Sunday, November 20, 2016

Our Table Review!

Our table was a place where my siblings, parents and grandparents would gather around on a Sunday afternoon. The menu rarely wavered, but no one complained because the roasted chicken, potatoes, peas and carrots, and fresh bread still warm from the bakery were as much a part of the experience as the stories and laughter shared week after week during the meals. I’d sit directly across from my grandfather and always opted to stay at the table with the grown-ups instead of running to play. 

On alternating Sundays we’d visit my paternal grandparents and spend the afternoon with my grandparents, aunt, uncle, cousins, and even great aunt and uncle! The table would, again, be set with all of our favourites and my grandmother would have her famous carrot cake waiting in the fridge in its Pyrex dish covered with plastic wrap, ensuring no grandchild tasted the incredible cream cheese frosting before it was on the table for dessert.

Our tables were places where we grew up, where we spent time with family, where we laughed and made the memories that we share now on Sundays at my parents house – who have themselves graduated to grandparents.

These memories all came rushing back the second I opened Renee Muller’s cookbook, Our Table. It is more than a cookbook. It is a window into the importance of setting aside time to create memories with family. From the day I started this blog, I’ve always believed that there’s no better place to do that than around the table sharing a meal together. When my Dad picks up the bread from the bakery before the meal or my Mom brings the carrot cake to the table on Sundays now, the line drawn from the past to the present is almost tangible. 


First and foremost, this cookbook cannot begin to be discussed without mention of the photography. Absolutely stunning. I can honestly say that the photographs in this cookbook far surpass that of any others I’ve seen (and I love cookbooks). Daniel Lailah’s work is excellent. The images are bold, raw and crisp. The spills, drips and imperfections add the perfect balance to the impeccable dishes serving as the focal point. Having earned a degree in Art History (a.k.a. having spent years studying composition and the finest of details) I couldn’t look at the images without thinking of the countless pieces by Caravaggio I devoted my final year to, and the use of darkness and chiaroscuro. The dark background, raw presentation and use of light to highlight the main dish, are executed perfectly. Renee is not only the author of the cookbook, but also served as the food and prop stylist, and there is no questioning her talent. 

The images draw you in and not only encourage you to attempt the recipes, but serve as snapshots of the table. The cutlery strewed about, the spills and imperfections, the hands slicing fruit or meat or reaching out, you can all but hear the memories being made. The unconventional images are also riveting. Two in particular stand out: the cabbage roll recipe has two full page pictures, one a head of cabbage against a dark background with the page next to it the finished baked rolls, as well as the cabbage salad recipe with the ingredients laid out across the page. This is as much a work of art as it is a kitchen companion. 

This is a cookbook that I would read not only for the content of the recipes, but for Renee’s voice in the notes accompanying each page. The memories and moments shared with her family and children are often casual, as if you’re shopping with them at Costco and coming across the brownie brittle for the first time. The honest, open and comfortable discourse throughout the book is notable. From the intros to each chapter, to the very beginning where she delves into the meaning of a tavola as where, “life and food meet.” Having also grown up in a traditional European family, I can easily relate to the stories and values peppered ever so naturally throughout the book. 

Now, for the food itself! The recipes are not your typical kosher cookbook fare. They are rich in variety and flavours from Creamy Mozzarella Balls with Sugo Della Nonna to Kaas Potjes, each page encourages you to try new, fresh flavours and dishes. We’ve enjoyed the Lemony Dill Salmon, Meat Manicotti, Cabbage Rolls, Tampenade, Brownie Brittle and more! The recipes are accompanied by helpful notes, from which recipes are freezer friendly, to how to prepare that certain dish on Yom Tov to links to videos with further tutorials, and even tips on how to make certain dishes low-carb etc. There’s a Pesach guide at the very beginning, ensuring this is a cookbook able to be used year round, (I was surprised to find a Pesach cake slipped right in to the cake chapter!). On that note, plenty of the recipes bare a gluten-free distinction, appealing to a wider audience! The directions are straight forward and broken down to make the process of preparing each dish as simple as possible. 

This is a wonderful cookbook that you’ll want to keep on your coffee table rather than on the cookbook shelf. Its beauty is matched with its freshness in terms of voice and recipes. If you’re looking for a new dish to shake up your menu look no further! You’ll find endless inspiration from the flavour combinations to the gorgeous images in Our Table.

