Monday, December 16, 2013

Kosher Connection Link Up: Comfort Food!

For this Itsy Bitsy Balebusta the most uncomfortable aspect of comfort food is trying to limit it to one option! Some days nothing beats a doughnut! However, cookies are always comforting, from baking to gifting to of course, enjoying. Then there are days where a warm soup or stew is about as comforting as it gets. I went back and forth a lot trying to pick one recipe for this link up, but in the end there could be nothing more all-around comforting than the recipe I’m about to share.

If you aren’t aware of the whole behind the scenes story of this blog, it started as a way to cope with my grandmother’s illness almost two years ago. Translating her recipes into English and working to make them kosher, brought me comfort and closer to her and this blog continues to be a tribute to the woman, and now wife that my grandmother (and Mom and sister!) raised me to be. Every day is a learning experience with its own batches of burned cookies and the occasional gourmet success, but without these women behind me, it’d be a whole lot more bitter than sweet! While I still miss my grandmother everyday – and even more so now that life has changed so much in the last year and there’s so much happiness she would have loved sharing in, it’s recipes like this one that fill the house with her scent and memories and provide incredible comfort.

While this cake was in the oven, it really felt like I was back in her house, having run in just after school! It's absolutely amazing what baking can do to bring back memories. The quintessential "comfort foods" have nothing on this cake when it comes to this itsy bitsy balebusta!

I have to admit, while preparing the batter I was super hesitant that this would work out. So hesitant in fact, that my skepticism started before I even got into the kitchen. Two years ago, when I copied out this recipe for the first time, I couldn't help but laugh. The ingredients and directions were so minimal and bare that I was certain something had been left out. Before you criticize that, it's pretty much a fact that most of the recipes I have from my grandmothers are missing crucial components. Whether it's a critical method in preparation, oven temperature or length of baking time or even an ingredient, no matter how hard I try with some recipes they just never work out. 

Anyhow, when I saw that this recipe called for 5 eggs and 18 tbsp of water, I was sure something was off here. How exactly is that supposed to create a cake? I mean I had eaten it enough times growing up to know it definitely did exist, but it just seemed a little far-fetched…

Lesson learned. As always, Avo knew best, because not only did the cake turn out but it turned out exactly like her's and I barely had to put in any effort whatsoever! I used the KitchenAid she gave me our last holiday together, just to feel even more connected while baking it. I love that it only needs one bowl… well that and y'know 18 tbsp of water!

This cake is fantastic. Whether it's because it's a postcard from walking into her house every day after elementary school, to see it sitting on the counter under the cake dome, with all the condensation indicating how fresh it was (yes, I did the same thing! When M walked in after work, it was sitting under the cake dome, exactly as she would have prepared it!) or because it's just a wonderful recipe in and of itself, it doesn't matter!

It's similar in texture to a pound cake, and I'm working my courage up to experiment with various types of sugars and fillings. Now that I'm over the fact that it actually will turn out, I see it as the perfect base for all sorts of flavor combinations! It's perfect on its own, but it would be wonderful to adapt it to all sorts of treats and have a little piece of this tradition continued!


I hope you enjoy this as much as we do! It's brought me incredible comfort as well as the realization that sometimes it isn’t the ingredients or composition of the dish that establishes it as a comfort food. Anything qualifies. Whether it recalls Sunday family dinners, running in after school to find a warm treat waiting or just a scent that brings back a memory, food has an amazing ability to bring people together, and to keep their memory alive long after the dishes have been cleared!


Bolo D’Agua

5 eggs
2 cups of sugar
2 cups of flour
18 Tbsp of water
1 Tbsp of baking powder
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F.

Prepare a bundt pan.

Beat eggs and sugar until light and fluffy.

Add flour and baking powder, followed by the water (by the tablespoon!).

Bake at 400 degrees for approximately 30 minutes – check frequently as it’s ready when it reaches a light golden color. A tester should come out with a few crumbs on it to indicate it’s ready!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

How Sweet - Pinning & Doughnuts!

How weird is it that I feel so productive, going through my pins and boards on Pinterest and cleaning them out?

On second thought, don't answer that...

I have a problem when it comes to pinning - I pin everything. I have boards for my "someday" home, boards of quotes that struck a chord, or made me laugh, and a board entitled "Further Reading" - how far in the future I'll actually get around to reading those 100+ articles, no one knows. There are pins for cleaning, pins for gifts and crafts I'm 99.9% sure I have neither the ability nor the concentration required to make and pins for outfits that rival the cost of my "someday" home board. But most of all I have recipe pins.

So. Many. Recipe. Pins.

I love to cook and bake - pin something that has chocolate, bread or let's be realistic is just fantastic looking and chances are I'm going to re-pin in! The last couple of weeks though, I've really set out to evaluate this pinning obsession. Don't get me wrong, I don't sit at my computer or on my phone for endless hours pinning - I get on once or twice a week, between work and home and the million other things going on. But like laundry and dishes, they add up (albeit it, are much more fun!).

