Sunday, March 26, 2017

Perfect for Pesach Review!

There is so much to say about Naomi Nachman’s new cookbook, Perfect for Pesach. SO MUCH. Given that we’re in the midst of Pesach preparations, if you want to save some time (although, there is a surprise coming up!) I can summarize my review for you in one line:

Go and buy this book ASAP! 

Now for all the details… 

I love this holiday! I can’t help but feel, when you put your maximum effort into something, and work so hard, the rewards reaped are so much greater. And what better example than Pesach? Our home is cleaned and prepared meticulously, and menus and grocery lists are made with the greatest attention to detail, culminating in the seder to begin the yuntif - the most elaborate meal of the year! I’m not going to sit here and pretend that the entire process is a completely stress-free event – yes, turning over the kitchen is difficult, as is clearing the apartment of chametz when you have two kids under three who are rarely without animal crackers, cereal or cookies in their little hands. This will be my FIFTH year making Pesach and each year I’ve learned more and more to help make everything come together smoothly. I’ll forever be grateful to all of the families that opened their doors and seder tables to me, year after year, despite having family in town and all of the additional expenses this holiday brings. I was thrilled to be able to bring Y to their houses for his first two Passovers, and as we now host our own meals, their recipes, stories and traditions have seamlessly blended into ours - forever a part of our story.

When it comes to cooking for Pesach, the pressure is on. I’m always hesitant to try new things given that if it’s a fail, the expense put into the ingredients is tougher to bear than a mishap the rest of the year. At the same time, rotating the same potato kugel, butternut squash kugel or chicken dishes becomes tiresome. I want Pesach to be something my husband and kids also look forward to. I don’t want it to be associated with the stress of cleaning or bland food. I do my best to keep as calm and organized as possible, to keep stress at a minimum and anticipation high. All this to say that encouraging me to step out of my comfort zone with recipes for Pesach is not an easy feat.

Until now.

If you want an authority on Pesach cooking, Naomi is about as close as it gets. Her family ran a Pesach hotel program for 28 years. TWENTY EIGHT. This is coupled with her extensive catering and teaching resume. Her knowledge, experience and expertise makes this a stand out cookbook and not one that you’ll only invest in to refer to for eight days a year. The tag line, “Passover recipes you’ll want to make all year,” is more than just a fun idea, it’s a fact. I tested this out by making Shabbos using a handful of recipes from this book - a month before Pesach - and it was a success! I didn’t once hear, “pesachdik” in reference to any of the dishes! We’ve already made four recipes from the book and my Pesach menu is filled with another six, everything ranging from soup to salads, appetizers to mains. 

The ingredients listed are generally found in your local supermarket – something that is super important to me! I try to keep my grocery list filled with as many fruits and vegetables as possible and limit my spending on kosher l’pesach items to necessities – potato starch, oil etc. This book is completely in line with that! The majority of the recipes feature ingredients you’d find year-round! And if you do invest in a certain sauce or vinegar for one dish, you can find others in the book to make use of it as well! The whole goal of this cookbook is to avoid complicating matters. You’re set up for success with a very clear introductory section, outlining everything from which salt, eggs and more to use, as well as information about the variety of oil available, basic kitchen equipment, and freezer tips – especially handy if you’re looking to begin preparations early! There’s also a how-to section which details preparing basics such as crepes and zoodles that can then be incorporated into a variety of different recipes.

The layout is crisp and clean, and organized efficiently and effectively. Recipes are often accompanied by a, “Cook's Tip” gleaned from her years of professional experience. These tips cover topics such as making a recipe pareve, alternate methods of preparation, complimentary sides or how to approach preparation overall, among other matters. There are also “Prepare Ahead” boxes with information to help you begin cooking as early as possible, and “Year-Round,” providing options to adapt the recipe to one that can incorporate chametz (pretty much the opposite of my other cookbooks!). The instructions are concise and broken down into steps to make putting everything together as straightforward as possible.

