Archive for the ‘Food+Community’ Category

The Purim Surprise

This year, for the first time ever, we were prepared for Purim. And by we, I mean I. Each year I say I’ll make Hamentaschen or that we’ll deliver Purim baskets, but every year we instead eat someone else’s Hamnentaschen and forget about the baskets until it is too late. Why is this year different from all other years? The Purim Surprise.

This book, a gift from the PJ Library, is a favorite of The Spitfire and puts heavy emphasis on the gift baskets, AKA “Shalach Manot” (and variations thereof).  Last month she started saving her candies from doctor visits, birthday parties and her wonderful piano teacher, for the shalach manot gifts she planned to give her friends. With that kind of advanced planning, I needed to be a little more on the ball, too. So, I bought some pastel chocolate rocks and went on a hunt for the perfect Hamentaschen recipe. I tried a few that literally fell flat until I remembered that several  year ago the PJ library had sent our family Joan Nathan’s Children’s Jewish Holiday Kitchen, a wonderful family cookbook with specific instructions on cooking and baking with kids. We put a few of the cookies in the gift bags, and took the rest to the Energizer Bunny’s pre-K class.

These are so easy, and so delicious. Don’t wait for next Purim to make them. These can be adapted to be kosher, as below.

Joan Nathan’s Hamentaschen


For the dough:

2/3C (1+1/3 sticks) pareve margarine or butter

½ C sugar

1 egg

3T milk or water

½ t vanilla

2 ½ -3 C sifted all-purpose unbleached flour

Filling options:

Any kind of fruit preserves

Peanut butter

Chocolate chips


Chopped apples



You can do each step by hand, but I use the food processor to make the dough.

  1. Cream butter and sugar.
  2. Add egg and continue creaming until smooth.
  3. Add milk or water and vanilla and mix.
  4. Sift flour and mix with rest of dough until a ball of dough is formed.
  5. Divide into 2 cylinders about 3 inches in diameter. Wrap each cylinder in cling wrap and refrigerate 3 hours or overnight.
  6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  7. Using one cylinder at a time (keeping the rest in the fridge until needed) cut 1/8-inch slices and roll them out with a rolling pin.
  8. Place 1t filling in the center of each circle.
  9. Draw the edges up at 3 points to form a triangle around the filling and pinch together carefully.
  10. Place triangles on ungreased baking sheets (I used parchment paper—the filing tends to run) and bake 20 minutes, or until golden brown.
  11. Cool on a rack.

Happy Hanukkah, Y’all!

Each year during Hanukkah our friend Josh comes for dinner and fry latkes. A few years ago, Josh brought Erica with him. This year, he and Erica brought their tiny, cute baby. In the name of family sanity, we decided ahead of times to forego the latke-frying this one year and buy them already prepared at Whole Foods. Then, I just had to heat them in the oven on cookie sheets for a few minutes.

I don’t consider Hanukkah to have a traditional set menu the way Thanksgiving or even Passover can, but I do have an idea of a traditional winter Jewish meal and it has two key point: slow-cooked beef and a kugel. Since I was going to be gone almost the whole day, I opted for a very easy slow-cooked beef stew (yes, again from “America’s Test Kitchen” and again a home run). This recipe taught me about the joy of using frozen chopped opinion for soups and stews. Why have I not know about this before? I should have bought 40 bags, in case I never find them again. I also bought rice that steams in the bag in the microwave. This shortcut seems a little less Whole Foods-sanctioned, and I will try to use it sparingly, but it worked out great last night. Then, I roasted asparagus right before serving dinner.

The kugel recipe was a on scrap of paper stuck in another cookbook (“Lowfat Jewish Cooking” if you can believe it). It credits the Hadassah Sisterhood cookbook of Valdosta, GA. I don’t know where or when I found this gem, but I’d bet it was at least a dozen years ago. Everyone loved this peach kugel. What’s not to love? I made it the night before and it reheated extremely well.

Peach Noodle Kugel

Great for: Pot luck dinners, a meal with company, comfort food, brunch

Prep: 15 minutes

Cook: 45 minutes

Cool: 30 minutes


8-12 oz medium egg noodles (I used 12, recipe called for 8)

3T butter, plus additional for baking dish

3 eggs

½ C sugar

2C milk, preferably whole

½ C seedless raisins

16-oz can sliced cling peaches, drained, or 2 fresh peaches sliced ¼-inch thick


2T butter

¼ C bread crumbs

½ t ground cinnamon


Preheat oven to 350 and lightly coat 13/9/2 baking dish with butter.

