A Very Zen Thanksgiving

Posted: November 18, 2009 | Author: Rita | Filed under: Rita | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Thanksgiving is one of those holidays resplendent with color: vibrant oranges, browns and reds; harvest time. A cornucopia centerpiece never graced my family’s table, but if it did, I’d make sure it burst with colorful seasonal fruits. While Thanksgiving is an American holiday, I believe the Japanese have the right idea when it comes to a complete meal: everything should be balanced by the varieties of color, texture and flavor, which is why when creating meals, I strive for harmony, case in point, my colorful dinner party the other week. No better time to put this in practice than now, when seasonal fruits and veggies are a huge component of the traditional Thanksgiving meal.

This year I’ll be home and in all likelihood, my mother and aunt will insist on cooking everything themselves. Usually we’ll feature the standards — turkey, sweet potatoes, stuffing, canned cranberries that none of us will actually eat, and of course pumpkin. Despite autumn’s bounty of seasonal options, my clan tends to go for the heavy stuff and far too many starches.

If I distilled down to a bento box of what Thanksgiving foods mean to me, here’s what I’d feature:

- Pumpkin phyllo cups (hors d’ourves)
- Apple and butternut squash soup
- Arugula and cranberry salad with almond slivers
- Wild rice with parsnip and squash
- Smashed sweet potatoes
- Sauteed collard greens, meatless
- Roast turkey with rosemary sage stuffing
- Pumpkin pie made with homemade whipped non-dairy cream or pumpkin whoopie pies (using Tofutti cream cheese for the filling in this case)

When hosting guests, a great bite-sized hors d’ourves is pumpkin phyllo cups, which are also super easy to make. Take a 15 oz can of pureed pumpkin, stir in 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, 1 tsp cinnamon and 1/2 tsp nutmeg; adjust to taste. Scoop them into little phyllo dough cups and bake at 350 on a cookie sheet until phyllo becomes golden. It’s like mini pumpkin pies!

The first time I ever tried pumpkin, in fact, was eating a variation of this, in boreka-like phyllo pockets, rather than cups. My love affair with pumpkin started then.

The rest of the menu has links to their recipes or are pretty standard, but combine well altogether to highlight the bounty that nature brings us this time of year, as well as sharing it with the bounty of our loved ones. Happy Thanksgiving!


Shabbat Birthday Dinner

Posted: November 6, 2009 | Author: Rita | Filed under: Rita | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Hi all,

Long time no write! I apologize for the hiatus but between work and technical difficulties I wasn’t able to write about any fabulous kosher creations of mine. But let’s look forward, not back. Autumn is a great time of year for food and I look forward to incorporating seasonal fruits and veggies in my cooking as much as possible.

What else is great is that my birthday is in autumn, next week in fact. A friend of mine graciously agreed to host Shabbat dinner as a dinner party/birthday celebration/Shabbat meal. I’m very excited, not only to share a meal with good friends but also because as always, I’m dying to cook for a dinner party.

A Shabbat meal is the epitome of dinner parties, with certain items that are musts. (Challah; some sort of chicken or meat, usually; wine.) These can be tweaked if necessary — I’ve been to many a vegan and vegetarian Shabbat dinner and lunch, for example.

Preparing and cooking for the ten of us who are attending this week gets expensive, which is why I don’t do this more often. However, my friend who’s hosting alerted me to a wonderful program run by Taglit Birthright, which you may have heard is the program that sends Jews 18 – 26 years old on a fully subsidized 10 day trip to Israel, so they can be more connected with the country and see what a great place it is. I did this the summer of 2003. (That’s right, I missed the big Northeastern blackout because I was on a kibbutz in the Golan Heights at the time.)

Anyway, what I didn’t know until two weeks ago is that Birthright will sponsor alumni of their trip to host any Shabbat meal — dinner, lunch, Havdallah (end of shabbat dinner), for at least four and no more than 16 adults… at $25 per person. Wow. Granted, you’re only allowed to do this once every 30 days, and I gotta say, kosher food is really pricey. And so they know you’re not gaming them, you have to take a picture of you and all the guests holding a customized sign so they know how many people to reimburse you for. Or, if you don’t roll on Shabbos like John Goodman in the Big Lebowski, take a picture beforehand of the set table and prep-work. No cash advance though, only reimbursement. But! Great deal! I plan on taking this opportunity as much as possible. So, this is how this week’s Shabbat meal will be funded.

Since my friend is a big wine and scotch connoisseur, he’s taking care of that and allocating a big chunk of the budget for drinks, as well as buying and preparing the meat. I’m very excited for kosher meat, since I don’t eat it too often; I’m practically a vegetarian.

Adding to the challenge of cooking for 10 — I insisted on creating and executing most of the menu, is that diner will be held not at my apartment, where I am familiar with the kitchen and the things in it, but at my friend’s, who, while I’m guessing has necessary supplies and cookware, doesn’t even have garlic and onions on hand! (I asked.) By necessity I will make some dishes there and transport the rest. Oh boy.

Here’s the full menu:

Appetizers
- Hummus, Tahini, Turkish/Eggplant Salad (all store-bought)
- Diced Beet Salad in tamarind dressing
- Mixed Green Salad with red onion, apple slices and cherry tomatoes
- Salmon (my friend is taking care of this)

Entrees and Sides
- Baked Chicken (my friend is taking care of this)
- Rainbow Swiss Chard with golden raisins and pine nuts
- Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Puree
- Quinoa Pilaf with chickpeas, pomegranate and spices
- Sesame Broccoli

Dessert
- Grapes
- Pumpkin Swirl Brownies

The brownies were baked last night and omfg they look mouth-wateringly beautiful, a perfect pale orange swirled with wisps of chocolate. Pictures will be posted in my next entry. I know Bakezilla wrote about cakes making the best birthday dessert and I definitely agree! But I can’t resist a pumpkin-chocolate combo, ever. Even if I have to substitute butter for margarine.

I tweaked the brownie recipe based on the comments posted beneath it — thanks, Internet! They were actually very helpful, so if you’re going to try it out (please do!), take a look there first for tips. Last night I also seeded a pomegranate and washed four bunches of chard, but I still have a lot of work to do to get it all ready!

Tonight: make the sweet potato/squash puree, soak the red onions in cider vinegar for a couple of hours, make the chard and make the beet salad. I’ll do everything else at my friend’s place day of.

I’ll update next week to share how it all went down! Whew.



Johanna: The Improviser

Never quite follows the recipe. Doesn't really measure. Tastes with her fingers. Somehow, it always works.

Alyssa: The Triple Threat

Can do it all. And modest to boot.

Bakezilla: We Use Mixers Too

She likes to bake. Actually, baking is the only thing she does. It's a passion.

Rita: The Kosher Chick

Restrictions have nothing on her.