Author: SimpletoWow

I grew up in the Midwest (and therefore legitimately “mis”pronounce blog as “blawg”, just ask my kids). I moved to the Northeast 27 years ago. I am an engineer and have worked for years in the automation and communications fields, designing and developing software. When my older children were toddlers, I stepped aside from my career in order to raise them. I now work as the electronic billing, records and research coordinator for my husband's medical office in Northern New Jersey. I have four daughters, one son and two grandchildren, all of whom you will meet through this blog. I love to cook, design, set a beautiful table and find simple and upcycled solutions to life messes. I hate to clean, am terrible at laundry (just ask my family) and I love a challenge. In the engineering world, the impetus is to find an elegant solution, meaning a simple, yet effective solution to the issue. In this blog, I attempt to find elegant solutions for food, home and life applications. simple techniques to create inspiration, elegance and taste, mostly with what I already own. I hope that you will find inspiration here to create your own simple and wow ideas and designs. Please feel free to share them with me through the links on the side of this page or by emailing me directly at simpleandwow@gmail.com. To follow me and receive updated blog posts emailed to you regularly, please subscribe.

Shabbos Table: Mix It Up!

This Shabbos, Avigail and Judah will be visiting unexpectedly as Kaitlyn has the flu.  We always love these type of surprises and this is the perfect opportunity to blend disposable and real dishes on the Shabbos table.   Judah still looks forward to his two forks on Shabbos and he will have two spoons, too.  Just to keep Avigail happy, we will skip the knives for the kids.

As you can see, I took the “mixing it up” concept to a whole new level.  Rose gold (Walmart!) disposable dishes blend with white table accents.  An embroidered vintage tablecloth blends with white and rose gold paper napkins.  A contemporary hammered copper-tone ice bucket blends with an antique silver creamer.

Shabbat Shalom!

shabbos table- mix it up.jpg

A Simple Chicken Soup Upgrade

upgraded chicken soup with rutabaga.jpg

I’ve been serving the same basic chicken soup recipe for more than thirty years. My family, even the “vegetarians” among them, look forward to chicken soup at the Friday night Shabbos dinner, rain or shine, winter or summer.

As far as changes over the years, they have been minimal.  I sometimes leave the vegetables whole and sometimes dice the vegetables.  When Kaitlyn visits, I add an extra onion and eliminate the celery.  When Michelle visits, I add extra zucchini.   Leah loves eating the dill sprigs that I remove from the soup before serving.   Aaron and Davida put no extra demands on the chicken soup and they enjoy the soup any way that it is served.

This winter I upgraded the chicken soup.  I added cubes of waxed turnip, also known as rutabaga.

I didn’t think that it was a big deal, until the first time I served the upgraded soup.

“What did you do differently to the soup?” asked Leah.  “Yeah” chimed in the rest of the family.

I braced myself.  After all, upgrading a thirty-year constant can be a big deal.

I need not have worried because they all loved the assertive flavor and color of the diced rutabaga.  It was just another distinctive character in the colorful combination of textures and flavors of my chicken soup.

And, that is perfectly fine.  The chicken soup is kind of like our family, our Shabbos table and our lives, a colorful blend of personalities.

INGREDIENTS

One pound of boneless, skinless chicken breast trimmings
1 white turnip, peeled and cubed
1 waxed turnip (rutabaga), well-peeled and cubed
1 parsnip, peeled and sliced
3-4 carrots, peeled and sliced
4 stalks celery (optional), scrubbed and cut into 1 inch sections
2 small onions (optional), peeled and left whole
2 tablespoons salt (more or less for taste)
1 teaspoon pepper
1-2 sprigs dill (optional)
2 zucchini, scrubbed and cut into 1 inch sections
water

DIRECTIONS

Peel and prepare vegetables. The rutabaga has a thick waxed coating, so peel carefully with a peeler or a paring knife, taking care to remove every bit of peel.

 

 

Place chicken and vegetables (except zucchini) in a large stock pot and fill 2/3 to the top with water. Bring soup to a rolling boil and then lower heat to medium and cook for one more hour.

Replace any water that has evaporated, making sure that the level of the soup broth is where it started before cooking. Add zucchini and increase flame to high.  Boil for 15-20 more minutes.

upgraded chicken soup with rutabaga

Enjoy!

Shabbos Table Tip: When Desperate Times Call for Disposable-Mix it Up!

Last Friday night, we hosted an oneg (lit. delight, Shabbos get-together) at our home for Davida’s friends from her seminary alma-mater,  Midreshset Mevaseret Yerushalayim (MMY).  Logistically, this means that we enjoyed our own Shabbos dinner meal before and during inviting dozens of MMY-ers into our home for a night of learning, food and Shabbos delight.  This is one of those desperate times that calls for disposable dishes.

And, if we must use disposable dishes on Shabbos, we will rock it!  It is not often that I succumb to using disposable dishes, especially on Shabbos.  So, when I do, I try to mix the disposables with regular cutlery and glassware and add a non-disposable tablecloth, napkins and napkin rings to the table settings.