I’m so excited to share the Brownie Brittle recipe, (reproduced with permission from the copyright holder, Artscroll Publications, October 2016). I can already see this recipe being included with other homemade goodies in Chanukah gift baskets, or as the perfect addition to Mishloach Manos! They’re simple and quick to prepare and can be adapted to your taste! We added chips and white chocolate chips as well as pretzels to our batch!  

Brownie Brittle 
Renee Muller's Our Table p.228
Pareve/ Dairy/ Freezer-Friendly/ 20 Servings

2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla sugar
1 ½ cups flour
¾ cup cocoa
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 1/3 cups oil
4 eggs
2 tablespoons corn syrup
About 1 cup brown salted pretzels OR other topping, such as nuts, chocolate chips, etc., optional

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, on low speed, combine sugars, flour, cocoa, and baking powder. Add oil, eggs, and corn syrup. Mix until just combined, scraping down the sides as needed.

3. Divide the batter between the two baking sheets; using an offset spatula, spread into an even layer. Scatter broken pretzels over the batter. Bake for 35-40 minutes. Let cool completely; then break into pieces. Store in an airtight container or freeze until ready to serve.

Dairy Option:
Use 2 (3.5- ounce bars white almond chocolate, chopped, for the topping (Renee suggests Schmerling’s). 

This cookbook was generously provided by Artscroll. The opinions and perspective provided in this review are my own. 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Summer 2016!

I was the weird kid in school, who dreaded summer vacation. I absolutely loved going to school, from the routine, to the lessons and just about everything. I would seriously cry on the last day of school, and start a countdown for September. Yup. 

Having said that, today I'm so grateful for the memories I have of summers at my grandparents' house. I will admit, during those endless days of going back and forth between playing teacher, jumping rope and eating our body weight in fruit salad and ice cream, I often complained about being bored or wishing our summers looked more like those of my friends who were traveling or going to Wonderland or malls everyday...

What I'd give for a quiet afternoon with my grandparents now! They went out of their way to put down a carpet in their garage and put up a chalkboard, where my sister and I would sit for hours playing. My grandfather made us skipping ropes out of rope and duct tape and they were awesome. We'd have spontaneous trips to the park or out to eat that were so special! The amount of excitement infused into a walk down the street to go to the wading pool was incredible.

This is our first summer with two toddlers! Two years ago Y was only 4-7 months old for his first summer, and last year N was a newborn. Y's first summer saw plenty of trips to the park, long walks and even an incredible Disney World vacation, courtesy of my parents! N's first summer was very different… It kicked off with the NICU and was followed by hospital visits and surgical wait lists. Summer was lost somewhere between reflux and feeding clusters and sleep regressions. We did manage to get in one or two outings, but for the most part it was a blur. Out of that fog and on the other side now, our days seem to alternate between, "don't climb that!" and all the cuddles and giggles and exploring and songs possible. 

I'm determined to live it up this summer, after all of our struggles last year. While a part of me misses the silent walks through the park with a sleeping infant or laying our little guy on a swaddle blanket on the grass and watching his eyes light up at the passing clouds, leaves and birds, there's something about watching our oldest go down the slide over and over again or our youngest taking tentative steps on the grass, or watching them both pump their legs on the swings, laughing, that feels liberating (& terrifying too!). Time just keeps moving *insert weeping emoji here*. 

Now that summer is well underway, I’m so happy to report that we’ve really been making the most of it! Since I stay home with our 1 and 2 year old boys, year-round, the term "summer vacation," doesn't exactly apply to us, other than the opportunity to get out a bit more thanks to the weather. We’re incredibly fortunate that M doesn’t work on Fridays, which opens up a whole day for family outings! We’re especially taking advantage of all of our opportunities, given that this fall our 2 year old will be starting in a preschool program (ahh!) so our flexibility and freedom will begin to shift a bit.

Created our Summer List using my new favorite app from Rhonna Designs
Our list isn’t comprised of the most extraordinary activities. As the Mommy to two toddlers, I have to be realistic about how long we can expect to be out before meltdowns happen, nap time gets disrupted or it’s just too much for them altogether. After all, for every car ride or walk to an activity, there’s an equal one back with super tired toddlers (and that’s if you don’t hit dreaded traffic). Distance, cost, weather (taking into account too hot or rainy days), and stroller-friendly are all factors that I took into consideration. 

I’ll be doing my best to share posts with our experiences at each place and any tips that made the day easier or things I’ve noted for the next time! 

Hope this inspires a few ideas if you’re looking to get out with the kids this summer! 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Simple Lemon Salmon

I have a confession to make, and as a self-proclaimed, “food blogger,” this is going to be a bit shocking.

