Wednesday, September 12, 2012

September Kosher Connection Link Up: Honey, Honey, Honey!

I feel like I've been preparing for Rosh Hashanah for the past seven months. Although it probably feels like it takes that long to prepare all of the meals, what I mean is that in March, deciding to start on a new adventure, deciding to really look at and evaluate life and work towards growing every day (whether in courage, knowledge or happiness), has helped to make this Rosh Hashanah one of my most meaningful. The quote, "nothing makes you more productive than the last minute," could certainly apply to me. In terms of papers in University, getting that last Challah into the oven on Erev Shabbos or taking a minute to evaluate before the Yomim Noraim, last minute is usually my go-time. While I may still rush to get the Challah done and now last minute papers have been replaced by final lesson plan tweaks on the way to teach, evaluating where I am has taken a prioritized place in my life everyday.

With all of this introspection, Rosh Hashanah already carries with it an abundance of extra meaning for me this year. However, what has made it even more incredible is the excitement and curiosity I have seen so acutely displayed in the past week or so, while teaching my toddler class. The sheer awe in the presence of a shofar or the excitement of picking apples to dip in honey, has made Rosh Hashanah seem so much more of a tangible experience than merely a day that creeps up after the long leisurely days of summer have passed. I didn't have the Jewish day school experience, so getting to prepare Shana Tova cards and learning songs about the New Year, have elicited as much excitement in me as it has in my students. This year Rosh Hashanah isn't merely a Chag. This year Rosh Hashanah is a day where I hope to experience the awe felt by a two year old and the introspection and evaluation I've been working up to for so many months now.

Having already mentioned my tendency to procrastinate, it should come as no surprise that I have only just finished planning my menu (or this version of it at least) and won't even get around to grocery shopping until Thursday. Yes, I am leaving myself one evening, Motzei Shabbos and Sunday to cook for Rosh Hashanah.

What can I say, I'm still learning.

And I love a challenge!

When this month's Kosher Connection Link Up instructed the use of honey in a recipe, I jumped at the chance to bake something that could help usher me into the company of all those who have been sharing their Rosh Hashanah menus for the past few weeks - to which, all I've had to contribute as of yet has been... oh what's the word... Panic. Yes, sheer panic.

Honey is an ingredient I use year round, and almost daily. I add it to sauces for chicken, it's an ingredient in most of my noodle recipes and honey on a fresh croissant is one awesome snack. Having said that, there's just something different about it when the Chaggim roll around. Its flavor seems almost enhanced and comforting, a true testament to its presence during this time of year. This recipe has three elements and each feature honey as a main ingredient. It binds, connects and enhances on each level, respectively, without being overly sweet! I prepared this in ramekins, but it would also be great in mason jars, where each layer would be granted greater visibility!

In classic Itsy Bitsy Balebusta fashion, I've prepared a recipe for you that will help get you into all of those apple and honey baking conversations, with only small bowls to prep, barely any clean up and individual desserts all served up before you even have the chance to check Facebook or Twitter again and become more overwhelmed at everyone else's ever growing, "finished cooking" list!

Enjoy, be sure to check out the other posts in this month's Link Up and don't worry - someway, somehow all of this cooking is going to get done (...right??).

Wishing you and your loved ones a year full of the very best of health, happiness, and growth, and that you have the strength and courage needed to really look within and go forward!

Shana Tova Umetukah!

Honey, Honey, Honey! (Yields 2 Ramekins)

1 apple
2 tsp confectioners sugar
1 tbsp honey

4 tsp pareve cream cheese
2 tsp honey
dash of cinnamon

1/4 cup oats
1 tbsp brown sugar
dash of cinnamon
honey to bind

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Chop the apple into small pieces and place into a medium sized bowl. Sprinkle confectioners sugar over  the apples and drizzle with honey.

In a separate bowl, whip cream cheese. Add honey and cinnamon.

Divide apple mixture into the two ramekins. Fill in gaps with the cream cheese mixture.

In the same bowl used to prepared the cream cheese mixture, add the oats, brown sugar and cinnamon. Mix to combine. Add enough honey to bind the mixture and ensure it isn't dry.

Drop the crumble topping by the spoonful over top of the mixture in the ramekin. Using the back of the spoon, spread evenly, coating & covering the mixture underneath.

Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.


Sunday, September 09, 2012

Desserts in Jars

With summer drawing to an end, and an abundance of posts urging us to all capitalize on the final long days of sun and warm weather, one specific memory of my grandmother keeps coming up...

During one of our regular hospital visits to see Avo last year, she shared with me & M, a story that I can't help but think of all the time. The hospital was located right on the waterfront, and that particular visit, she looked out the window at the lake and started laughing. She then proceeded to tell us, what it was like when she and my grandfather would plan a day downtown. It would look something like this:

They would talk about it all morning then make their way to the bakery or local take out restaurant and put together a meal. Then they'd go back home, load up the van with a cooler, blanket and umbrella (just in case!) and then make the 20 minute drive down to the harbourfront. They'd then proceed to take everything out of the car, set up their picnic on a blanket and then look at each other and say...