Shabbat Shalom!

shabbos table cwith disposables 1.jpg

 

No-Chop No-Fuss Spinach Split Pea Soup

split pea spinach soup

On these wintry days, there is nothing like a hot bowl of soup.

This soup takes the bowl! It uses a few simple wholesome ingredients with no chopping and no mess.  Just take a few minutes to toss all the ingredients in the crockpot in the morning and come home to a finished delicious soup in the evening.  The pot does all the work, no dicing. no sauteing, no prep mess.

INGREDIENTS
one 16 ounce bag (2 cups) of yellow split peas
one bag of fresh or frozen baby spinach (see kosher notes)
one tablespoon salt
dash of pepper
water

SUPPLIES

6 quart crockpot

 

DIRECTIONS
Fill crockpot two-thirds to the top with water. Toss split peas, spinach, salt and pepper into the crockpot and stir. Cook on high from morning to evening, at least six hours.

KOSHER NOTES
Kosher laws disallow the eating of any whole insects and therefore most greens require a process of soaking, rinsing and in some cases, pureeing. I have found that flat-leafed greens like baby spinach are much easier to check for insects than their curly-leaf counterparts. Kashrut authorities differ on the proper checking of leafy vegetables and some disallow the use of spinach altogether. This blog was not designed to be your kosher authority, so please consult your local rabbinic authority regarding using leafy greens such as spinach.

TIPS
This soup freezes extremely well. Cool soup and decant into freezer-safe containers or freezer-type zipper bags. Just defrost and reheat. Add fresh herbs and water if necessary to freshen it up.

 

Please Note: This post contains affiliate links from Amazon, which means I earn a small commission if you click and make a purchase.

Streuseled Cranberry Pie

This recipe gets an A for versatility and simplicity.  It uses simple ingredients and can be used as a side dish or as a dessert.  It can be served cold, room temperature or hot.  It can be a delicious accompaniment to grilled chicken and can be served as a side dish right in its pie plate.  Or, it can be scooped out onto plates or ramekins and served with a scoop of ice cream.

The original recipe made its rounds when I was first married and living in Pittsburgh.  I recall that it used margarine, canned pineapple and had loads of sugar.  I have adapted it to eliminate the margarine, use some fresh fruit and I have reduced the amount of sugar in the streusel topping.  It is now better than ever!

INGREDIENTS
1 can cranberry sauce, whole or jellied variety
1/2 cup fresh or frozen cranberries (optional)
1/2 cup fresh or frozen fruit, diced

1/2 cup uncooked oatmeal
1/4 cup sugar
6-8 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger (optional)

cranberry streusel

DIRECTIONS
Decant cranberry sauce into Pyrex pie plate and mash with a fork or masher until flat, covering the entire bottom of the pie plate. Add fresh/frozen cranberries and fruit and mix slightly with the canned cranberry.

In a bowl or in a food processor with the s-blade attached, combine oatmeal, sugar, oil, cinnamon, and ginger.  Sprinkle on top of the cranberry mixture.

Bake at 375 degrees F for 30-40 minutes. Streusel should be golden brown on top when done.

Set It and Forget It Lentil-Vegetable Soup

There is something so hearty and comforting about lentil soup.  And, there is something about taking just a few minutes to prepare a soup on these cold, snowy mornings and coming back at the end of the day to a warm, thick, velvety and delicious soup.  Ordinary lentils really have that magical texture, firm yet creamy.  Adding vegetables to the ingredient list just takes lentil soup to a whole new level.

For this soup, I used the most common brown lentil .  It has the seed hull intact and is most suitable for salads and soups that require the lentil to retain its shape.   If you are short on time, you can use red lentils, instead.   It will cut down on the cooking time and still yield a hearty and delicious soup with a less defined texture to the lentil base.

set it and forget it lentil soup in crock

INGREDIENTS
one bag lentils
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
dash of pepper
3-4 garlic cloves, minced or 1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 parsnip, cut into thin slices
1 package mushrooms, sliced thin
4 stalks celery, sliced thin
1 onion, diced
1 zucchini, diced
water

celery leaves, for garnish (optional)

set it and forget it lentil soup.jpg

DIRECTIONS

Place lentils, vegetables and seasonings into a crockpot. Fill crockpot 3/4 to top with water. Cook on high from morning to evening. If the soup is too thick, add up to a cup of water and stir well. Garnish with celery leaves right before serving.

SHORTCUTS
When in a hurry, I substitute red lentils and adjust the cooking time to 4 hours.  Right before serving, puree soup with a  stick blender for a creamy texture.

Shabbos Table Tip: A Creamer to Distribute Kiddush Wine

On Friday night and Shabbos morning, our  Shabbos meals begin with the recitation of Kiddush (blessing over wine) by the patriarch of the family.  The word Kiddush actually means holiness as we recall G-d’s creation of the world and His dedication of the Shabbos as a day of rest and holiness.   We designate a special cup for the Kiddush, typically a silver one.   At our Shabbos table, you will also see one or two silver creamers placed alongside the kiddush cup.