The photos in the book (photographed by the awesome Miriam Pascal) capture each dish clearly and pleasantly, providing the final little push, if needed, to try it out.  

As for the food itself, there are so many new flavourful, affordable options that don’t require a thousand ingredients and that are sure to elevate your menu this year. We’ve already tried:

Zucchini Mushroom Soup
Coke Chicken
Roasted Root Vegetables with Spiced Pecan Crunch
Vanilla Cupcakes

Yes. Cupcakes. Non-Gebrokts, gluten-free, cupcakes! Everything was fresh, delicious and almost more importantly, easy to prepare!

This year we’ll have ten meals, (two Sedarim, two dinners, four lunches and Shabbos) and that’s not taking into account Chol HaMoed. With all of that on our plate (haha!) standing in the kitchen cooking for days on end isn’t how I’d like to spend my yuntif and with this cookbook, I won’t have to! On our menu as of now, from this cookbook specifically: 

Ultimate Pesach Chulent
Bobby's Stuffed Cabbage
Eggplant Parmesan
Mum's Marinated Eggplant
South Western Chicken Egg Rolls
Shepherd's Pie Potato Skins

None of these recipes drew the word, “pesachdik” from my husband. None of these recipes require me having to run to speciality stores to find ingredients. Not one of these recipes require me to set aside a large portion of time to prepare and assemble dishes. They’re innovative, creative, delicious and encourage me to add new flavours to our menu. 

I'm so excited to try out the chulent, and the South Western Chicken Egg Rolls are the perfect creative way to use up whatever leftovers we'll have from the Roast Chicken I have on our menu. The Shepherd's Pie Potato Skins sound so great, I just know they'll be a year-round staple as well! 

Honestly, when I wrote out the recipes that I knew I'd both be willing to make and would be well received here, upon a quick glance, my list had over 21 titles! The more time I spent flipping through the pages, the longer the list grew. The Roasted Tomato Soup will be added to my weekday dinner rotation, while the Zucchini Ravoli looks too awesome not to try out right away too! There are more than 125 recipes in this book, and I know this will be an important consideration to many - 120 of them are non-gebrokts and gluten-free (If you're gluten free than this cookbook is a definite must!). It really is fantastic and a cookbook you'll be referring to for meals outside of Pesach as well. It's a worthwhile investment and will not only elevate your menu, introducing new flavours and creative dishes, you also won't have to spend weeks in the kitchen to work it all out! 

Whether you’re making Pesach for the first time or twenty-ninth, whether you have your go-to recipes or are trying to compile fresh ideas, this cookbook has something for everyone. It will take the guesswork and stress out of planning your menu and cooking, and give you a safe and flavourful base to stand on. 

I’m so excited to share a recipe with you today (with permission). The Zucchini Potato Soup really has it all. It’s rich and creamy, perfect for all year round, healthy, relatively low in calories and you won’t have to run around looking for a ton of ingredients! As Naomi suggests in the “Cook's Tip” section, you can garnish with fried mushrooms for an extra special touch! 

And while I’m excited to share this recipe with you, I’m even more excited to share this BOOK with you!! Artscroll has generously provided one (1) copy of Naomi Nachman's Perfect for Pesach to give away! Head over to my Instagram account to enter, and for a bonus entry you can leave a comment here telling me what your favourite Pesach memory is! There always seems to be so much stress around cleaning, cooking and budgeting, let's put it all into perspective and remember the moments that made it even more worthwhile! 

The contest is open to US entrants (the cookbook will only be shipped to a US address). The contest will run from Sunday, March 26th, 2017 to Wednesday, March 29th, 2017 at 8pm EST, when 1 (one) winner will be chosen. No purchase necessary. Naomi Nachman's Perfect for Pesach will be shipped directly to the US address, Itsy Bitsy Balebusta assumes no responsibility for shipping. The winner will have 24 hours to respond before there is a re-draw for the prize. Good luck!

Here’s wishing you the smoothest of preparations, beautiful memories to make it all even more worthwhile and a Chag Kasher v’Sameach! 