Now this brings me back to my recent "productive" cleaning out sessions. I've gone through recipes removing ones I've made that just didn't work out and even better, discovering things I've pinned months to a year ago that I never got around to making that I suddenly HAD to. Like 8am standing in the kitchen on a Friday, have to make. 

And that's where this recipe comes in. With Chanukah a couple of weeks away, there's no shortage of doughnut recipes floating around - and you won't find me complaining! Doughnuts are our favorite. M will surprise me with one from time to time, they're our go to Shabbos treat, they're at the center of all of our celebrations and the ideal remedy for a pick me up! Who can forget my Birthday Bakery Hopping day, where the only rule was that if the bakery had doughnuts that was the first purchase!

These were incredibly easy to make, took me less than 40 minutes. start to finish and were picture perfect! M loved them and I couldn't pass them on the table without grabbing one...or two. I can't believe I pinned them over a year ago and never got around to actually making them!

I absolutely love, Jessica over at How Sweet Eats. I visit her blog all the time and leave with not only fantastic recipes but also laughing hysterically. She's awesome. And she makes awesome doughnuts (and pulled chicken sandwiches, and soups...). You can find this particular recipe over at How Sweet Eats 

I found them a little cakey, but definitely better than the kosher "doughnut hole" variety I've had the past couple of years. The glaze was perfect (I substituted soy milk in both the glaze and actual recipe other than buttermilk to keep it pareve, and honestly early on Friday morning I just wanted doughnuts, not a science experiment to make a buttermilk pareve replacement, but that's just me). Also, since I had already made a batch of cookies for Shabbos, I halved this recipe and it was more than enough for 2 people. Using a tablespoon measurement to scoop out dough, I had about 20 doughnut holes! Lastly, I actually used a thermometer to measure the temperature of the oil and make sure it was at 350 before starting. Hate to admit it, but usually I wing it - definitely not when it comes to doughnuts though! I was happy I did and they only needed about 2 minutes in the pot (timed with a timer to avoid the charred eggplant episode from a couple of weeks ago...), turning once with a slotted spoon before they were done. I let them cool for about 15 minutes then all food blogger like, placed them on my cooling rack and started the glazing process! I used a fork and spoon to roll each doughnut hole around in a bowl of glaze and them placed them on the cooling rack- super fancy, eh? I found this provided the highest glaze to doughnut ratio and completely covered the entire surface! 

These are super easy, delicious and barely take any time (to make and eat!). The perfect addition to a Chanukah menu that's already stressed!


Just in case the above link doesn't work here you go:

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Shabbos Menu #3

As I was searching the apartment last night for a pen – those things are almost as elusive as M’s single missing Shabbos sock that just evaporated, I found an old Shabbos list that really made me stop in my tracks. It wasn't a a grocery list or a sample menu or anything like that. It was a list of items to pack, directions and “to-do’s” before I left. You see, I spent every Shabbos for 4 years hopping from host family to host family. Everything I learned about keeping kosher came from helping these families prepare their meals Thursday nights. Everything I learned about keeping Shabbos, I learned from being a part of these families’ meals and tables. Whether it was the chaos of covering light switches, getting kids bathed and dressed or setting the table and putting the food to warm, it was this hands on practice and experience that helped to make me the itsy bitsy balebusta that I am today.

I will forever be grateful to the families who opened their doors to me. Although now when I set my table, setting one extra plate is no trouble at all, the impact that extra plate had on my life a year ago, is indescribable. Sure, it wasn't always easy packing up a bag, getting on a bus and navigating my way through new neighborhoods to meet families who I had at most only heard of, but who I was assured would be happy to have me. There were a lot of ups and downs, it took it’s toll, but the experience made me a stronger, more understanding and appreciative person. I still have to pinch myself every week, as I prepare Shabbos in my home, no gym bag or bus ride necessary.

This week I’m going back to a quiet menu for two – a Shabbos at home with my husband. Packing and schlepping replaced with setting timers, washing the last few dishes and making sure everything is ready. The power of having all those tefillahs heard for four years, reflected in my candles next to our table. To those of you packing up and calling around to finalize your plans tonight, I can’t wait until you have your own table and if you ever need to vent or need some extra courage to get on that bus, feel free to email me ( And to those of you who have the incredible privilege of celebrating Shabbos in your own homes, if you can, set an extra plate tonight.

Good Shabbos!

Shabbos Menu #3

Homemade Challah (Gatherings)


Caesar Salad

Teriyaki Salmon

Sweet & Sour Salmon


Sweet & Sour Chicken


Zucchini Bread (More Please, page 261)
This was absolutely fantastic! We really, enjoyed it. I made two loaves, one with chocolate chips and one without. Of course I loved the one with chocolate more, but even without it was fantastic (seriously!). It was a great side to tone down and compliment the flavors of the chicken as well as the previous course!