Prepare noodles according to package directions. Drain and transfer to large bowl. Add butter and toss until melted and noodles are coated. Set aside

In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar until combined. Whisking constantly, slowly pour milk in steady stream. Add raisins. Pour egg mixture over noodles and toss to coat. Transfer mixture to baking dish. Cover and bake 30 minutes.

Prepare Streusel: In a small saucepan on medium-low heat, melt butter. Add bread crumbs and cinnamon and stir until coated. Remove from heat and set aside.

Remove kugel from oven and arrange peach slices in rows on the surface and sprinkle evenly with streusel topping. Return kugel to oven, uncovered, and bake about 15 minutes or until kugel is lightly browned and custard sets. Transfer dish to wire rack to cool for 30 minutes. Serve warm.

Do ahead: you can cool, cover and refrigerate the kugel, then heat it for 30 minutes at 300 degrees, covered.

Serves 10-12.


Meatless Monday: Creamy Tomato Soup

It’s soup season, and in preparation for an upcoming Soup Swap I test-drove a new tomato bisque recipe. I have been making a number of new dishes form America’s test Kitchen’s Slow Cooker Revolution and this cookbook has the best recipes for a slow cooker that I’ve seen so far. As you know, I made the cornbread dressing for Thanksgiving from this cookbook and it was a success, in large part because I utilized a technique to reduce the risk of burning the breading (A technique that also works for pasta dishes).

There are two things I dislike about this cookbook:  

1)    There are very few recipes where you dump in a bunch of ingredients, with little prep work, and turn it on. Usually, you have to combine and microwave some ingredients, sauté a few things first, that kind of thing. But, the results are better and I guess that is what it’s all about. I can generally handle 15-20 minutes of prep work in the morning over a 20-30 minute recipe in the evening, so it’s still a time-saver for me for dinners.

2)    Most of its recipes could easily be vegetarian, but aren’t. This soup, for example, calls for chicken broth but I was making it to share with a vegetarian friend who is feeling ill, so I subbed in vegetable broth. (I’m pretty sure this would be a fine vegan soup if you sub oil for butter and don’t add the cream.) I can’t understand why they wouldn’t make it as the best possible vegetarian soup when the option is so easy and broadens its appeal. Most of its recipes have meat and I only eat meat once a day, tops, so it limits my options in planning out the day.

Creamy Tomato Soup

Great for: Soup Swaps (can easily be doubled or tripled), soup course for a meal with company, paired with grilled cheese or pizza for a fast family meal.

Prep: 15 minutes

Cook: 4-6 hours

Post-prep: 5 minutes


2T unsalted butter

3 14.5-oz cans diced tomatoes, drained, juice reserved

1 onion, minced

1T brown sugar

1T tomato paste

Salt and pepper

2T all-purpose flour

1T tomato paste

3C low-sodium broth (chicken or vegetable), plus extra as needed

2 bay leaves

1/2C heavy cream (I used a cup on accident, and it was divine)

2 t dry sherry

Pinch of cayenne pepper


Melt butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add tomatoes, onion, sugar, tomato paste, and 1/2 t salt and cook until tomatoes are dry and lightly browned, 8-10 minutes. Stir in flour and cook 1 minute. Slowly whisk in 1C broth, scraping up any brown bits, then transfer to slow cooker.

Stir remaining 2C broth, reserved tomato juice and bay leaves into slow cooker. Cover and cook until tomatoes begin to break down, 4-6 hours on low.

Discard bay leaves. Working in batches, puree soup in blender until smooth, then transfer to a large sauce pan (NOTE: I used an immersion blender directly in the slow cooker, with negated the need to let the soup cool or transfer it. I fracking love that blender).

Stir in cream, sherry and cayenne, and add more broth as needed to adjust consistency or temper pepper.

Reheat soup to medium heat, season with salt and pepper and serve.

Add croutons or crusty parmesan bread (optional).


Milk at lunch: a black or white issue?

It’s been quite a week in food health research, and it’s only Wednesday! In school lunch news, the New York Times reported that bans on soda in middle school have made virtually no difference in reducing sugary-drink consumption among those students during school hours.