This cookbook was provided as a review copy from the publisher. All opinions and ideas expressed in my review, are solely my own. 

Zucchini Mushroom Soup 
Pareve - Yields 10-12 servings - Freezer Friendly
(Naomi Nachman, Perfect for Pesach, p. 72, Artscroll 2017). 

1 large onion, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
5-6 cups cremini or baby bella mushrooms, sliced
4-6 medium zucchini, washed with peel, cut into chunks
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut in chunks
Water or vegetable stock
1 tablespoon kosher salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon white pepper or to taste

1. In a large (10-quart) soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add onions; sauté for a few minutes until they begin to soften.

2. Add mushrooms; sauté for a few more minutes. Add zucchini and potatoes. 

3. Add enough water to fill pot to just under vegetables. Don't add too much liquid, or soup will be too watery. Bring soup to a boil; reduce heat. Simmer until vegetables are soft, approximately 45 minutes.

4. Use an immersion blender to process soup for a full 3 minutes, until smooth. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

IUGR Awareness Day 2017

Today is IUGR Awareness Day. 

I cannot believe it's been an entire year since I stepped out of my comfort zone and shared our experience with IUGR! The response from our series last year, was so overwhelming and has provided such a community on this journey, that I want to share where we are now, another year later!

I don't even know where to begin or how to describe the past twelve months. Sometimes I look at N, (who is now only two and a half months away from his second birthday!) and even though the memory of the NICU is still fresh - trying to reconcile the baby whose incubator I sat next to, whose preemie diaper covered his entire torso, and the little hurricane of love and chaos that's running around my living room - well, I just can't believe it could possibly be the same kid!

Where once his photos were marked by the glare of an incubator, they're now just one giant blur of a little boy running around, trying to take in and discover as much as possible before his Mommy catches him.

Where I once sat sobbing, wondering how I'd be able to protect this frail, tiny, 3-pound bundle, I now sit holding my breath watching him go down the "big kids" slide laughing hysterically, calling out for me to watch his escapades!

N is wild and full of energy, love and life. He lives to make us laugh, and walking into his room first thing in the morning to the most enthusiastic "HIIIIIIII MOMMY!" anyone could ever muster at 6am, makes the early wake time bearable. He's hilarious and a hurricane. He knows what he wants and if he doesn't get it immediately... well watch out! He's so social that the librarian at the library we visit a few times a week knows him so well that she has Paw Patrol colouring sheets lined up and Nick Bland books on display.

Being a parent is nothing how I imagined it would be. The emotion, fear and love it has drawn out of me is astronomically greater than I could have ever imagined it'd be. There are days where diagnoses, lack there of, appointments and doctors/ specialists/ therapists, become so normal and routine, that when I stop to think about what our schedule and life would look like without them all, I just can't picture it. Months relate to appointments. I know July means a yearly follow-up at one hospital. I know that every three months there are follow-up appointments at another hospital. I know more doctors and specialists than I ever had an interest in knowing.

But now I also know resilience. I know gratitude. I know hope and strength and appreciating things that people take for granted. I watch N amaze not just family and friends, but doctors who have been practicing for a very long time. I watch therapists stand back and say, "Wow," in complete awe, when my little boy, the same little boy whose bones were so fragile a year ago, climbs to the top of the structure in the therapeutic gym, calls out and waves at us from the top, slides down the slide and then happily says, "again!" and is off before anyone can stop him! I watch him light up rooms, waving at and befriending the children with special needs around him, so easily, full of sensitivity and understanding that is well beyond his years. I've seen him figure out how to reach his goals despite his tiny stature. In the twenty two months I've been Mommy to this superhero, I have watched first-hand what it means to let nothing, NOTHING, hold you back. Not your size, your health, even your well-meaning Mommy.

I'm learning to give N his space. I spent a pregnancy worrying about delivery, delivery worrying about the NICU, the NICU worrying about the world and then the first year of his life worrying about all the ways he could hurt himself or compromise his health. Everything from a fever to someone holding him incorrectly. I have watched this boy overcome so much in so short a time.