After the Kiddush is recited over the goblet of wine or grape juice, everyone at the table answers אָמֵן, Amen.  The kiddush wine is then silently passed to each person at the table as the one who made the kiddush drinks from the original goblet.  Typically, the wine is poured from the kiddush cup into small shot glasses or miniature kiddush cups and then passed around.  To simplify things (and require less washing and clean-up afterward), instead, we place a decorative creamer next to the silver wine goblet.  This shortcut was an elegant solution thought up by our friend, Michael Horn, to the challenge of passing the kiddush wine around the table quickly and easily with minimal spillage.

Just after reciting the kiddush, Don pours off some of the wine before drinking from the silver kiddush cup into the creamer.  The creamer is then passed around the table and each person pours a bit of wine into his/her glass.  When we have a houseful of guests, I place two creamers, one for each side of the table, in order to expedite passing the wine around the table.

Shabbat Shalom!

 

 

Roasted Confetti Vegetables with Cashews

This is the perfect side dish for a weeknight.   It uses wholesome ingredients, takes minutes to prepare and requires only 20 minutes to roast. The meatiness of the cashews paired with the tender shreds of zucchini and rainbow carrots make this dish hearty, flavorful and satisfying.

confetti roasted vegetables.jpg

 INGREDIENTS

1-2 zucchini, shredded
1 package rainbow carrots, peeled and shredded
1 onion, shredded
handful of whole cashews

2 teaspoons kosher salt
flavored oil or olive oil

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.  Using the shredding blade of the food processor, shred onion, carrots and zucchini.

Spread vegetables atop the lined baking sheet. Drizzle with a scant amount of oil and sprinkle with salt. Sprinkle a handful of cashews over vegetables.

Roast for 15-20 minutes.

Toss and enjoy!

Pistachio Encrusted Cajun Tilapia

pistachio-encrusted tilapia-ready to cook

My two sisters-in-law, Yael and Chaya, share the same birthday.  Interestingly, it was the same birthday shared by my father-in-law a’H, too.  Last year, we went out for a woman’s-only dinner in celebration of the birthdays.   We enjoyed our time together so much that this year, in the ice and snow,  we once again trekked to a dairy restaurant in Brooklyn to celebrate the two birthdays.

My sisters-in-law ordered menu items that they knew and trusted: salmon, salad and Eggplant Parmesan.  Always looking for something new, I was entranced by the pistachio-encrusted salmon on the menu and was not disappointed when it was presented and devoured by me and my sisters-in-law.

So, I started thinking… Salmon is so flavorful and distinctive on its own.   Why don’t I try this encrusting technique on a blander fish like tilapia?  Tilapia is one of  those inexpensive fish ingredients that is always available at my local fish counter.  Its meaty flesh and mild taste make it suitable for kick-start cajun seasoning and nutty pistachio encrusting.

And so, for dinner the night after the birthday celebration, I prepared this dish.  And, both Don and Leah confirmed that it was blog-worthy.  Here it is!

INGREDIENTS
4 large tilapia filets
2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning
1 egg
1/2 cup chopped pistachios

oil or cooking spray

HONEY DIJON SAUCE (optional)
1/3 cup Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon wine vinegar
2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons honey

OPTIONAL SUPPLIES
food processor
pyrex pie plate

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Place cajun seasoning on a plate or pyrex pie plate.  Blend egg with fork in a separate plate or pyrex pie plate.   Place chopped pistachios on a third plate or pyrex pie plate.

pistachio-encrusted tilapia-prep plates

Lightly coat both sides of tilapia with Cajun seasoning and then dip into egg, coating both sides. Finally, coat each tilapia fillet with chopped pistachios.

Cover a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.  If using foil, drizzle with a bit of oil or spray with cooking spray.  Place the encrusted tilapia fillets in a single layer, making sure not to crowd the dish.

pistachio-encrusted tilapia-ready to cook

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the tilapia easily flakes with a fork.

In a food processor or with a whisk in a bowl, combine honey Dijon ingredients until smooth and creamy.

honey dijon sauce.jpg

Drizzle over fish before serving.

pistachio-encrusted tilapia-serving suggestion.jpg

Enjoy!

Please Note: This post contains affiliate links from Amazon, which means I earn a small commission if you click and make a purchase.

Shabbos Table Setting: Using Napkins as the Star

Thank you, Alyssa and Sara!

Last week, Alyssa suggested that I post a picture of my Shabbos table.  I received great positive feedback on this post from friends who have been at our Shabbos table, so I will try and post a picture weekly.  To maintain the theme of this blog, with each picture, I will try to highlight something that my readers can adapt to their own Shabbos table.

This week, I will suggest using gorgeous napkin rings as the star of the table setting.  Sara and Alyssa, who recently visited with Davida, brought us a gift of gorgeous new napkin rings that I am using for the first time this Shabbos.   These gold leather napkin rings are embossed with the Hebrew words Shabbos Kodesh (holy Shabbos).  I chose to use the napkin rings with white cloth napkins, folded into a quarter square and then accordion folded.  I fanned them out on top and bottom, above and beneath the napkin ring cinch.

shabbos table 1-19-2018.jpg

This Shabbos, my grandchildren, Avigail and Yehudah, are visiting.  Yehudah has told his parents that he loves to visit Bobby (that’s, me!)  because I give him two forks.  I not only offer the grandchildren two forks at our Shabbos table, but I even offer them the same silver and dishes as everyone else.  I do eliminate the glass stemware and knives for kids, until they are ready.  The napkins and rings equalize all the differences in the table settings between the adults and the children and really add a touch of elegance.

