Black Bean Salsa

Last year at Tu B’Shevat, I played the recipe to the letter with a granola that hit all of the components of the holiday.  This year, I went a little more with the spirit of it.  The holiday comes at the perfect time, just when you are so sick of the gloom of winter and are trying to keep pulling until there is more green and even a bit of color.

With the choices in the grocery store being somewhat limited, I find that even my food starts to look a little..monotone.  Well, if you find that happening to you then pull out this recipe.  It looks super pretty, tastes good and is a nice go to for parties and other times when you need to impress.  Serve it with tortilla chips and enjoy!

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Looking back at the recipes I’ve tackled so far, there is a definite “comfort food” theme.  I don’t think that is just what I’m drawn to, all of the recipes I’ve seen seem to show a real preference for family friendly food that you actually want to sit down and eat.  I’m fine with that!

Recently, I’ve been gravitating towards comfort foods more then ever and I suddenly found myself really wanting meatloaf.  How strange!  I haven’t had meatloaf in years, but I couldn’t get it out of my head.  Hm, but how can I get away with putting meatloaf on my blog?

Well, meatloaf was the very first dish that I ever made on my own.  My Mom taught it to me and carefully drilled me in how to make it because I took a trip down to my Godmother’s house.  I remember being so proud that I was able to cook it and get it on the table all by myself!  That gives it a special place in my heart as a family food as well as a comfort food and therefore delightfully fits into the blog!  Please enjoy.  Oh, and I’m sorry the picture is rotten.  It was late and we just wanted to eat so I didn’t try to get a glamor shot!

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Potato Kugel

I made a  Cholent the other night that was only so-so.  It is always really disheartening when the dinner you’ve made (with all the planning!) is…at best…”eh.”  Thank GOODNESS I had made potato kugel to go with it.  Now these were anything but disappointing.  Not only were they good the night I made them, they froze and reheated like a charm.

Noodle kugel might be more well known, and it is certainly delicious, but these potato ones are really worth a try as well.  I put half of mine in muffin tins and half in a square glass baking dish, just to see what would work best.  The “kugel muffins” were the clear winner for how easy they were to dish out and serve…and frankly because they are just much more fun.

I used a food processor to grate the potatoes and if you have one, I would highly recommend it.  Don’t tell him I told you, but my husband actually said “this is awesome! We need to do this again” as he was running each of the spuds through.

Enjoy!  Oh, and my feelings won’t be hurt if you don’t pair these with the Cholent.

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So-Close-and-Yet-So-Far Vegetarian Cholent

I’m not ashamed to admit that I had been wanting a slow cooker for a long time.  The appeal of the “fix and forget” meal is undeniable!  All it took was one off-season sale + coupons and I had one for a reasonable enough price that I wouldn’t feel guilty if I only used it “sometimes.”

Because, as I suspected and soon confirmed, finding a really good slow cooker meal isn’t easy.  Well, to be more precise, finding a really good one that can cook for 10 hours without suffering is not easy.  I’ve done some great shorter cook time stuff (it was invaluable at Thanksgiving!) but the work-day meal has been harder to nail down.

I thought I had stuck gold when I started reading about Cholent, or Sabbath Stew.  Essentially, it was the original slow cooker meal!  A stew that was sealed up and cooked over a banked fire all night so that there could be one hot meal on the Sabbath. The traditional recipes include a fatty beef (brisket, rib etc.), potatoes, barley and beans, definitely not for the faint of heart.

While I’m sure it is delicious, I was looking for something a little less “intense” that we could eat on a weeknight.  So, I started hunting around for something vegetarian.  After lots of internet searching, I hit upon this recipe from a Montreal chef named Gigi Cohen.

Coming home that night, I approached my crockpot with a weird amount of apprehension.  I just wasn’t sure what I was going to find!  I scooped out a bowl and took a tentative bite.  Well, it was ok.

Yeah I know, not a rousing endorsement.  It wasn’t much to look at, as with most long-slow cooked food it had turned roughly all the same color of brown.  The flavor was actually pretty awesome and you could still taste the spices and different hints of what was in there.  Really, it was the texture that left me cold.  Everything was just a mush.  We tried to salvage it by putting it in a pan, topping with Panko and crisping it up under the broiler.  That helped a little but still wasn’t great.

There just must be something more you could do!  Maybe leaving the rice out of the recipe, fixing it on the side and then topping it with it later?  Maybe having something with crunch or a little fresh veggies to stir in right at the end?  I know these take away the “put it in, turn it on and your done” aspect of the slow cooker, but if it makes the dish better that is worth it!

So, I’ll still put up the recipe and encourage you to try it.  However, if you aren’t a fan of …mushy foods….I would suggest you add your own twist to it.  If you find something that works, would you please let me know?

Oh, side note!  Claudia Roden in “The Book of Jewish Food” has a lovely description of Cholent’s history if you are looking to read more.  Her book is just pretty amazing in general actually and no, I wasn’t paid to say that.

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Keeping Fresh Herbs…well…Fresh!