Steamed Green Beans


Chocolate Fudge Bundt Cake with Chocolate Glaze


Thursday, October 31, 2013

Shabbos Menu #2

Last week I shared a basic menu for a quiet Shabbos at home with my husband. I thought this week I’d switch it up a bit and share a menu for a larger crowd!

After moving from Montreal to Toronto in March, I parted with preparing Shabbos for over a month! Between settling in, Pesach and wedding prep, Shabbos involved reuniting with friends and families after being out of town for a year! As wonderful as it was, I missed my Thursday night cooking marathons! So what's an itsy bitsy balebusta to do? Well host a crowd of 10 the week after the wedding, of course! 

Once Sheva Brachos were complete we had all of a week and a half before Shavuot, which included only one Shabbos! We invited my husband's parents, sister and brother in law as well as nieces and nephew to our newly unpacked apartment! We (and by we I mean, my husband while I stood a safe distance away only approaching to pass required tools) had just built our beautiful buffet, put together our dining room (thank you Craig's List!) and most importantly had unpacked and organized our kitchen! The sight of my KitchenAid mixer and all the amazing appliances we received as per our registry put a smile on my face and made the transition back into the kitchen seamless! 

When we stood back and looked at our table, adorned with the Shabbos dishes and Challah board my parents, siblings & niece so generously gifted us, as well as our beautiful crystal ware from close family friends, our excitement amplified. The pure happiness of having finally surpassed obstacles and being married and now hosting our first Shabbos in our new home was overwhelming!

The menu itself is the best example of how much I missed cooking! I couldn't settle on just one or another option – I had to make it all! From salads to mains to sides I wanted to ensure there was more than enough variety for everyone and that the kids would be happy! Also, preparing my first Shabbos as M’s wife and for his family, I wanted to make sure everything was absolutely perfect! Having only been married for a little over a week, I was relieved to have had five years of Shabbos prep experience to prepare me for my first Shabbos as a Mrs.!

Hope you enjoy this menu & that it helps with the next time you plan a large meal! With Chanukah, Thanksgiving and long winter Shabbos’ ahead, I hope you find plenty of opportunity to reunite, relax and celebrate with friends & family!

Shabbos Menu #2 (6 Adults 3 Children)

Homemade Challah (Gatherings)
A full 4 loaves!


M’s Tomato Jalapeño Salad

Hearts of Palm salad (Bais Yaakov Cookbook, page 90)

Eggplant Salad (Fresh & Easy, page 79)
This is an absolutely fantastic recipe! It’s fairly time consuming – after the first couple of batches, start to reduce the amount of time you keep each slice on the heat. The hotter the oil gets the less time it needs to achieve the proper consistency. Make sure you allow it to get to the state that Leah describes (darker, crispier). When the vinegar and following ingredients are added, the eggplant is broken down beautifully! If you under fry them, it’ll be too soft when broken down. Make sure that they are patted down and as dry as possible as well, to avoid any burns while frying! Finally, this isn't really one of those recipes that you can multi-task with – the first time I made it I put the eggplant on and went to prepare another dish in the couple of minutes before they had to be flipped. Needless to say, bad idea! Out of everything I made this was the biggest hit of the meal! Everyone requests it now when we host or offer to bring a dish!

Caesar Salad (Bais Yaakov Cookbook, page 101)

Gefilte Fish

M’s Chulent

Sweet and Sour Chicken Balls (More Please, page 104)
I hope to have a longer post on this cookbook, shortly. We've yet to make something from it that we didn't love (the closest to my go-to Gatherings that I’ve found!). This recipe is incredibly simple and requires minimal ingredients while translating into incredible flavor! It was also the first time I successfully made a batch of meatballs that weren't baked! Fantastic directions, simple ingredients and wonderful flavor – what more could an itsy bitsy balebusta ask for?

Butternut Squash Kugel (Gatherings, page 190)
This is by far our favorite Shabbos side. I'm pretty sure I make it every two weeks…  And any time we're short a side! It’s simple, any picky eaters won’t even realize the multiple cups of butternut squash they're consuming and the cinnamon topping leaves the kitchen smelling wonderful! If you’re looking for a great side, this is it!

Mexican Rice (Fresh & Easy, page 108)

Sunflower Green Beans (Fresh & Easy, page 93)

Banana Cake (Gatherings, page 217)
One of our favorite desserts! Takes minimal effort and is dense on the exterior while maintaining a moist consistency! Always comes out of it’s bundt pan beautifully and with the inclusion of a cup of chocolate chips (although my Dad insists it’s better without!) it’s a great go-to recipe that everyone will enjoy!

Fresh Cut Fruit (cantaloupe, watermelon, grapes)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Shabbos Menu #1

Thursdays look a little like this around here:

I go through countless flyers on my phone sorting out the best deals everywhere then put together a grocery list based on what we need. At some point after feeling totally capable and organized, I realize that I have to be at work in half an hour and that I’m still lacking a Shabbos menu – which I’ll have to start cooking less than five hours later! At this point I’m surrounded by cookbooks and menus from previous weeks, and frantically going through recipe groups online. Sounds hectic but I love every second!