Today N is as healthy and rambunctious a toddler as any you've seen. While his size does set him apart - below the third percentile (to put that in to perspective, imagine an almost two year old in 9 month old clothing) it does not stop him.

If you've just received your diagnosis, or have just met your (very) little one, I want to give you something not too many people gave me. I want to give you a little bit of hope. Not every story is written the same way, and thank Gd, because I wouldn't have N if they all were. But I can offer you our story. I can offer you the fact that this little boy who started at three pounds, endured two surgeries his first year, who now in his second year has been discharged from a few specialists but still has an endocrinologist, paediatric orthopaedic surgeon, paediatric developmentalist and neonatologist, that THIS boy is thriving. This boy is meeting and tearing down milestones on his mission to make "Tiny but Mighty" more than just a catch phrase. This amazing, exhausting little boy is going to change the world.

You can do this. You can go to the appointments. You can hear the skeptics and then you can look at your baby and know that for every question mark your left with, your baby has an answer. Their very own answer. One full of life and a strength that is greater than their size. They are feisty, they are strong and they are capable. And they are this way because they're a reflection of their greatest advocate - you.

They'll hear percentiles and diagnoses and endless jargon from their doctors, but they'll hear the encouragement and the knowledge that none of that is written in stone from you.

The next time we attend our routine hospital appointments there will be a new set of foot steps running down the halls. N will, for the first time, be able to walk up to doctors and to his NICU nurses. He'll be able to speak to them. He'll be able to show them that Mommy's no longer carrying him around, but that he is now the one doing the carrying. He's carrying a lifetime of hope and lessons that he's instilled in everyone that's ever met him. He's carrying so much life and love and energy that I just want to go back to the first NICU nurses with horrible images of his future, and say LOOK. Don't think, don't worry, don't tell me what "usually" or "statistically" is likely to happen but to just stay quiet and look.

Look at my tiny, little boy who's making everyone around him smile.

Look at my little boy who's pointing out things in the room no one would otherwise notice.

Look at my little boy who looks up to his brother with all his heart, who loves Paw Patrol, bears, cookies and milk, and making everyone laugh.

Look at my little boy who continues to spend his days conquering his size, the stares and questions, and the path lined up for him in the limited knowledge and information available on IUGR.

Look at my little boy whose only restriction he wasn't able to tear down was that of the intrauterine variety.

IUGR. NICU. It's amazing the weight of guilt, trepidation and anxiety those four letter combinations can induce. But what's also amazing is what those four letters produce as well - namely the little, feisty bundles of strength and courage.  

Take their little hand in yours (when you can catch them!) and give yourself the gift of stepping away from all the charts and skeptics and fear, and immerse yourself in their adventure and wonder instead. They may be small, but the difference they're going to make in this world is anything but.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Simple Elegance Review & GIVEAWAY!

Simple Elegance. 

The title of Daniella Silver's latest cookbook alone is enough to draw in this Mommy of two toddler boys. Simple? Elegant? Not words you hear around here very often, given that our days are filled to the brim with Paw Patrol, toy cars, cheese sandwiches, bananas and the occasional toddler tantrum… #reallife

I was fortunate to have the chance to preview Daniella’s newest cookbook, Simple Elegance, and from those two glimpses I was hooked! I had the exciting opportunity to test a handful of her recipes while the book was being put together! Then, as luck would have it, the launch party was a couple of blocks away from my home and I was able to attend! You couldn’t help but describe the evening as completely elegant! The simplicity in the stations set up around the room, with different dishes to taste right from the pages of the cookbook, was a fun and wonderful way to not only get the crowd excited about the book, but to also start compiling favourites and dinner menus for the rest of the week! The soups were incredible, but as far as I’m concerned, the Pulled BBQ Beef Nachos were definitely the winner! Similar to the book itself, the details in the décor elevated the event to another level. Picture a giant tea cup with flowers cascading from it, a variety of spatulas and whisks hidden throughout flower arrangements, streetlights with enlarged photos next to them; making you feel as if your were walking through the pages of the book, able to reach out and try different recipes every few feet! It was a beautiful evening to celebrate a truly elegant book and author! 