Unnecessary disclaimer, this is not a recipe.  However, it is hopefully something really useful that will make cooking a little easier both in planning on your grocery bill.  You see, I hate wasting money.  I clip coupons, I bring my own grocery bags and make the cashier give me the five cent discount, and a hundred other embarrassing things.    So you can imagine how much it killed me to buy herbs and have them go bad before I could use them up.  Plus, it also left me in the lurch when I opened up the fridge to start a recipe and realized that a main ingredient was rancid and brown.   Most of the Jewish recipes that I’ve been tackling incorporate herbs in some way, or can be improved by adding them so this was happening more and more frequently.

So, I’ve been experimenting with different ways to protect and prolong the life of some of the herbs I use most often.  Sure, one of the easiest ways would be to grow it yourself and just pluck off what you need at the moment.  This isn’t as overwhelming as it sounds actually.  I’ve had good luck with basil, parsley, mint and oregano in buckets on the back-steps and green onions in my garden plot.  However, if that isn’t possible…or of interest…there is still something you can do!  Hopefully this will save you a little frustration and give you room in your grocery budget to splurge on something else delicious!

Parsley: Fresh parsley can be put in a cup of water in the fridge, almost like flowers in a vase.  Take a sandwich bag and pop it over the top of the leaves.  I’ve had it keep like this for weeks!

Basil: Like parsley, basil can be kept in a jar of water with a plastic bag over it.  You’ll need to experiment whether it keeps better in the fridge or on a counter top out of direct sun.  As counter-intuitive as it sounds, I’ve also had good luck putting it in a sandwich bag with a cushion of air and then sticking it in the crisper drawer.

Green Onions:  Like parsley, green onions can be kept in a jar of water on the counter.  You’ll want to change the water every so often or the roots get sort of slimy.  After you use the onion, don’t throw away the root bulb!  If you put it back into a cup of water, or plant it right into soil, it will re-grow!

Cilantro: What seems to work the best for me is to lay the unwashed stems on a paper towel.  Fold the towel over the stems and slip the entire thing into a sandwich bag.  Sprinkle the paper towel very sparingly with water and then zip it shut, leaving a cushion of air in the bag.  I’ve had it keep like this for a month!

Freezing Herbs: Frozen herbs will never look as good as fresh ones, so it isn’t your best choice for garnishes or places where it needs to look pretty.  However, they keep a lot of flavor and will last a LONG time so it is good bang for your buck.

My method for freezing herbs is to wash everything and dry it really well.  Then I chop it up how I would usually use it for a recipe.  After that, I lay it all out in a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper (this lets you spread it out so that it doesn’t clump).  Once it has had a chance to set for a few hours you can pour the herbs into sandwich bags and save them for later!

Happy cooking!


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Butternut Squash Soup

It suddenly became winter.  One afternoon it was still light sweatshirt weather and suddenly the next day you needed your fleece, and maybe mittens wouldn’t be a bad idea too.  There has been a LOT of complaining about this, more so since we got some flurries today.

You won’t hear me complaining though!  I dislike heat, a lot, and cold weather means I can get back into soups and warm comforting things and will actually feel like eating again.  As I read through my piles of books on Jewish food, I realized that most of the Ashkenazi based recipes  (my husband’s “people” as he would say) were made for just this type of cooking.  Hearty and filling are definitely two good descriptors for it.

A pumpkin soup recipe I came across got me thinking about my favorite butternut squash soup.  This soup is ridiculously easy, meaning it can actually be started after work and be done at a respectable time for dinner.  Plus, although it looks like orange glop, it has flavor and is delicious and filling.  I’ve made it for everything from a weeknight dinner to family Thanksgiving!

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Apple and Honey Crisp

At IFFP last week our Rabbi and Reverend were talking about preparing for Rosh Hashanah.  There was a lot of information…a lot.  I’m not going to lie, some of it went over my head.  I tried to stay tuned in but, and please don’t tell anyone, my thoughts drifted a bit.

Then he said “Rosh Hashanah is the birthday of the world” and my mind snapped back into focus.  I liked that.  I don’t know why, maybe I’m just sentimental or I like a really good piece of imagery.  Right as we are getting into wonderful, fresh fall, but before we start think about the winter ahead, we are given a chance to kick back and celebrate the “golden years” of the earth. What isn’t to like?

Plus, if I was thinking about it as a birthday that gives me a whole new cooking scheme to play with!  I knew you were supposed to eat apples and honey for a sweet new year, but how do you give that a twist? At first I was playing around with an apple and honey cake…but to be honest I just didn’t FEEL like baking a cake.  When fall comes and it gets crisp and cool (even if that is only in your head because it is still actually in the high 70s in this weird mid-Atlantic region)  I want something warm and scrumptious that you eat when it comes right out of the oven.

So, I wondered if I could make a twist on an apple crisp and add honey.  The answer?  Yes, you absolutely can.  It had all of that crumbly deliciousness of a crisp but then a sweet honey after-taste.  It feels strange to use a description like that, but it is true!

A huge bonus was that this came together, from start to finish, in less then an hour.  That is especially good for me because I tend to start baking projects way too late at night.  The proof is in the pictures, which are all taken as close to my table lamp as possible because it is pitch black outside.  Sorry about that….

Enjoy this crisp hot from the oven or at room temperature.  Maybe add a scoop of ice cream!  Wait a second…could you make honey ice cream?  Woah, I’m going to have work on that and get back to you!

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