“The study, which looked at thousands of public school students across 40 states, found that removing soda from cafeterias and school vending machines only prompted students to buy sports drinks, sweetened fruit drinks and other sugar-laden beverages instead. In states that banned only soda, students bought and consumed sugary drinks just as frequently at school as their peers in states where there were no bans at all.”

Then, I heard on CNN that a recent study finds fast food purchases increase as consumers rise from lower- to middle-income earners. This finding goes against the conventional wisdom that lower income consumers buy more fast food, contributing significantly to their higher rate of obesity.

“There is a correlation between obesity and lower income, but it cannot be solely attributed to restaurant choice,” Leigh said in a statement. “Fast-food dining is most popular among the middle class, who are less likely to be obese.”

And all of this news is happening during Jamie Oliver’s “Milk Week of Action” challenge, which sets its sights on pressuring schools to take flavored milk off the menu. In light of the news about school soda consumption, I’m wondering how effective this result would be among older children, but I’ve already seen its effectiveness among one sample group: my children.


Image courtesy of Food revolution


My 4 year old will not drink plain milk. As a baby, he couldn’t digest milk, and so we gave him rice milk until he was two years old. But the switch to milk after he outgrew his intolerance didn’t really “take” like I’d hoped. He gets most of calcium from other sources, but he will drink chocolate milk, which I dilute with skim. I generally feel that it’s better than no milk. However.

This week he started at a new preschool which lets kids buy lunch at the adjacent grade-school cafeteria. All last week he bought a school lunch, and at the end of the week he told me “They only let me buy white milk. And I drink it. And I like it a little bit!” So, for him the lack of choice in the milk department has turned his taste buds around.

The Food Revolution site has a number of ideas for influencing/reducing the milk options at the school your children attend. It can be as simple as writing a letter to the principal, or more involved community action. But only, of course, if you believe that your school should offer only pure milk. What do you think is the best method: milk by any means, or reducing the choice to the healthiest one?  Is it a battle worth fighting? Or, do you think kids will end up consuming the same amount of sugary milk even if it’s removed from elementary schools, the way they do in middle schools? Share your thoughts it he comments, below.

Love and Best Dishes, Paula

The Texas Book Festival takes place every October here in Austin, and every October I lament my ability to drop my kids at a park and spend the day at the festival. I know, one day in the not-too-distant future I’ll be able to do as I please on any given Saturday, but sometimes the waiting is the hardest part. This year, though, I had a several-hour window of childlessness on Sunday morning and took it as an opportunity to see and hear Paula Deen at one of my favorite Austin venues, the historic Paramount Theater. I was far from the only person with the same thought as this picture of the line to enter, wrapped around the corner and then some, illustrates. (aAd yes, those men are wearing shorts. It’s October in Texas, and we’re still wearing shorts).

Paula’s interviewer was Hugh Acheson (Top Chef Masters!), who took himself pretty seriously, but Paula quickly guided him “down home” for a more grounded conversation. They began talking about Paula’s publishing history, especially her big break, when a Random House publisher dined at her Savannah restaurant and asked for a copy of Paula’s self-published cookbook. The conversation moved onto Southern foods and I’ll share the Paula wit-and-wisdom from this part of the conversation:

  • In the south, we show our love with food. “If you die, your family is going to get a pie. If you have a baby, you are going to get a pie. If you move into our neighborhood, you are going to get a pie.”
  • Hugh: “I want to make Kimchi rice grits.” Paula: “Have you tried salt, pepper and butter? Throw a little cheese in it, honey.”
  • Her son Bobby has a new cooking show that makes her recipes healthier: “I used to say about the Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding, one serving per lifetime. Now, I can have it three times.”
  • “We eat more vegetables in the South than any other region of the country”
  • In the Q&A, when asked about her husband Michael’s favorite meal: “Oxtail, or standing rib roast. Do you know what Michael looks like? He likes a lot of food.”
  • How did food help you with your separation and divorce? “It was because of food that I was able to get my separation and divorce. So, it helped a lot.”

On the more serious side, I was impressed with the women Paula says she modeled herself after. Her Aunt Peggy and her grandmother were her inspirations, and Paula said her grandmother could literally break down a turtle to make the finest bowl of turtle soup. It reminds me to be mindful of cooking and baking with and in the presence of my own kids rather than when they are otherwise occupied, so they might correlate food and family, kitchens and cooking, with family life.