I’ve really grown to appreciate the boards that share Shabbos menus! While we have a few salads and appetizers that are staples it’s always fun to see what other’s are making! The inspiration for many components for our Shabbos meals has come from reading other menus! So I realized, why not share my menus weekly here and if you’d like you’re more than welcome to share yours in the comment section.

I’ll share our menu from the previous week together with any notes on how things turned out and whether it’s worth trying or skip it altogether. I’ll add the cookbooks and coordinating pages to certain recipes and share family favorites as well!

I hope you’ll come back weekly and share what you’re making too!

Shabbos Menu #1 (2 people)

Homemade Challah
* When it comes to Challah, Gatherings is my go-to. My husband loves it and after a little tweaking and plenty of help from my awesome bread machine, we definitely look forward to it all week! We absolutely love Gatherings and after cooking our way through most of it a friend mentioned having tried the Challah at a Shavuot meal. I couldn’t believe after all our success with the other recipes; we had never tried it out! It’s now my base for onion buns, babka and basically anything that involves dough! I add the higher end of honey called for - ½ cup, set my bread machine to the dough setting and go about preparing the rest of our Shabbos menu. Stay tuned for a review, (courtesy of our nieces and nephew!) that made Shabbos Challah even more fun (and easier to prepare!).

M's Tomato Jalapeño Salad
* Will definitely have to get M to guest post this recipe ASAP!

Gefilte Fish

Gatherings Honey Garlic Chicken Wings (page 141)
* Line the roasting pan with parchment paper! No mess and bakes perfectly!

Steamed Green Beans

Marble Fudge Cake

Shabbos Lunch:

M's Jalapeño Tomato Salad
Gefilte Fish

Beef Samosas

Bais Yaakov Cookbook Overnight Crockpot Potato Kugel (page 226)
* Amazing! I prepare it when I get home from work late Friday afternoon, and thanks to the food processor and crock-pot have a warm, filling side ready in no time. My husband suggested a few alternations after the first week I made it and now it’s exactly the way we like it! I use 7-8 medium potatoes, 4 eggs, and only 1 tsp of salt. I also gradually changed the amount of onions. I prefer it with one full onion while my husband prefers it with 2. 

Green Beans

Marble Fudge Cake


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Breakfast for Dinner

As I mentioned in my previous post...

Lindsay Landis – legit best friend.

Her latest cookbook, Breakfast for Dinner, co-written with her husband Taylor Hackbarth, is as amazing as it’s name suggests.

In our home it’s definitely not uncommon to have brunch for lunch and breakfast for dinner. There is always room for eggs and pancakes! In fact, post-fasts always include bagels, eggs and accompanying breakfast buddies.  But Lindsay and Taylor take the concept of breakfast for dinner to a whole new level. We’re not talking about standing at the stove at 8pm making chocolate chip pancakes and desperately searching the fridge for syrup (although that is totally fine and I am not judging you in any way if you happen to do that… RE: me last Tuesday).  They take the concept and make it a million times better (like putting cookie dough into everything levels of awesome!).

What initially got my attention was the breakfast portion of the title, however it’s the dinner portion that really takes this cookbook to a whole new level. These recipes are infused with your favorite breakfast flavors, while simultaneously introducing flavors and ingredients you’d have never thought to incorporate. The Moroccan Chicken Cinnamon Rolls for instance, take two of my favorite foods and pair them. I often make Moroccan turnovers but why when you can make them cinnamon roll style?! *If you need me, I’ll be in the kitchen trying to convert all my recipes into dishes that could meld with cinnamon rolls - thanks Lindsay & Taylor!

You’ll find everything from main dishes, to soups (hello Bloody Mary Tomato Soup!) to drinks (Frozen Sunrise Margaritas – with 1 ½ cups of orange juice, it’s basically a breakfast drink… right?).There’s even a dessert section – chocolate brownie waffles and oh yeah, the DOUGHNUT FUDGE SUNDAE! Yes.

Beyond the main recipes, another outstanding aspect is the inclusion of recipes that supplement other dishes, such as recipes for pitas, homemade pasta dough, marinara sauce and avocado cream sauce among others. It's also comforting that they always state “store-bought” along with the homemade variation (with the accompanying page number!) so if you’re short on time feel free to bust out the store made and know that the recipe still explicitly called for it!

This cookbook is comprehensive, creative and beautifully arranged. Once again every shot was captured by Lindsay and Taylor and if the mere title of the recipe doesn’t encourage you to make it immediately, then the gorgeous images will be the last push you need. It's a fantastic cookbook, easy to use and go through, beautifully put together and the recipes lend a sophisticated hand to bringing your favorite breakfast dishes to your dinner table! They inspire creativity and flavor, and push both your cooking style and your waffles out of their comfort zone. Definitely a worthwhile purchase and a cookbook you'll be referring to again and again! 