Shabbat Shalom  (peaceful Shabbos)!

Simply Magical London Broil

There are some dishes that need garnishing and extra sauces once cooked.  This is not one of them.   This London Broil roast is ready to serve and self-garnished with baked onions and scallions.  It is simple enough for a weekday dinner and “wow” enough for Shabbos or that special celebration.  It uses the simplest of ingredients, technique and presentation and yet, it is delicious, succulent and beautiful.

Magical baked london broil with Celery on cutting board.png

INGREDIENTS
1 small (2-3 pound) London Broil
1 red onion, diced small
1-2 bunches scallions, cut small
handful of french fried onions (optional)
juice of one lemon or lime
4 stalks celery
salt
pepper
1/3 cup water

DIRECTIONS

Let London Broil come to room temperature.

Slice celery into thick chunks.

In a roasting pan or pyrex dish, place celery chunks and then place London Broil fattier side up.  Squeeze citrus on both sides of London broil and season with salt and pepper.

Pour 1/3 cup of water around London Broil and then top London Broil with diced onion and scallions.

Magical baked london broil with Celery-raw.png

Cover pan tightly with foil.

Bake at 300 degrees F for 3 hours. London Broil should be fork tender when done.   Allow meat to rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing on the bias.

Magical baked london broil with Celery.png

Red Velvet Salmon

 

cranberry salmon

I decided to name this salmon recipe red velvet for the color and texture of the cranberry glaze.   There really is something velvety about  this simple salmon recipe that takes cranberry sauce to a whole new level.

Cranberries are a fall and winter specialty item and I still have so many bags of cranberries in my freezer from Thanksgiving.  Every time I open my freezer, I think of cranberry and the many delicious ways to use this tart and distinctive berry.

So, when I was planning a new salmon dish, I thought to use cranberries as the centerpiece.   This recipe can be made with homemade cranberry sauce and that way you can adjust the sweetness of the glaze.  But, to keep things simple, I prepared with salmon recipe with store-bought cranberry sauce.  I used the jellied variety, but the whole berry variety will work just as well.

Enjoy!

INGREDIENTS

salmon fillet

glaze
3-4 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 cup canned cranberry sauce
2 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ginger powder

garnishes (optional)
1/2 cup fresh cranberries
Celery Curls

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a small bowl whisk together the glaze ingredients, smoothing out the lumps in the cranberry sauce as much as possible.

Place the salmon on a baking sheet coated with foil or parchment.  Pat the marinade into the salmon.

Bake for 30-40 minutes.

Garnish with fresh cranberries and celery curls before serving.

Enjoy!

15 Minute Mushroom Soup

mushroom soup

The weather outside is frightfully cold and nothing warms the soul like a hot bowl of satisfying soup.   Although yesterday morning, I intended to start my  Crockpot Drunken Mushroom Soup in the crockpot,  I never did.  Instead, I got home late with only 15 minutes to get dinner on the table.   That meant that I needed to make the soup in a heavy-bottom pot using every shortcut possible.

I skimped on sauteing the onions and celery slowly and carefully.  Instead, I cut the onions and celery very small and started the soup by just sauteing the small bits of onions and celery for a few minutes.  I then shredded the mushrooms and zucchini in the food processor so that the tiny bits would cook quickly.  I skipped the wine and just added salt and pepper for flavor.

This soup was one of the best that I ever produced.  Sorry, kids!  Although my kids often chastise me for complimenting my own food, I subscribe to the belief that a cook may compliment or criticize their own handiwork.  Why not?

The soup was so flavorful and so silky that Don could not believe that there was no cream in this soup.  He loved this soup so much that he enjoyed three bowls of it.  So, guys, I didn’t even need to compliment my own soup.  Dad did it for me in word and in deed.  Indeed!

 

INGREDIENTS

2-3 tablespoons oil
1 onion, diced small
3 stalks celery, diced small
2 containers mushrooms, shredded
2-3 medium zucchini,shredded
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
dash pepper
4-6 cups of water

Celery Garnish (optional)

 

DIRECTIONS
In a heavy bottom pot over medium-high heat, saute onion and celery in oil for just a few minutes, until onions and celery are soft but not brown.

While vegetables are sauteing, shred the mushrooms and zucchini in the food processor using the s-blade or the shredding blade.

Add the shredded mushrooms and zucchini to the onions and celery. Add the salt and pepper and stir to combine. Add water and bring to a boil.  Simmer for a few minutes more until the soup is cooked through and silky.

Garnish with a celery curl.

Enjoy!

 

TIPS

To speed up recipes, cut, shred or dice ingredients into smaller pieces.   Smaller bits create more surface area for the heat and cooking media to enter.  Just take care, because the smaller the pieces of ingredients, the easier these ingredients are to overcook or to burn.

Tulips Times Two

tulips

On these frigid winter days, it is so exciting to see tulips for sale at the local market. Tulips, a member of the lily family,  are a welcome harbinger of spring and it keeps hope alive for warmer weather ahead.

