Apple-Pomegranate Salad, and a Last Minute Fix

I’ve been so busy with work lately that this blog, and cooking in general, have been seriously neglected. Yes, I got to spend a week running around New York City attending fashion shows – which was hilarious in and of itself considering I spent the last few years primarily wearing polyester chef whites – but the highlight was a delicious meal at Del Posto.

All the food was amazing, but during that meal I had my first bite of winter squash this season in the form of pumpkin ravioli. Those few bites awoke a fierce squash craving that usually comes on pretty strong once the leaves start turning, so when it came time to think of a vegetable dish (my assignment) for Yom Kippur break the fast, that was the first ingredient that came to mind.

I’d planned a delicious salad with pomegranate seeds and roasted butternut squash, among a few other key ingredients. In fact, the biggest problem I thought I was facing was cutting down the number of ingredients – sometimes I get a little carried away. It turns out that wasn’t the biggest problem, but rather it was that the damn butternut squash had NO flavor! None! Zilch! It was completely bland after roasting in the oven with salt, pepper, olive oil and rosemary. I was fighting a bit of a cold so I had my sister taste to make sure, and she spit it out it was so bad!

Serious squash FAIL! There was no choice, it had to be trashed. I’ll admit I nearly shed a tear, I was just so disappointed. Plus, there wasn’t enough time to go back to the store before guests started arriving so I had to act fast and take stock of what was available in my parents’ kitchen, and quickly decided the only good option was to cut up a few Gala apples.

I tossed the apples with lemon juice to preserve the color, then with mixed greens, pomegranate seeds, toasted pecans, caramelized shallots (leftover from when I thought I was serving butternut squash), Manchego cheese, and my go-to balsamic vinaigrette. Shockingly, this somewhat last-minute salad was a HUGE hit, so much so that I actually got pulled away from my own dinner to mix up another batch. That NEVER happens with my family!

Here’s the recipe for this delicious fall salad:

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Guest Post: A Tale of A First-Time, Non-Foodie Host & A Gross Chicken

Rosh Hashana - beautiful table

Please welcome my sister, Marci, as Foodie Reflections’s first guest blogger! I’m so excited that she’s sharing the experiences of her first-ever “formal” dinner. As someone lucky enough to have scored a seat for that meal, I want you to know that she was a wonderful hostess and we all left with our belly’s full.

Hello Blogging Universe!

My name is Marci and I am Jackie’s sister. I’m an accountant and while I like to think that I’m not a stereotypical dorky accountant with a pocket protector, I am by no means a foodie. But I really like to eat and am decent at following recipe directions, though I often have to call Jackie and ask her basic questions like “what does dicing mean?” or ” what do you mean by mince?” I also like to make sure that no one in my family has any expectations of me as a chef (so as not to disappoint or be required to cook when I don’t want to). So you can just imagine the shock when I suddenly volunteered to host Rosh Hashanah dinner for my husband’s and my families (felt by both families and by me).

Rosh Hashana - Marci, a wonderful host

My reason for offering to host was twofold. The first reason was pure laziness. My mom wanted us to come to her house in the suburbs for dinner on Friday night but I really didn’t want to deal with traffic so I started to think that it would be nice to see Jeff’s (my husband) family for at least one night of the holiday. Thus, it would make sense to have dinner in the city.  Then I realized that if I hosted I could use all my fun wedding gifts for the first time, such as my fine china and a bunch of nice serving pieces (things I never really wanted but now absolutely love). So, based on these reasons I decided to offer my services as a host.

I invited everyone over with promises of amusement at my attempt not to burn down my apartment and began figuring out what to serve. My first step was obviously consulting Jackie’s blog (this blog actually). I told my mom that she had to make her Jell-O mold because I don’t believe in a holiday without it and she also offered to bring my favorite challah bread from a place in Buffalo Grove.

Rosh Hashana - roast chicken and potatoes Rosh Hashana - fruit Jell-o mold Rosh Hashana - plate with chicken, potatoes, sweet potato/apple kugel, jell-o

Over the next day or so I waited to see what Jackie would offer to make in hopes that she would volunteer to take over the cooking, but she decided that since it was my event she was going to try to not be controlling. This was annoying for me since I had obviously counted on her being controlling. Finally I confronted her and came to terms with her bringing her roasted fig salad and a dessert. She ended up making an amazing carrot cake* that I highly recommend. After some careful deliberation with Jackie, my co-workers and friends, I decided to make Jackie’s crispy roasted chicken and fingerling potatoes for the main course and a sweet potato and apple kugel for a side dish (recipe courtesy of my co-worker Laura). I decided not to make a traditional brisket because I knew that we would be having it at my aunt’s house the next night.  My mother-in-law said she would bring an appetizer so now all I had to do was execute my plan.