Now for the cookbook itself…

If you loved The Silver Platter, then there’s no question that this cookbook is a MUST. There’s a clear continuity throughout the layout, style and types of recipes included. So much so that there are a few recipes that are almost natural progressions from the first book. For instance, the Cranberry Chocolate Chip Cookies in Silver Platter were a huge hit. I honestly don’t know anyone who has the cookbook who hasn’t tried them out! I love my chocolate chip cookies plain and simple, and any additional texture (or fruit?!) is usually a big no-no, but even I made them weekly for a while there! In Simple Elegance, there’s a Cranberry Chocolate Chip cake that captures the same fan-favourite flavour combination, but has been developed into the perfect loaf cake! I made it as both muffins and mini loaves for my son’s nursery school bake sale and everyone loved them! This continuity brings with it a familiarity that encourages you to try out recipes before moving on to completely new ideas! When I saw the Cranberry Chocolate Chip Cake, given the experience with the cookies from the first book, I already trusted it and was willing to try it out immediately! Same with the Ultimate Chewy Chocolate Brownie Cookies! I will admit, I’m a huge fan of the Flourless Fudgy-Wudgy Cookies from the first book and was curious about these. Given that the Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies in the first book were such a hit here, I trusted their chocolate brownie counterpart would be too! Not only were they fantastic, my husband immediately loved them and they, too, were sent off to the bake sale! These parallel flavours and recipes were a good starting point when diving into this book for the first time! 

The style of Silver Platter is also carried throughout, however it has been updated to provide an elegant and classic base for the theme and recipes found within the pages of the cookbook. The cursive titles are a notable detail that helps to elevate this edition, while the layout maintains its clear, concise and easy-to-follow style. The intro page to each chapter features an elegant place setting maintaining a cohesive and conspicuous theme seamlessly throughout the book. The photos capture the dishes, clearly and crisply. The styling is beautifully done, with the colours and textures of the props showcasing the recipes excellently (i.e. the gold and silver tones of the dinnerware complimenting the Mushroom Cauliflower Soup perfectly). The images are simple and classic, perfectly arranged, and place the ingredients and visible freshness, colour and appeal of the recipes above all else. 

Daniella’s fun, warm, knowledgeable voice is clear throughout all of the anecdotes she shares. You can easily sense the love and commitment she pours into providing meals that are healthy, elegant and easy to prepare for her family, while also serving to meet their dietary restrictions. Any Mom will do whatever it takes for her kids, and I admire how far Daniella has taken that fact and also channelled it into something that she is not only very talented at, but that also speaks to so many other people! The anecdotes she shares are comparable to reading notes from a friend, jotted down in the margins of your cookbook, and helps the overall theme of “elegance” seem more approachable and attainable to, y’know a Mom tripping over toy cars while rushing to confirm that, yes, Netflix we are still watching Paw Patrol, thankyouverymuch.

Norene Gilletz’s contribution and notes add an additional dimension to the cookbook as well. I value her tips and advice, as they always make prep that much easier or teach me how to be more efficient and effective with my time in the kitchen! Her “notes” cover everything from substitutions, simplifying prep work, alternative methods of preparation, variations, and my personal favourite – helpful notes describing what, to some, may be considered unfamiliar ingredients! For instance, for the Watermelon Radish and Cucumber Salad on page 12, Norene goes into detail describing watermelon radishes, their texture, seasonal availability and more! And it doesn’t end with the familiar ingredients either! You’re bound to learn something on each page, from the best type of sweet potato to use in a soup to nutritional information and how to keep ingredients as fresh as possible. The thoughtful, informative and knowledgable “Norene’s Notes” section, provides greater clarity and encourages readers to try out new recipes, rather than simply sticking to those with familiar flavours and ingredients.    