I really despise making dinner.

There I said it.

As wonderful and sensitive as my husband is to the fact that I spend sun-up to sun-down chasing and pouring all of my energy and love into our two toddlers, the topic of dinner is still unavoidable. But these days, if I had the time to stand in the kitchen and cook a gourmet meal, I’d probably opt to nap instead! Apart from creating breakfast and lunch and snack menus for the boys each day, and making sure everyone is getting all the milk and fruit (and let's be real, veggie straws) that they need, our schedule is absolutely packed. There’s speech therapy and play groups, camp, doctors appointments, hospital visits and more. By the time dinner rolls around this Mama just wants to go to sleep.

Just sounds like a ton of complaining and excuses right? * insert sad emoji here *

I know, I’m constantly posting food pics on Instagram, so what’s with this new revelation? I love to bake and use it as my outlet. Some people run, some just need some alone time, but I relax by kneading dough and shaping challahs or getting a tray of muffins or cookies into the oven and filling the apartment with the smell of homemade goods. And Shabbos almost feels magical. I can create and prepare the entire menu, without feeling any dread at all. But, weekday dinners… Ugh!

But, what can you do? Everyone’s gotta eat. In the end, we eat “breakfast for dinner” way more than I care to admit and there’s always pasta, homemade pizza or crock pot dinners that save the day. But recently I’ve started to up my game a bit.

We’re at this weird point now, where for the first time in two years there isn’t a baby to tend to. The boys are beginning to test independence and are actually able to sit and play or flip through books, or keep busy with Play-Doh and the like on their own! I’m never far and for the most part right there, taking part with them, but this ability to sit back and watch them grow has been both mesmerizing and bittersweet. It's given me the opportunity to step back into the kitchen and produce more than purees. 

With our busy schedules and life moving at a million miles a minute, I’m always looking for something quick and simple. By quick and simple I mean, what we have in the pantry, what requires the least amount of bowls/prep work and dirty dishes in the end, and what can be accomplished in the span of one Paw Patrol episode #reallife. 

This salmon recipe has answered the, "what's for dinner?" question countless times now. I feel weird even calling it a recipe. I will say though, that the day I made a broccoli quiche and this salmon for dinner I legit felt like a rockstar. I’m pretty sure I was glowing as I brought it to the table AND it was ready before my husband got home. * cue confetti * 

The spice blend I use here is my new go-to ingredient in the kitchen. It’s graced chicken, veggies, meatballs and more. I found it at Costco and now can't imagine not having it in the pantry. I even keep a ziplock bag of it at my parents' house! We buy the large bag of individually packed salmon fillets, also at Costco, which defrost super quickly and are great to keep in the freezer to have on hand for simple dinners. Can you tell we’re huge fans of Costco?

So here it is! I’ve prepared this for both the oven and the barbecue. For the latter, I place the fillet of salmon on a sheet of aluminum foil, prepare it the same way, wrap it up, and my husband leaves it on the top rack of a propane BBQ for approximately 20 minutes while grilling the rest of dinner on the bottom. Effortless and delicious, just make sure it’s completely sealed so it doesn’t leak or burn! You can also use this recipe and add a handful of vegetables to the grill for a complete meal (maybe with some pasta and bread added too, because carbs).

I've also swapped out the lemons for limes, and have made this over tilapia as well as salmon! The combinations of flavours compliment fish perfectly!

What I’ve posted here is for two 230g fillets of salmon. Also, our oven is a little temperamental, so adjust the baking time/ temperature to how you best like your fish prepared!

Hope those of you who also have difficulty getting up the energy to make dinner will find this helpful, and it gets everyone fed and happy… Until you have to do it all over again tomorrow!

Lemon Garlic Pepper Salmon 
Serves 2-3

2 fillets of salmon, 230g each
2 lemons
4 TBSP olive oil
4-6 TBSP Roasted Garlic and Peppers spice blend (for this recipe I used the Club House Signature    
   Blends mix) 

If necessary, defrost salmon fillets.

Slice lemons into approximately 1/2-inch wide slices.

Place fillets on a lined baking sheet (or on aluminum foil, if barbequing)

Drizzle 2 TBSP of oil over each fillet.

Sprinkle 2-3 TBSP of roasted garlic and peppers spice blend over fillets, until there is a thick coat covering the fillet.

Arrange one layer of lemon slices over spice blend.

Pierce lemon slices once or twice each to release a bit of lemon juice.

Bake at 375 for 20 minutes or until done and flakey.