"So much effort! We could be eating at our table at home! I'm ready to go, you?"

I cannot even begin to tell you how this could just as easily have been me & M. We spend hours trying to figure out what we're going to do, only to spend even longer putting everything we need together and once we get there, all we want to do is go back and we can't even figure out why we wanted to go in the first place! 

I know...

We're super cool.

If nothing else, every time it happens I can't help but laugh and think that we're carrying on a bit of my grandparents traditions!

It's only fitting that, the author behind the fantastic blog, Food For My Family would create a cookbook that led to an evening of enjoying dessert while reminiscing about memories of my grandparents. Thanks to Shaina Olmanson's fantastic cookbook, Desserts in Jars I was able to prepare an ideal picnic treat that would have made them proud (or at the very least, laugh!).

This beautiful cookbook, makes preparing desserts, treats and gifts a simple and enjoyable experience. The presentation is timeless and the jars are more than a simple novel container. They are multi-purposeful, eco-friendly and aesthetically pleasing as well. With canning season in full swing, mason jars are available everywhere from your local vegetable market to Walmart! Also, if you aren't completely keen on the idea of searching out mason jars a week before Chaggim, don't despair, I found that a few of the recipes utilize the jars mainly for presentation purposes with the elements baked individually on their own and then assembled into the jar.

The cookbook provides a comprehensive tutorial on baking your treats in jars. Everything from important tips regarding hot and cold temperature fluctuations, to how to fill the jars, as well as how to choose the correct jars for each specific type of dessert. After just two paragraphs within the introductory pages, you're set on how to safely bake in jars! My favorite aspect of the introductory pages is that in every instance from describing equipment to various sizes of jars, recipes from the book with a corresponding page are included and used as examples. I appreciated the ability to flip to the recipe to better understand why that specific size jar was more applicable than another and so on. The information was directly pertinent to recipes I would be embarking on rather than a general overview of the what, whys and hows. I also can't help but love the quick tips on using ready made ingredients in recipes to further increase convenience, for instance in the Pain au Chocolat recipe (yes, that's made in a jar!).

Although the portability of the jars makes them ideal for picnics and outings, their versatility expands far beyond the summer. Imagine the ease and elegant presentation of individual "Pumpkin Cheesecakes with Gingersnap Crust" at your Thanksgiving table or apple pies in mason jars adorned with a ribbon! You'll be amazed at the variety you can create and the elevated level your biscuits, cupcakes, rolls and cheesecakes will be brought to when presented in their own special, individually portioned jars. The recipes yield large quantities, easing your dessert preparation for large gatherings and can be stored superbly (both aspects which are ideal for Chaggim!). I easily divided quantities when baking as well to produce fewer jars and the desserts turned out beautifully.

On that note, not only is the presentation elevated, but these seemingly traditional recipes are as well! If you're looking for a cookbook that appeals to everyone from the novice to the expert baker, this one will definitely have your guests applauding your efforts. Even the simple recipes stretch your imagination! Many of the recipes encourage you to expand on your palette - for instance Cinnamon Buns with Cardamom, Orange White Chocolate Cheesecake with Cranberry Sauce or Ginger Mascarpone with Caramelized Apricots. Not to worry, there are classics thrown in as well - think vanilla cupcakes in mason jars for a birthday party or Neapolitan Cakes and of course Strawberry Shortcakes! The ingredients are also staples in the kitchen and are fairly simple. In order to make Cinnamon Spiced Affogatos only four ingredients are required!

The book ends with a section of mixes that can be gifted in the jars with accompanying recipe tags. The Spiced Hot Chocolate would not only make a great quick gift, it would also be a fantastic staple to have within the pantry for those chilly fall evenings. The thoughtfulness and ease with which these gifts can be prepared and given are a parting, telling testament to Shaina's understanding, appreciation and ability to help you simply and skillfully assemble food for your family.

Overall, this cookbook provides recipes which are unique from taste to presentation! The pictures are absolutely beautiful and further solidify the ability of mason jars to elevate the presentation of any dessert. The elimination of rough slices, messy custard fillings or crumble are eliminated within the self contained, layered mason jars. The sweet, concise intros to the recipes are void of any extras and are simply comprised of beautiful write ups of the recipes as well as words to inspire you to stretch your imagination. There are 152 pages encouraging you to think outside of the 9"x13" pan so to speak, and test the boundaries of your baking and presentation skills!

As I made the Strawberry Shortcakes I couldn't help but think of how Avo felt there was no need to get all packed up and go out to have a picnic. With mason jars in hand, M & I sat on the balcony of my apartment and enjoyed fantastic desserts in jars to celebrate the end of summer without having to pack up the car yet retaining all the novelty and flavor of a summer picnic! This cookbook is a must for anyone looking to bake elegant homemade desserts for parties, dinners, as gifts or simply to make some extra special food for your family!

Disclaimer: I was kindly provided a copy of this wonderful cookbook to review by The Harvard Common Press. The opinions and views expressed in my review are completely my own.