Tulips come in thousands of varieties and can be found in all colors, shapes and heights.  Their leaves are soft and large, sometimes as long as the tulip stem itself.

I especially love tulips that have variegated colors and interesting petal shapes.  These pink tulips were for sale at my local supermarket and boasted green edges, light green leaves and soft blossoms.

This arrangement uses both the tulip blossoms and their leaves.  My tulip bunch was comprised of ten blossoms and my narrow vase fit two five-blossom bunches with enough space left over for effect.

This type of arrangements creates interest both at the top of the vase where the blossoms are arranged and inside the vase where each bunch is wrapped in a tulip leaf.   It is best suited for a long and narrow glass vase.  This can easily be done with one, two or three bunches of tulips, as long as your vase is wide enough.

SUPPLIES
long glass vase
bunch of tulips
piece of wire or small rubber band
water

DIRECTIONS
Trim tulips so that they are just a few inches taller than your vase.  Separate tulips into groups of at least 4 tulips each, trying to keep tulip bunches symmetric.  Remove lower tulip leaves and reserve an unblemished leaf for wrapping each bunch.  Wrap the leaf around each bunch, securing with thin wire or rubber band.

Display in long glass vase and fill with water.

 

Please Note: This post contains affiliate links from Amazon, which means I earn a small commission if you click and make a purchase.

Belgian Waffles for a Crowd

waffles for a crowd-a la mode.jpg

 

This week, we hosted two Sheva Brochos  parties at our home.  Since Thursday night’s Sheva Brochos came out right at the conclusion of the fast of Asara Be’Teves, we decided to plan a dairy menu.

For this Sheva Brochos party, we had a wonderful group of hosts.  Each of the hosts prepared delicious food and we had quite a spectacular array of breads, soups, salads, pasta, vegetables and fish.  We had beautiful Divrei Torah (words of Torah) and creative and fun games planned and executed by our friends, Shira and Wendy.

For dessert, we had delicious cheesecake, brownies, apple pie a la mode and so many other delicious dairy delights.  Since it was a cold night, Davida convinced me to prepare waffle batter in advance  and to set up a waffle station for our guests.  I made three batches of our favorite waffle recipe and stored them in mason jars.  I set up the waffle maker, the waffle batter, a small measuring cup, cooking spray and an assortment of toppings.

It was simple to wow our guests with these delicious and fun waffles!

Hearty and Simple Udon Soup

udon soup.jpg

Udon soup is our new family fave.  It has all the penicillin-qualities of a hearty chicken soup and oh, so much more! It is a soup that can easily be transformed into an entire meal and is so satisfying and comforting on these cold winter evenings.

This Udon soup starts from scratch but it can also easily be made using leftover Shabbos chicken soup or store-bought chicken broth.   It is the combination of textures, flavors and colors that gives this soup its memorable qualities.

There is something in this soup for everyone. Some like to wrap their fork around the long, thick and hearty Udon noodles, some pick out the green vegetables and other just savor the Asian-inspired broth for its unique flavor.

INGREDIENTS
8 cups chicken stock

1 cup shredded cooked chicken (optional)

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger or ginger powder
2 cloves minced fresh garlic or 1 tablespoon garlic powder
2-3 tablespoons soy sauce
2-3 tablespoons sesame oil

1 package sliced fresh mushrooms
1 zucchini, peeled and sliced

1 bunch of baby bok choy, sliced (see kosher notes)

1/2 cup whole snow peas
1 cup green onions diced

package of fresh Udon noodles

INSTRUCTIONS
Add ginger, garlic, soy sauce  and sesame oil to chicken stock.  Bring to a boil and then add mushrooms,  zucchini and bok choy.  Reduce heat to medium and heat for at least 10 minutes.
Add the Udon noodles and cook according to package directions.  Add green onions and snow peas right before serving to maintain bright green color.

KOSHER NOTES

Kosher laws disallow the eating of any whole insects and therefore greens like bok choy require a process of soaking and rinsing and checking. Kashrut authorities differ on the proper checking of these type of greens and some disallow its use altogether. This blog was not designed to be your kosher authority, so please consult your local rabbinic authority regarding using and preparing bok choy.

.
Enjoy!

Nearly No-Carb Cheesecake with Mom’s Voice

Next week, Don and I will be heading to Israel for my mother-in-law’s ninth Yahrzeit, (commemoration of the anniversary of death) of my mother-in-law, Devorah bas Yitzchok Ahron a’H.  I loved my mother-in-law dearly.  While her physical presence is no longer in this world, her neshoma (soul) endures.  And, the Yahrzeit is the time to reflect on the lessons that she has imparted and continues to impart to us, her children.

My mother-in-law was brutally honest.  She was definitely not subtle.  Not in any way.

She would tell me and everyone else exactly what she thought.  And, exactly what she thought we should do.  She would tell my children that we weren’t taking good enough care of my furniture.  And, that my sister-in-law’s couches were holding up better than mine.   She offered advice to me on how to raise my children.  She couldn’t hold back when she thought someone was too fat or wearing clothing that was not flattering.  And, she always brought me just the items from the dollar store that she thought that I needed in my life.