And as bonus, I found out about this dessert blog from my friend Bonnie who I ran into on the way to the line. I am going to make some kick-ass treats.

Are you a Paula Deen fan? I think she’s hilarious, and I really enjoy her children’s cookbooks because they are spiral bound and pre-literacy minded, with incredibly easy recipes that my kids feel confident about following. But, I haven’t bought one of her “grown-up” cookbooks yet. Do you have one you love? Or is Paula not your cup of tea? Leave a comment!

The Gift of Food

After the Energizer Bunny was born, I was lucky enough to have wonderful friends, neighbors and fellow AustinMamas bring dinners for our family for 6-8 weeks. I’d learned a few lessons from receiving meals after the birth of the Spitfire, and I had insight into the process after delivering many a meal to a family who had just welcomed a new baby.

The Energizer Bunny will lull you into a dream state with his cuteness, allowing you to momentarily forget that he was up partying all night

For these gifts of food, my rules were thus:

  1. Thou shalt not schedule more than 3 meals per week. People bring over too much food, more often than not, and  we’d need space in our week for leftovers. Plus, sometimes I just want to eat cereal for dinner.
  2. Thou shalt not freeze food from unknown origins. I have a no re-freezing policy. If the meat was thawed and then cooked, the end product will not go back into the freezer no matter how tempting it is to save leftovers for a future date.  Certain members of my family do not have iron stomachs and re-freezing previously frozen meat is just asking for trouble that no new mama needs. And, asking someone if they used frozen meat is, in my opinion, ill-advised. I don’t want to make anyone who brings me food feel awkward about what they have brought, and House says that everybody lies (also: It’s never Lupus). Sometimes people brought store-bought items like rotisserie chicken or Rudy’s BBQ, and those were treated like anything we bought ourselves.
  3. Thou shalt not be picky. I don’t like raw tomato, for example, but I’ll eat a Caprese Salad if someone is nice enough to bring it to me. Because the rest of my life is going to be figuring out what’s for dinner.
  4. Thou shalt not attempt to lose the baby weight until the free meals stop. See above.
  5. Thou shalt ask for the recipe post-haste. Some of my family’s favorite meals came from these gifts, and I enjoy thinking of those days home with a newborn and the person who thoughtfully brought me the meal whenever I look at or cook from those recipes.

One such favorite items was a dessert from a friend whose daughter is a close friend of the Spitfire. She warned me that they were fattening, and I let her know about my 4th rule. These Peanut Butter Bars are AMAZING. Bring them to a friend sometime! I’m posting the recipe the exact way she emailed it to me, below. And, now that I’m re-reading the recipe, I plan to make them again this weekend!

Margaret’s Peanut Butter Bars

Blend to creamy- 1 C Brown sugar, 4 eggs, 1C peanut butter 1/2 stick butter, 1 teaspoon vanilla.  Add 1 1/2 C flour, 2 C oats 1 teaspoon baking soda- Grease square baking pan- bake 25-40- mins at 350. Not a low fat food item.

First Annual Food Day on October 24

Food seems to be on everyone’s mind these days in ways it wasn’t before. The spread of childhood obesity, type 2 diabetes and malnutrition in the U.S. has caught the attention of the press, the White House and the entertainment industry. The support for sustainable, affordable and healthy foods is one of the few progressively political movements that has, literally, grass roots. As homeowners or even renters, we can plant a garden or participate in a community garden. As parents, we have the opportunity to educate our children about healthy, sustainable foods. As school volunteers, we have the opportunity to educate all of our neighborhood children. As member of networks, we can spread the word to our friends. But, there has not been one single day dedicated to pushing for healthy, affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane way. Until now.

The nonprofit watchdog group Center for Science in the Public Interest is sponsoring the first annual Food Day on October 24.

Anyone can participate, in any manner of ways. You can host a potluck with sustainable foods as the required ingredients. Volunteer to speak at your child’s school about the relationship between diet and learning. Take your kids to the garden and talk about where food comes from, and how processed foods and whole foods differ. Sponsor your child’s preschool class for a field trip to a farmer’s market or whole foods, or a working farm. Contact your representative to let them know that supporting healthy, sustainable and affordable foods is important to you (you can take this step on the home page of

I bet you have are other, more creative ideas for honoring this day. Tell us about them in the comments section.