated coconut and a variety of dried fruits. The key to this granola is the brown sugar, maple syrup and olive oil that make up the coating for the oat mixture. When you bake the granola, this sugary mix becomes heavenly.

Hands down, this is the best granola I have ever produced. It is definitely sweeter and richer than my typical recipe, but I am still willing to bet that it is far healthier than the average store-bought granola. Give it a try.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The 99%

Whatever your feelings are regarding the Occupy Wall Street movement, you should check out the site We Are the 99%. Moving stories and images like the one below.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Oatmeal Revelation - Part II

A while ago I posted about my realization that you can make oatmeal over night by just soaking the oats. Duh!

In my new (mostly) vegan diet, I have been eating lots of oatmeal in the morning. It's warm, nutritious, filling and endlessly adaptable. Nonetheless, I love getting new ideas for ways to jazz up this very traditional breakfast. Here are a couple:

-Add a bit of another grain to the oatmeal mix. On Sunday I made oatmeal on the stove and added, because I am wacky like that, a 1/4 cup of barley. Delicious. Dave noted that it gave the cereal a little more of a nutty flavor. Millet would work. So would brown rice or bulgar (cooked first). I suppose you could use quinoa, but I fear that would taste a little too nutty for me.

-Add a fruit butter. This is a derivation of a suggestion by Marissa on her wonderful blog Food in Jars. She tried adding applesauce to her oats and loved it. I took it one step further and added apple butter. Since I had just made apple butter, this was easy inspiration. Wow. It tasted so good. My kids liked it, too. If you like the store bought "apple and cinnamon" flavored oatmeal, give this a try. This morning I added pumpkin butter. Yum. Just yum.

Monday, October 17, 2011


You can tell it's finally fall when there is a big pile of leaves in your yard.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Game Day Pretzels

Even though...

...the Phillies lost all of their mojo and then lost in a pathetic fashion on Friday

...it would appear that the Eagles have gone from "struggling" to "sucking"

...this was a really bad weekend to be a Philadelphia sports fan

Even though it all seemed to go bad in the Philly sports world, there's always the next game, the next week, or next year.

In that spirit, here is a super easy snack to bring to a tailgate or just in to your living room to watch the game. I can't remember where I got this recipe many moons ago. Someone brought a batch to the beach, and we gobbled them up like a swarm of locusts. After that summer, these were my go-to snack to bring to a party or when we were visiting friends. I sort of forgot about them, but then this August I brought some to Ellie's on the Cape, and I can say without reservation that they go quite nicely with a beer or a dark and stormy. When Ellie emailed last week for the "secret" formula so that she could make some for a football game, I remembered that I had been meaning to post about these delicious pretzels.

Here's what you do:
-Purchase a bag of hard sourdough pretzels - any brand will do. Drop the bag on the floor a few times to break them up into smallish pieces.
-In a large bowl combine 1 packet of dry ranch dressing mix and 1/3 to 1/2 cup oil. Dump in the pretzels and stir to coat.
-Spread in a layer on a baking sheet and brown in a 350 oven for 7-10 minutes. You want to dry up the oil and dressing coating.
-When they come out of the oven, sprinkle with dry dill.
-Present at next game day occasion and hope that your team doesn't gag it up the way my teams did this weekend.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

New and Noteworthy Veggie Burger

Our vegan adventure has led me to several products that I otherwise would have missed in my grocery store trips. One of the best discoveries has been the Trader Joe's Vegetable Masala Burger.

These little gems are made of potatoes, carrots, beans, bell pepper and spices. That's an ingredients list I can get behind. It only takes a few minutes to cook one up on the stove and they are especially good on a slice of multigrain bread with a .

Even Dave, who has spent more than a few minutes of his life making fun of his sister for eating veggie burgers, admitted that these were pretty tasty.

These are definitely worth a shot, whether or not you are vegan. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Vegan Challenge

Confession time: For the last three weeks Dave and I have been...vegan. Not just vegan, but no-booze vegan. No booze, no meat, no dairy for three weeks. I am prepared to say that the no meat and dairy has been easier than the no drinking. Turns out I really like that 5 PM glass of wine while cooking dinner. Dave was not especially surprised that giving up beer was harder than giving up animal products in our food.

Why did we do this? Well, I had been feeling just gross at the end of the summer. Bloated, tired, grumpy, with a side dish of frequent migraines and indigestion. So I wanted to do a kind of "cleanse" but not the kind that involved drinking only lemonade and cayenne pepper like Beyonce. Veganism seemed like a good, and not completely unreasonable, choice. When I broached the subject with Dave and said I was "thinking about trying it," he responded, with less snark than I probably deserved, "Whenever you say you are 'thinking about' something like this, we are totally doing it."

So we jumped in. I invested in quite a few vegan-friendly products. The beans, greens and tofu have been great. And I love the coconut milk hazelnut coffee creamer I found at Whole Foods. The vegan "cheese" was a little scary, however. Which leads me to a couple of realizations I have had over the past three weeks:

-Being a rookie vegan has been a challenge. Not so much because I felt deprived of previously beloved foods, but because I have had to cook in a totally different way. When a bean product becomes your protein source, you have to really mix it up or you will go crazy. And since I am incapable of cooking less than 8 servings of beans at a time, apparently, I have had a lot of leftovers in my fridge.

-If you are going to go vegan, you gotta go all in and you can't rely on vegan alternatives of animal based foods. Vegan meatballs are pretty good. Veganaise is fine on a sandwich. And I could learn to like non-dairy milks. (Again that hazelnut creamer rocks.) But vegan cheese, sour cream, cream cheese...icky gross.

-Being vegan, and dry, has actually made me feel "cleansed" in many ways. I certainly feel less bloated. I did lose a few pounds. And for the first time in years, I have had none of my typical indigestion issues,.

So what now? We are breaking our vegan/booze fast on Saturday when we celebrate Josh's birthday at one of our favorite spots, Earth Bread & Brewery. Phenomenal beer and pizza - if you in the Philly area, check it out. After than, I will remain booze free during the week. But it is playoff baseball, so I think it is legit to have a beer on the weekend while watching the game. Also, Dave and Josh brewed amazing pumpkin beer which I am dying to have on a cool fall night. I will maintain many of the vegan ways we established these past three weeks, as well. I have learned to really like lentils and come up with more than a few ways to serve tofu. If nothing else this cleanse has re-affirmed my commitment to only eat humanely raised meat and dairy. I had sort of gotten away from this vow in the interest of time, money and convenience, but I am back on track. Now I know that if I can't get chicken or eggs or cheese from a sustainable source, I have lots of vegan recipes up my sleeve.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Phillies Family

Before Dave, I was not really into baseball. I loved other professional sports, but baseball didn't really do it for me. Dave, on the other hand, has spent his whole life rooting for the Phils. I can say that my relatively recent love for the Phillies is entirely Dave's doing. (It doesn't hurt that they have been amazingly good over the past five years.)

So now we are a Phillies-loving family.  Kara asks every morning if the Phils won last night. Jamie often asks to wear his Phillies t-shirt like daddy does. And even though it is outrageously expensive, we have managed to go to at least one game every year.

This year Dave and I took Kara to a night game. As it turns out, we were at the game when the Phils clinched the NL East division championship for the 5th year in a row. It may sound cliche, but the stadium was electric that night. Not only did the Phillies win, but Kara got to see Raul Ibanez hit a grand slam. I fear that future Phillies outings wont live up to this one.

It was an amazing night. Baseball aside, it was wonderful to have some time with just our girl. She has been so accepting of her little brother, but I know how much she loves to have time without the little menace. We were so happy that we could give her this special night.