Mom was absolutely right about most everything.  Her advice was truthful and blunt.  I heard what she said and yet I often rejected her words as harsh and unfair.  Because, in Mom’s lifetime, it was just too much information and it felt so negative.

Now that only her soul and her legacy remains, I interpret her words differently.  I accept them more and push back less.  Honestly, I just needed to learn to accept the criticism and own it.

Now that her physical presence is gone, I still hear her whispering in my ear.  Most amazingly, her voice has merged with my own inner voice.  And, it feels right and only positive now.

“It’s time to lose weight.” “Close the front door.”  “Don’t let the grandchildren play with play dough on the floor.”  “That outfit isn’t flattering.”   These are Mom’s lessons with my own inner voice whispering them.

So, with Mom’s voice as the impetus, we decided to do something exciting, frightening and wonderful on our  Yahrzeit visit to Israel this year.   We decided to jump-start healthier eating habits on this trip with the hope that these habits will last.  And, I feel that Mom has whispered this daunting plan into my ear.  Because, she always wanted her family to be slimmer, more fit and healthier.

Don’s two brothers will be joining us on this trip.  Don’s brother, Yisroel, has been on a modified Atkin’s diet successfully for two years.    He volunteered to be the mentor and coach.  I volunteered to be the cook and menu planner.  Yisroel keeps reminding me that it will be hard work.  And, I am up to the challenge, Mom!

Don’s brother, Mordechai, is on board with this new plan.  For this trip, he will be traveling without the love of his life, Yael.  But, he doesn’t want to give up another love of his life.   Cheesecake.

Don told Mordechai that we will find a way for him to have his cheesecake and eat it, too.   And, since I am in charge of the cooking and meal planning, I was determined to bake a cheesecake with nearly no carbs.

Therefore, I made a simple, crust-free cheesecake with Neufchâtel cream cheese and SPLENDA® .  Although, I generally do not use diet sugars or diet products,  I made an exception here due to the circumstances.   I hope that you love the cheesecake, Mordechai.

Thanks Mom, for that new inner voice!  May your dear neshoma be bound with the souls of the living.

no-carb cheesecake

SUPPLIES

spatula
food processor
mixer

glass pie plate

INGREDIENTS

2 pounds Neufchâtel or light cream cheese
3 large eggs
10 SPLENDA® packets (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

cooking spray

DIRECTIONS

It is best to bring the ingredients to room temperature before baking to prevent cracking, although I have made this recipe effectively with ingredients right out of the refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Prepare pie plate by generously spraying with cooking spray or lining with parchment paper .

In food processor fitted with an S-blade, beat cream cheese, eggs, SPLENDA® and vanilla in a food processor or with a mixer, just until smooth and creamy. You can also use a whisk to incorporate and beat all these ingredients. You will have to scrape sides of bowl to incorporate everything well until combined, smooth and creamy.

Pour mixture into pie plate.

Bake for 40 minutes. Turn oven off and leave in oven to another half-hour.

Remove from the oven and cool completely.  Chill for at least 2 hours before serving.

TIPS

If you would rather use less SPLENDA® , I would suggest just sprinkling a bit on top of the cheesecake when serving.  A sprinkle of SPLENDA®  or powdered sugar on top fools the palate and imparts sweetness to the whole serving.

Cranberry Pears on Blankets

The best desserts are simple ones, delicious bites that highlight beautiful ingredients prepared in spectacular ways.  Most recently, I have taken a liking to not-too-sweet desserts.  I love fruit dessert presentations that show off the natural beauty, unique shape and incredible character of the fruit itself.

This dessert is just that: simple, gorgeous and not too sweet. The contrast of flavors and textures between the pastry, pears, cranberries, and dates is incredible.  The puffed pastry outlines the natural shape of the pears and the pastry leaves add dimension and flair.

This dessert may be served at room temperature or warm.  It can be served a la mode with just a bit of ice cream to add a temperature contrast, as well.

pear on blanket before baking

SUPPLIES

melon baller
paring knives
rolling pin
cutting mats

INGREDIENTS

puffed pastry sheet
4 pears, ripe and soft to the touch
12 fresh or frozen cranberries
handful of chopped dates (optional)
egg wash (optional)

DIRECTIONS

Wash pears well and using paring knife, cut pears in half through each core,  keeping the stem intact.  With a melon baller, scoop the core out of the middle of each pear.

pear on blanket dessert with cores removed.jpg

Fill each scooped-out pear hole with 3 cranberries and a few chopped dates.

pear on blanket dessert filled with cranberries

Using rolling pin, roll out puffed pastry sheet on cutting mat.  Carefully place pears on pastry cut side down, making sure that cranberries and dates do not fall out.  Using  sharp paring knife, trace around the pears, leaving a 1/4″ border of pastry around the pear.  Cut 8 leaf shapes out of the pastry sheet and score each leaf with paring knife to resemble the veins of the leaf. Score the tops of each pair in a grid-like pattern.

Line a baking sheet with parchment and carefully place each pastry pear on the sheet.  Place two leaves on the top of each pear. Optionally, brush the pastry with egg wash.