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Mom’s Kugel

Kugel

Mom's Kugel

One of my all-time favorite foods is kugel. A sweetened noodle casserole, kugel has been a staple at holiday meals throughout my life. There are so many different types of kugel, running the gamut from a little sweet to dessert sweet, but what makes it good really comes down to personal preference.

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My favorite kugel will always be my mom’s, which was the runner-up in last year’s kugel-off. Much to her chagrin, I spiced it up a bit with 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon. She claims I destroyed the kugel but it got mad raves at Rosh Hashana dinner with people specifically commenting that they liked the (slight) cinnamonny flavor.

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In our family kugel is always served as a side dish although I enjoy eating the leftovers cold, just as I used to in college when my mom would send me back to school with a fresh pan. However you choose to eat kugel, the key is to make it, and I do hope you’ll try this version.

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Here’s the recipe:

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Passover Recipe: Fried Matzo with Cinnamon-Sugar (AKA Matzo Brei)

Fried Matzo with Cinnamon Sugar

Fried Matzo with Cinnamon-Sugar

It’s amazing how something that tastes so awful can so easily be doctored into something that tastes so good. That’s matzo for you.

Eaten plain, matzo tastes like cardboard – completely bland and dry – but smear on a little butter and suddenly it becomes a delicious snack.

Fried matzo: soak matzo Fried matzo: drain matzo

So, if butter can transform cardboard into something edible, just imagine what eggs and sugar could do to it? Now you’ve got a truly delectable meal: fried matzo (AKA matzo brei).

This traditional breakfast dish is a staple in most Jewish homes during Passover, and in deli’s year-round. I’ve always eaten it sweet but have recently heard about savory versions with lox and cream cheese. I guess I’ll just have to try that next…

Fried matzo: add vanilla to eggs Fried Matzo: whisk cinnamon with eggs and vanilla

My first reaction when I made fried matzo this year was that it was a little too eggy, but afterwards I changed my mind and decided I liked it this way. The recipe calls for a 1 to 1 ratio of eggs to matzo, but feel free to add a bit more matzo if you prefer.

Also, I like to top mine with cinnamon-sugar (leftover from the very mandelly mandel bread) or just plain sugar, although maple syrup and honey are popular alternatives.

Fried matzo: mix matzo with eggs Fried matzo: frying

Finally, I cook the fried matzo in butter because I avoid margarine at all costs (it’s a personal choice), but it’s okay to substitute margarine if you need to for religious reasons. Read more of this >>

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Passover Recipe: Asparagus & Spinach Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

Asparagus & Spinach Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

Asparagus & Spinach Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

Passover is one of my favorite holidays, not as much for the religious aspect as for the feeling of tradition and togetherness as the extended family sits down for a meal together. My family isn’t very religious and our Seders are quick – never more than 20 minutes (I’ve heard rumors of returning to the table after dinner for a second part but have never experienced that myself) – and are filled with laughter.

Laughing during a religious ceremony? Yeah, we don’t take it too seriously. There’s always a bit of manipulation by the “leader” to make sure that specific “participants” read as the “wicked” or “simple” son, and I always got into the dayenus by leading the whole group in at least two rounds of the song. Not to mention all the fun the kids have searching for the afikoman.

And then there’s the food. I love the Passover meal, not to be confused with the often over-processed, gut-clinging, matzo-based diet many Jews subsist on during the week of Passover. No, I’m talking about the traditional food my family serves during the seder.

There’s always a tender brisket, my mom’s amazing matzo ball soup, gefilte fish, hard-boiled eggs, harosets, apple-matzo kugel, not to mention great desserts (and no, we do NOT serve coconut macaroons or sponge cake – gag!). Delicious food, but very, very heavy.

This year one of the dishes I was assigned was a vegetable side, in addition to harosets and dessert. We’ve never served a salad before, but I thought it would be the perfect way to add a lighter, healthier component to the meal.

I tried to cover all the bases with this salad – something a bit sweet but overall subtle, and I wanted to incorporate asparagus, a spring vegetable that has somehow become synonymous with Passover. The result was a refreshing and filling asparagus and spinach salad with lemon vinaigrette.

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