Disclaimer: This cookbook was generously provided by Quirk Books. The opinions and views expressed in my review are completely my own. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

9 Days Recipe Round-Up & Preview for Upcoming Cookbook Review!

Ice cream.



Mmm milk chocolate ice cream!

There are countless dairy items that make eating a meat meal always a challenge for me. My husband and I follow the Kosher dietary restriction of holding six hours between eating meat and dairy. I don’t think of myself as someone with commitment issues, but when it comes to eating meat, those six daunting hours always get me! Why is it that just after an amazing hamburger, I alwaysalwaysalways want chocolate. Or ice cream. Or anything dairy.

So, having said that, I’m not one to really feel the sacrifice of forgoing meat for the Nine Days. My husband on the other hand… When I reminded him this specific time frame would be starting Sunday evening, he immediately sought to rescue our leftover Shabbos dishes. Schnitzel sandwiches immediately happened. Miami ribs were not to be left behind. We went out and bought steak. Sunday dinner was pretty epic (followed by 6 hours of “can I have this ice cream bar yet?”).

So now that these days are upon us, I find myself trying to figure out as many creative dinners as possible. First, French onion soup and veggie cheeseburgers. Last night breakfast nachos. When I say those were a huge hit, it’s an understatement. Which got me thinking… at least once a week we have my favorite – breakfast for dinner. Whether it’s pancakes, scrambled eggs or a brunch spread of bagels and lox and more, it’s one of our favorite go to meal options!

Speaking of favorites… remember Lindsay Landis? Her Cookie Dough Lover’s Cookbook, was my cookbook of the summer last year. I have yet to try a cinnamon roll as good as her cookie dough stuffed cinnamon rolls. And the cookie dough stuffed French toast… hmm I think I just figured out what I’m having for dinner tonight!

Anyhow, the amazing Lindsay has released another cookbook! I was super lucky to receive a copy of it a little while ago but with moving and the wedding and everything happening at once, I never paid it the attention it truly deserves (although upon receiving it we did immediately make the Sunny Side Up Burgers – c’mon you’d wait to try that one out?!).

Oh the name of this epic book?

Breakfast for Dinner.

Because Lindsay Landis gets me. Anyone whose interests reside in stuffing everything with cookie dough and then turning breakfast into dinner, exceeds legit best friend levels. 

Come back soon for a review of this incredible cookbook and in the meantime – GO OUT AND GET IT! It’ll make the Nine Days more bearable for steak and rib loving husbands!

Meanwhile, here are some Itsy Bitsy Balebusta recipes, perfect for menu planning this week!

Tuna and Potato Casserole

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Few Months Later...

So... I'm BACK!

I promise I have a really good reason, for my spontaneous absence!

The last few months look a little like this: ENGAGED, moved from one province to another, Pesach, Unpacked, Vort/ Engagement Party, planned the wedding, Bridal Shower, Shabbos Kallah, GOT MARRIED! Sheva Brachos, Birthdays & even more!

Forgive me?

I'm back with more recipes, amazing cookbook reviews and a whole new adventure! Also, I'll share some pictures and stories from the past few months, from amazing desserts from the vort to unforgettable Sheva Brachos, first married Shabbos and the list goes on!

Grab some chocolate and come along for the ride!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Purim & A Cookbook Review!

We're a couple of days away from Purim so naturally that could only mean one thing:

Total. Meltdown.

That's right. It's just about now that the hamentashen are coming out all weirdly shaped, the components of mishloach manos are being dropped in an effort to save time and sanity, and the clock's ticking...

Just me?


This year we were a bit ambitious... Like every year basically. This year however, I finally achieved a Puirm goal of mine.

Start earlier than 10 hours before it's time to head out and deliver mishloach manos! It could be the fact that we're travelling to Toronto for Purim that encouraged me to start so early, but supplies were purchased a week (and not night) in advance and baking commenced 3 days earlier than ever!

I'm growing up!

If you are anything like me you know that ambition, time and mishloach manos are conflicting concepts. After pinning a bazillion ideas and thinking back to all the beautiful and creative ideas I was given last year, visions of extravagant arrangements come automatically. This year I chose a theme, stuck with it and made the components smaller and the batches larger (think a handful of mini cupcakes rather than one or two large ones, per arrangement).

Rather than tell you how to pull off all the prep without breaking a sweat, I'd like to offer you a different foodie tip for Purim! A review of a cookbook that is absolutely sure to change the way you prep and elevate the elegance of your treats!

Cake Balls. That's right. Cake for everyone! Mini bites of cake in all sorts of flavors! Picture a box of chocolates but instead of chocolates you get a variety of pieces of cake. Who doesn't love cake?!

Cake Balls by Dede Wilson basically saved Purim around this kitchen. It provides "delectable, whimsical sweet spheres of goodness" and really, what more could you ask for, from a mishloach manos component?

The cookbook itself is divided into four sections:

Baking and Creating:
This section provides information to help you create your own flavor combinations, thereby further personalizing your cake balls to your specific theme! It also provides storage tips - a great asset when prepping these ahead of time to help with Pre-Purim stress!

Basic Recipes:
Not only does this section provide you with an array of cake mixes (from scratch) as well as binders (from ganache to pastry cream and frostings) it also provides tips on how to use cake mixes and customize the approach to make the "finished cake balls uniquely yours!"

Cake Balls:
More than 50 complete recipes from classics to creative combinations (think Creme Brule Cake Balls!)

Cake Ball Creations:
Elevate your treats to a whole other level. This chapter is all the inspiration you need to create centerpieces and showstopping desserts for your seudah as well as larger arrangements for more elaborate mishloach manos!

Overall, this book is a must have for Purim (and whenever else you're looking to make gift bags or treats - hostess gifts, centerpieces the opportunities are endless!). There are suggestions to go from simple to elegant, all based in the variation of ingredients! I love that the aim is to be helpful in the kitchen - a real companion cookbook. Different levels are accommodated as well, from using a cake box mix (and truthfully with an abundance of mishloach manos who wouldn't be all for making steps as easy as possible!) to using a recipe and making a cake mix from scratch! It really meets every level from beginner to those looking to take their treats to another level and creating show stopping dessert tables! The simplicity, clear directions and elegance of the final result, take the Cake Balls from being just another dessert to standing in a league of their own. It's not just about chocolate and vanilla mixes and a few sprinkles anymore,the door is as wide open as the most out there cake mix you can find to flavors such as, "After Dinner Chocolate Mint," "Chocolate Orange Grand Marnier," "Toffee Brown Butter Pecan," and even a vegan option! This is literally for everyone, no matter how simple or elaborate your event, how much experience you have baking or even dietary restrictions (all of the recipes are easily made kosher if not already inherently so and as I just mentioned, there's even a vegan option!).

The photographs are beautiful and clear, taking you step by step and eliminating any guesswork. The little snippets before each recipe are detailed yet concise. They help you decide if this is the right batter for you as well as providing further page numbers and references to elevate the final product. After reading the intro to any of the recipes in the book, you know what you're getting yourself into, what to expect from the flavor combination as well as a few helpful tips and adaptations! As far as criticism goes, the only downside I could find was that there are a couple of recipes that continue on to the next page requiring you to flip the page when your hands are covered in cake mix from rolling out the balls or just generally messy while baking. Beyond that super minor issue, this book is sure to be present in my kitchen Purim after Purim!

Go out and get this asap while you still have time to get your mishloach manos ready! You'll be incredibly happy that you did and it's a treat to yourself that will only result in delectable and whimsical treats for all your loved ones! What's not to love about that?!

Disclaimer: This cookbook was provided by the generous staff at Harvard Common Press. The opinions in my review are completely my own.

Monday, February 18, 2013

AliBabka's Sheva Brachot!

There isn't a perfect recipe for blogging. You stand in the kitchen developing and testing out recipes, hoping that the amount of eggs and sugar you put into something yields more fantastic treats than tears. You try to take pictures, getting the lighting just where you want it, everything positioned naturally, and then write it all up and hope that others don't judge your potato, or chocolate or lasagna obsession too severely...  And throughout the beginning of this blog I did that on my own, with M's input while stalking  avidly following blogs I admired. And then this absolutely wonderful group contacted me. The Kosher Connection. You've (hopefully!) seen the link ups, but it goes so much further than that. On an almost hourly basis, there are emails being exchanged and ideas, support and encouragement channeled back and forth. It's a community of friends and peers that I've never met in person, but who've made me a better blogger and baker, and who I feel I could email with a question at any time! And a few months ago when I checked my email and found an email from Ali, informing us of her engagement, it really put into perspective just how much blogging has given me. We all know food has an incredible ability to bind people together, whether it's a night out with friends Motzei Shabbat, a family dinner or out to a restaurant with a loved one, so many memories, laughs and comfort are found around the table. And when it came to Ali's peachtastic engagement my opinion was only reinforced.

To celebrate the occasion of Ali's wedding, the Kosher Connection has come together to host a virtual Sheva Brachot! I hope that you check out all of the recipes and join us in celebrating this beautiful simcha!

Mazel Tov Ali & Chosson! Here's wishing you a life full of health, happiness, bracha and peace of mind, ad meah v'esrim shana!

My contribution comes in the form of an appetizer. These are quick to put together, a sure favorite, and pareve so they are adaptable to any meal! The elegance of the presentation requires minimal work, allowing large quantities to be prepared with little stress! The perfect party food!

Tuna Appetizers 
(Makes approximately 20 mini bourekas)

1 package of puff pastry, defrosted
1 large can of tuna, drained

1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp onion powder
olive oil
3 tbsp mayonnaise

Egg Wash
1 large egg yolk
dash of salt
1 tsp of water

sesame seeds (optional)

Roll out the defrosted pastry dough, to a quarter inch
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F
Combine tuna, garlic powder, paprika and onion powder
Drizzle a little olive oil overtop and mix
Add 2 tbsp of mayonnaise and combine
Brush the pastry dough with the remaining tablespoon of mayonnaise (a thin layer will suffice)
Cut the dough into rectangles, 2" by 4"
Place one tsp of the tuna mixture onto one half of the rectangle. Fold over the other half of the puff pastry. Using a fork, dipped in the egg wash, seal the sides. Continue until all pockets are sealed.
Brush each square with the egg wash and sprinkle sesame seeds overtop.
Bake at 400 degrees F for 15 minutes. Brush again with egg wash and return to oven. Bake for another 5-10 minutes (until golden brown).

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Avo Ana's Carrot Cake {Updated!}

There are few desserts that are synonymous with my paternal grandmother, Avo Ana, and carrot cake is most definitely one. This past Friday marked 9 years since her passing. When choosing a dessert for Shabbos there was no question - her carrot cake. As I mentioned when I initially posted this recipe almost a year ago, she would always have it waiting on the kitchen table when I'd walk in for Sunday dinner. There were the typical roast, ribs and trimmings that everyone always made a dash for, but that carrot cake had my name on it.

The first time I made it was two years ago. It was a difficult time and I was desperate for any link back to those Sundays and that time. When I opened her recipe book and found this, I couldn't have been happier. I translated the recipe from Portuguese into English and set out making it. Luckily, it was inherently pareve and needed no work on my behalf, besides the translation and converting her measurements.

This cake is comfort, materialized. It's my cousins running around, my great aunt and uncle watching us lovingly. It's my grandfather at the head of the table observing us all while my grandmother steals the show with her stories, wit and charm. It's laughter, family and memories in every slice. I hope you enjoy revisiting this recipe - one of my absolute favorites. I updated the pictures and directions (after countless times making it now, I've picked up a few tricks!).


Avo Ana's Carrot Cake

Monday, January 28, 2013

One Year Later...

I started this blog a little over a year ago, when my grandmother fell ill. This Wednesday January 30th, will mark the one year anniversary of her passing. I still haven't come to terms with what's happened and it's easier for me to spend every day thinking that she's just at her house in Toronto while I'm in Montreal.

My grandmother was more than just my grandmother. She was a second Mom (I want to mention that I have an absolutely amazing Mom, who has not only made me who I am, but has given me the strength to make my own way, knowing she'll always be there cheering me on. Daddy you're pretty awesome too!). Every day after school I went directly to my grandmother's house. From JK  to grade 12. And when it came to University, I was there everyday too - but that's because I moved in. Yup, other kids moved into dorms and I moved into my Avo's house. She was always there. Always. With a cookie, a glass of milk, an ice cream, a hug. She was always there.

I still don't have the right words to put into context what she did for me and how she made me who I am today. I still don't have the right words to capture my grief. But over this past year I've realized that I do have a lot more than I ever realized I did.

I have incredible memories. Memories of merry go rounds at the cottage and trips to the park. Memories of sitting in her garage in 40 degree weather, playing "school" on a chalkboard she had found for me. Memories of her visiting my first apartment and crying when she saw that I had prominently displayed the picture of my grandfather in my room. Memories of her tasting my first challah and giving me the ultimate compliment, "it takes just like my massa!" Memories of her pride when she met M and her love and support when it felt like no one else had any to offer. I have the memories of sitting with her those last few months, listening to her stories about Portugal, her stories about her in-laws and all the struggles she faced. The jokes she would tell while trapped in that bed. How she would beam when talking about my niece, her only great grandchild (and what a great kid she is!). How towards the end sitting there on Sundays, she thought I was my Mom. How she'd thank me for holding her hand for a procedure when she held my hand throughout my life for everything. This incredible woman, in her darkest days showed me that everyone has strength beyond what they expect. She was the epitome of brave, and she gave me the strength I needed to make decisions I had put off. As awful as those last few months were, I am so grateful for the chance to talk to her, the chance to learn who she was and the chance to say I love you again and again while sitting there and before I left, every single time. I don't know how many other people get to have a grandmother who was a second Mom like I did, but I am so grateful for every moment I had.

When I started this blog, it was because all of her recipes and my paternal grandmother's recipes made me feel like I had a connection. I may have chosen a different lifestyle and a different path, but those recipes, having the scent of their house throughout my apartment, gave me the comfort I needed that they weren't far. Baking is so much more than throwing a bunch of ingredients into a bowl and a pan into the oven. It's about so much more than calories, guidelines and meat, dairy and pareve. Baking brings memories back to life. It makes my kitchen smell like my grandmother's and my apartment as warm as her home. It means that I can share with M food that I grew up on, that was made with such love that you could almost taste it. I don't think it's possible to make one of these recipes without feeling the love and excitement of sharing and recreating these amazing postcards of my childhood. Maybe one day I can make them without breaking into tears when the cake comes out of the oven and I just want to jump up and down that I did it! That I could bring this little piece of my grandmothers into my home.

I hope you'll come back and join me this week as I post an update (every day I'm getting closer to replicating these recipes even better!) to very special recipes. Recipes that have given me comfort this week especially and recipes that have given me a connection to family and memories.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Kosher Connection "Mini" Link Up!

These past few weeks, when it comes to cooking, the quicker, easier and smaller the better! This link up could not have come at a better time! I haven't been feeling my best lately and meals have turned into somewhat of a competition with myself. Who will give in first, me or the time it takes to prepare/ bake a dish? I can't complain though, M has been beyond incredible picking up (and rocking!) what I haven't been able to recently! But there's very little that can keep me out of the kitchen! The withdrawal from the mixer and new bread machine (more to come on that very soon!!) is just too much.
So back to this fantastic mini idea! Mini meals have been getting me through. The smaller and easier to eat the better. And given that my appetite has decided to make a comeback, I've been looking for smaller yet still substantial options. So what's the first thing I look to when I want something quick, easy and filling? My best friend, pastry dough.

I'm pretty sure pastry dough is magical. It takes all the work out of prep for you, makes food look presentable with minimal effort, is versatile enough that it can be used anywhere from breakfast to dessert to classic appetizers and opens the door to so many creative possibilities. I love it. My freezer ALWAYS has a sure supply ready to go.
And here's a fun fact about this itsy bitsy balebusta... I get all weird every time I pass pastry dough in the grocery store. I start to panic trying to remember how many packages I have at home... And before you know it I have 2 in the cart and I'm feeling better about life. Then I get home unload the groceries only to have to make room in my freezer for the pastry dough next to the 3 full packages sitting there from previous trips.  I used to do this with non-dairy whip topping as well until M put a stop to that (I almost needed a whole freezer for those little containers...). Moral of the story? Do inventory before heading to the grocery store... Or just avoid the frozen section altogether...

You're still here right? Beyond all this crazy is a really great recipe, I promise!
So, remember back a few months ago I experimented with mini pies (actually ohmygosh it's already been SEVEN months since summer?! Where is time goingggg?). Well I decided to use what I learned from that experience and apply it to these quiches. The muffin tray coupled with the pastry dough and the one bowl for prep, basically requires no effort on your part besides very minor clean up and being patient enough to wait to cool off, rather than eating them directly out of the oven!
These are quite substantial. The tuna provides a heavy filling and the subtle flavors of the hummus, garlic powder and paprika compliment it perfectly. The pareve cream additions, help to add a smooth consistency and bind it all together seamlessly. The pastry dough remains flakey and serves as the ideal bed for the mixture! These would be great served individually for the fish course on Shabbat or as appetizers before a get together (or if you're me, they're pretty fantastic at about 4pm on a Sunday when you're looking for something in the kitchen and can't make up your mind about what you want to eat...).

I hope you enjoy and come back soon for cookbook reviews, a new addition to the itsy bitsy balebusta kitchen (in the form of a bread machine!) and more! Be sure to check out the other mini recipes in this month's Kosher Connection link up. You can find the links below!


Mini Tuna Quiches
Yields 5-7 mini quiches

250 grams pastry dough* (about half a package)
1 can of tuna
2 tsp of mayonnaise
1 tsp pareve sour cream
1 tsp pareve cream cheese
1 tsp hummus
dash of garlic powder
dash of paprika
1 egg (beaten)
sesame seeds for garnish
sliced, pitted olives for garnish

Prepare the muffin tray (I used a vegetable oil spray and liberally sprayed each tin).
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F
Roll out the puff pastry dough to half an inch thick, and cut it into 5 - 7 squares (they don't need to be even or neat).
Press each square into a muffin tin.
Brush with egg.
In a medium sized bowl combine the tuna, mayonnaise, sour cream, cream cheese and hummus. Stir to combine.
Sprinkle the garlic powder and paprika overtop. Mix.
Scoop about 2 tablespoons of the mixture into each prepared puff pastry cup.
Brush the top of the mixture with beaten egg.
Sprinkle sesame seeds, overtop.
Add a few sliced olives to the center of each cup.
Bake at 350 F for 25-30 minutes.
Allow to cool for 10 minutes before removing from tin. If required use a dull knife to loosen the pastry dough so that it pops out (I was able to just pick each one out without any prep!).

*if you feel so inclined, Joy of Kosher has a fantastic puff pastry dough recipe that you can make from scratch! It can be found here: Joy of Kosher: Make Your Own Puff Pastry

Yeah That's Kosher Travel Recipe Roundup!

Head on over to Yeah That's Kosher! for a great roundup of recipes that travel well! You'll find Itsy Bitsy Balebusta's, Pizza Muffins included among the recipes gathered. It's a fantastic resource for recipes for your next road trip, flight or even handy snacks to have in the car for long, snow-delayed drives home! 

Yeah That's Kosher! is a great resource in and of itself for Kosher Travel information, tips and guides! Check it out!