Bake at 375 degrees F for 20 minutes.

pear on blanket

Serve with a dusting of powdered sugar and/or a dollop of whipped cream.

Thanksgiving Turkey Drumsticks for Dessert

This dessert is simple, adorable and delicious.  It is the perfect dessert to bring the turkey to your Thanksgiving table, even if you opt out of Thanksgiving turkey as we are this year.  This treat will add legitimacy to our Thanksgiving table, even though we are serving an Italian-style dairy feast.

It is a fun treat to prepare with children.  Davida and Avigail dipped the pretzel rods, while Avigail and I helped form the meaty end of each Rice Krispies drumstick.  Like most good recipes around our home,  most of these were devoured before they ever made it to our Thanksgiving table.

Happy Thanksgiving!

rice krispies turkey drumsticks in cage.jpg

INGREDIENTS
1 bag of pretzel rods
1 bag of white chocolate chips or wafers

1 jar of marshmallow fluff
3 tablespoons butter or margarine
6 cups Rice Krispies cereal

cooking spray

DIRECTIONS
Using the defrost mode in the microwave, melt chocolate for 6-9 minutes until chocolate is melted. Stir until smooth.

Break the pretzel rods in half or into 4-5″ lengths. Dip the rounded end into chocolate, rounding the bottom and dipping several times to form the bottom of the drumstick.

Cool dipped pretzel rods on wax or parchment paper.

Over low heat, melt butter or margarine. Add marshmallow fluff and stir until completely melted. Remove from heat. Add Rice Krispies, 2 cups at a time. Stir until well combined.

Spray gloved hands with cooking spray and form oval clumps of Rice Krispies mixture. Stick undipped end of pretzel rod into each oval clump or Rice Krispies mixtire, tightly forming the drumstick shape and adhering it to the pretzel rod.  Allow drumsticks to set on wax or parchment paper.

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Pumpkin Quiche for a Dairy Thanksgiving

pumpkin quiche

We normally celebrate Thanksgiving with a delicious heimeshe (traditional Jewish style) turkey and meat dinner at our niece’s house.  Michal and Shui open their beautiful home and prepare an assortment of delicious foods for this occasion.  After all, the theme of hakaras hatov (thanksgiving) is of paramount importance to our Jewish faith and Thanksgiving is an excellent opportunity to get the family together  to express our appreciation for all that we have been given.  Michal’s dinner is one that the whole family anticipates and enjoys.

This year is different.  This Shabbos, right after Thanksgiving, Michal and Shui will be hosting the entire family for their son’s Bar Mitzvah.  And, the energy and excitement for a wonderful Shabbos all together with aunts, uncles and cousins is palpable.

So, we are left to make our own plans for Thanksgiving.   And, this year, Thanksgiving day comes on the heels of Michelle’s birthday.  And Michelle loves milchig (dairy) foods.

We are changing things up this year and having a dairy Thanksgiving feast with many of Michelle’s favorite foods.  There will be Onion Quiche, fettuccine alfredo (stay tuned for the recipe), Lasagna and plenty of salads.  Of course there will be a Carvel ice cream cake, Michelle’s favorite, and some Cheesecake for dessert.

And, in celebration of Thanksgiving, I will be serving this awesome pumpkin quiche.  After all, we have to keep some tradition in this festive dairy birthday feast.

INGREDIENTS

2 tablespoons oil
2-3 onions
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2  teaspoon salt
dash of black pepper

4 eggs
1/4 cup cream
1/2 cup milk
1 large can of pumpkin puree
8 ounces shredded or grated cheese

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Over medium-high heat, heat oil and add onions and seasonings. Stir occasionally until the onions are soft. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the onions are light brown, stirring occasionally.

Place half of the cheese in the quiche pan. Combine the eggs, cream, milk and pumpkin puree. Pour into the quiche pan over the cheese. Sprinkle the sauteed onions and garlic over the egg mixture and top with the remaining shredded cheese.

Bake uncovered for 45 minutes or until the top of the quiche is golden-brown.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Avigail’s Simple Pilgrim Hats

This year we are hosting a dairy Thanksgiving feast.

The idea germinated when I realized that Thanksgiving this year falls out right after Michelle’s birthday.  Since Michelle loves Italian dairy foods, it just made sense to offer a dairy menu instead of the traditional Thanksgiving fare.  Since kosher dietary laws prevent the combination of milk and meat, once I chose to go dairy, it precluded having a turkey as the centerpiece of the meal.

Truth be told, I thought to create a vegetarian turkey.  I defrosted two bags of frozen broccoli and brussel sprouts and formed these green vegetables into the shape of a turkey.  I roasted the “green turkey” in the oven with just a drizzle of olive oil, Himalayan sea salt and a dash of balsamic vinegar.  The oven was set on a timed bake cycle while I set out to run some errands.  My plan was that once I returned, the green vegetable turkey would be ready and cooled down.  I would then cover the top of the green turkey with mozzarella cheese and strips of puffed pastry.  Once baked, I hoped that it would resemble a turkey and would make a great centerpiece to our dairy Thanksgiving table.