Having said all this, in the end, what it really all comes down to is the quality and variety of recipes, and this cookbook definitely lives up to its name. I don’t have a lot of time to cook. I have two boys - a three year old and an (almost) two year old, and my schedule revolves around them, from school drop-off and pickup, to errands, appointments, and balancing everything else at home as well. I’ll be the first to admit that more often than not “breakfast for dinner” is my out, leaving simple, elegant meals pushed down my to list. I’ve tried to make better dinners a priority this year, and while our weekday dinners have definitely improved, I do sometimes feel guilt at the lack of “elegance,” especially when compared to an endless Instagram feed of creative and tasteful #whatsfordinner. This cookbook changes that. I don’t need to stand in the kitchen for hours to create healthy, pretty dishes, nor do I have to go store to store or searching down aisles for new ingredients. To date we have tried:

Squash Leek Soup
Roasted Cauliflower & Chickpea Soup
Maple Cinnamon Chicken
One-Pot Mushroom & Rice
Cauliflower & Chickpeas
Roasted Vegetables with Terra Chips
The Ultimate Chewy Chocolate Brownie Cookies
Orange-Infused Chocolate Chip Muffins
Cranberry Chocolate Chip Cake
Pulled BBQ Beef Nachos
Mushroom Cauliflower Soup

I made the Squash Leek Soup post-surgery you guys. Post-surgery! It was that easy and I had a warm, pretty, healthy meal on the table with barely any effort! The One-Pot Mushroom & Rice is a staple on our Shabbos menu and I’ve also included it as a side in meals to new mommies in the community too! The Cauliflower and Chickpeas were brimming with flavour and another new favourite Shabbos side dish! And you know how sometimes you see recipes for citrus cakes and muffins, and can’t wait for that burst of fresh, tart flavour and then… meh? Well not with the Orange-Infused Chocolate Chip Muffins! Chocolate + orange is my favourite flavour combination and other than my go to cheesecake, this recipe is the only one I’ve tried that does the combination justice! 

The recipes are healthy, gluten-free (and those that aren’t, in the dessert section for instance, have “gluten-free options” included). It’s a cookbook you’ll be able to use year round, from the Light and Fluffy Chiffon Cake at your Pesach table to Crumb Topped Pumpkin Cake in the Sukkah! 

This is definitely the cookbook for you if you’re looking to create simply elegant dishes that are flavourful and filled with fresh and healthy ingredients! 

As a special treat, with permission, I’m so excited to share the recipe for the Orange-Infused Chocolate Chip Muffins with you! These are so versatile - they're great on the go, or as dessert and would make a great addition to misloach manos this week as well!

...And one more surprise!

Our generous friends at Artscroll have provided one copy of Daniella Silver's Simple Elegance to give away! To enter, leave a comment below letting me know what your favourite flavour combination is! You can also head over to @ItsyBitsyBalebusta on Instagram to be entered as well!

The contest is open to US entrants (the cookbook will only be shipped to a US address). The contest will run from Tuesday, March 7th to Sunday, March 12th, 2017 at noon EST, when 1 (one) winner will be chosen (Happy Purim!). No purchase necessary. Daniella Silver's Simple Elegance will be shipped directly to the US address, Itsy Bitsy Balebusta assumes no responsibility for shipping, The winner will have 24 hours to respond, before there is a re-draw for the prize. Good luck!


Orange-Infused Chocolate Chip Muffins
(Daneilla Silver's Simple Elegance p. 284, Artscroll 2016. Reprinted with permission.)

Pareve | Gluten-Free Option | Freezes Well | Yields ~ 18 Muffins

3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tbsp fresh orange zest
6 tbsp orange juice (preferably fresh)
1 1/2 cups of flour (or gluten-free flour with xanthan gum)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line muffin pans with paper liners
2. In a large bowl, combine eggs, oil and sugar. Whisk together until light, about 2 minutes. Stir in orange zest and juice.
3. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; whisk together just until combined. Stir in chocolate chips.
4. Scoop batter into paper-lined muffin pans, filling them 3/4-full. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden.