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).