That seemed like a great plan.  Except, there were two problems: Leah had a day off from school and the roasted broccoli and brussel sprout turkey smelled so delicious once ready.

And, Leah claims that there was a third problem, too.  My green turkey really didn’t bear a close enough resemblance to a turkey.  When she came down for her morning coffee, the timed bake timer was ringing and the oven had just shut off as planned.  She peeked inside the oven and just couldn’t resist tasting the mound of broccoli and brussel sprouts.  And, the taste was so delicious that she ate nearly the whole pan of vegetables.  Leah claimed that she had no idea that this was the start of a vegetable turkey.

So, it was back to the drawing board.

With no green vegetables left to recreate the Thanksgiving turkey, I had to try something else.  So, I opted to reintroduce Thanksgiving to our dairy feast with these adorable Pilgrim hats.

The good news is..they are so simple that my four year old granddaughter made them with a bit of assistance from Davida, my youngest daughter.  It took only two simple ingredients and just a few minutes to prepare.

And, Leah is still busy taste-testing.

simple pilgrim hats by Avigail

INGREDIENTS

Chocolate OREO’s or chocolate sandwich cookies
Reese’s mini peanut butter cups

DIRECTIONS

Unwrap all the peanut butter cups, removing the outer foil wrap and the paper wrapper around the chocolate. Carefully separate the sandwich cookies, taking care to leave some cream o both cookies.

Gently press the peanut butter cup into the center of the cookie, using the cream from the center to help adhere the peanut butter cup.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Simple Celery Ribbons

I am fascinated with garnishes, especially simple garnishes constructed from ordinary ingredients.  After all, simple garnishes put the wow into a dish.  This one is fast and simple, using just celery and cold water.

celery ribbons.png

INGREDIENTS

celery
cold water

DIRECTIONS

Remove a stalk from a head of celery and wash well.  Using a peeler, peel long ribbons of celery off of the celery stalk.

Drop the celery ribbons into cold water and submerge completely for at least 20 minutes or refrigerate overnight.

celery ribbons in ice water.jpg

Voila!

Simple as Pie Pretzel Pizza

simple as pie pretzel pizza.JPG

Now that they have changed the clock, Shabbos starts and ends an hour earlier. Traditionally, we eat a meal called a Melave Malke (literally, Escorting the Queen) to accompany the Shabbos queen from our homes.

Typically, after the meat-based Shabbos meals, the Melave Malke meal is dairy.  Aaron, who has been our official Melave Malke cook is in Cleveland, so I am mostly on my own to prepare Motzei Shabbos (Saturday night).  Some family favorite Melave Malka delicacies are Baked Spaghetti Squash with Sauce and Cheese and Calzones.  

On the first Motzei Shabbos after changing the clock, I decided to change things up.  Rather than order or prepare from-scratch pizza, I decided to layer on-hand ingredients to prepare something delicious and different.

I prepared a pizza pretzel pie.  It started with frozen pretzels.  I spread the pretzels out atop a bed of wraps.  I then layered sauce and sprinkled a blend of shredded mozzarella and cheddar cheese.  I baked it all for 20 minutes and voila! We had simple as pie pretzel pizza.

INGREDIENTS

wheat wraps or flour tortillas
frozen pretzels (like Superpretzel)
marinara sauce
shredded cheese

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Line a pizza pan with parchment paper. Spread a layer of tortillas or wraps, overlapping slightly, until the entire pizza pan is covered. Place pretzels on top and then brush with sauce and sprinkle with cheese. Optionally, sprinkle with topping such as sesame seeds, fresh garlic or chopped vegetables.

Bake for 15-30 minutes, until the cheese has melted.

Shavuah Tov! (good week)

Out of the Bowl Tiered Salad

Who says that salad must be served in a salad bowl and tossed?

out of the bowl salad-side view.png

One of the most exciting things about salad is its versatility.  A beautiful and delicious salad can incorporate so many disparate ingredients and the contrast of colors, textures and flavors makes each salad unique.

Today’s salad is about layering a gorgeous vessel with different vegetables and toppings.  Its effortless simplicity achieves an elegance that highlights the colorful and flavorful vegetables themselves.

This salad is prepared on a rose gold hammered elongated platter with the ingredients placed in long tiers.  The vibrant colors of the romaine lettuce, shredded fresh beets, rainbow peppers and heirloom tomatoes speak for themselves.

SUPPLIES

hammered elongated bowl (different than bowl pictured on blog post)

INGREDIENTS

romaine lettuce, shredded
raw red beets, peeled and shredded
rainbow peppers, cut into small pieces
heirloom tomatoes
parsley and scallions, cut into tiny pieces

Balsamic Vinaigrette

DIRECTIONS

Place a layer of shredded romaine lettuce.  Top that with a layer of shredded red beets, overlapping the bottom layer so that the romaine lettuce can be viewed from the sides.

out of the bowl salad-layers 1 and 2.png

Top that with small pieces of rainbow peppers and small colorful tomatoes.

rainbow peppers

Garnish with shredded or sliced parsley and scallions.  Drizzle Balsamic Vinaigrette over the salad and serve.

out of the bowl salad partial view.png

 

This salad is truly simple to wow!

out of the bowl salad.png

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