Happy New Year to All My Tree Friends!

Tree HuggerYou may be thinking… huh? Wasn’t New Year’s like over a month ago? Firstly, I can’t believe it’s already been a month since New Year’s, and secondly, I’m talking about the New Year of the Trees. Tu B’Shevat – the 15th of the month of Shevat is celebrated as the New Year for nature. We actually have four new year’s in the Jewish calendar. The different new years all coincide with the tithing schedules (the part that you’re supposed to leave or give to G-d in thanks).

The first is the first day of the month Nissan. This is considered to be the New Year of the Prophets and starts the counting of the layout of the festivals for the remainder of the year. There are several sacrifices that are made at this time of year, and it is also around this time that the holiday of Passover begins (the 15th day of Nissan). This also marks the official start of Spring.

The second is the first day of the month of Elul. This is starts the year from the point of view of tithing cattle for Temple sacrifices. Since the destruction of the Temple, the Sages determined that this would also the beginning of when we start to recite Selichot, or preparation for repentance before Rosh HaShannah. This also marks the official start of the last month of Summer.

The third is the one that most people are framilar with and that we celebrate on the first day of the month of Tishri. This is called Rosh HaShannah – Head of the Year. Originally this date was associated with the last reaping of the harvest and the festival associated with it, though after the destruction of the Second Temple, the Sages decided that it would mark the head of the civil year, and therefore be called Rosh HaShannah – Head of the Year. This also begins the ten-day trial period where humanity is judged and ends with the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).

The fourth, and the one we are currently celebrating is Tu B’Shevat.  Originally this marked the date for calculating the tithes of the harvest that farmers would pledge to the priests of Israel. Today Tu B’Shevat represents a national Arbour Day in Israel, with tree planting ceremonies in Israel.

To celebrate the holiday, we tend to plant a tree or eat some of the fruits and grains from the land of Israel. So today I’m going to post two recipes. One that keeps cookie week going strong, and another that I’m actually re-posting from another blog. When you see it, you’ll know why I’m posting it! So enjoy, and Happy Tu B’Shevat!

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Healthy Habits – A Year to Get Better!

New YearsOkay, I am not one to talk. I have some pretty horrendous habits of my own. But…. with New Year’s coming this week, I should at least try and work on getting somewhat on track. One of the things that I hate about New Year’s resolutions, is that everyone is so gung-ho to make them, and then a week in, they’re gone! I think the problem is multi-fold. 1) We choose to change TOO much. 2) We say we need to make the changes IMMEDIATELY! 3) We loose motivation when there is no instant gratification or reward.

So how do we go about solving those problems? First off, don’t get caught up with the world’s need to have everything changed and different as of January 1st. It’s not going to happen buddy… you’re only going to disappoint yourself. Makes small changes, gradually. That way you don’t throw your body into shock, and you’re not dealing with cravings for EVERYTHING you gave up all at once. So here’s what I suggest: This week I’ll be posting 2-3 ideas for change a day, and giving them a month to take them on, i.e.: something to do in January, something to do in February, etc. By the end of 2015, if you stick with it, you’ll see you’ve come an incredible far way, and it didn’t seem too bad along the journey. Ready? Here goes!

JanuaryEat More Vegetables and Fruit
The Canadian daily food guide says that an adult female (19-50 years old) needs 7-8 servings of Vegetables and Fruit a day (8-10 for males). What does your intake look like? Try and add at least 3 servings of vegetables and fruit to your daily diet.

FebruaryAdd More Cardio
The daily food guide also gives outlines for being active. They suggest that adults accumulate at least 2 ½ hours of moderate to vigorous physical activity a week. It does not need to be done all at once though. Try getting your heart rate up at least 3 times a week. Mind you get it up through exercise and not stress 🙂

Come back tomorrow for March and April!

It’s All Greek To Me

It's All Greek to MeWell, I thought I’d round off soup week with a trip to Greece. I figured with all the different regions and cultures I covered, I couldn’t leave the Greeks out! My family used to have a tradition, back before we became Orthodox, of spending New Year’s Eve having Greek food and going to see whatever new Disney movie had come out that year. We would go with another family who all had children the same ages as my family, and we would sit in the theatre, the kids separate from the adults, acting like we were there on our own. One of my favourite parts of the evening though would be the fish soup that I would always have. It’s tart lemon flavour always appealed to me, and I loved the big chunks of vegetables and firm fish. Times have changed, and we no longer have this New Year’s tradition, but my mother still makes this soup, usually during the summer or on Shavous, along with a big salad and lots of crusty bread. It really is a meal in itself and fills both my stomach and my memories. Opa!

Ram’s Head – ראש כבש

The following is said while eating a piece of the meat from a ram’s head (or the head of another kosher animal or fish).

יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה’ אֱלֹהינוּ וֵאלֵֹהי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, שֶׁנִּהְיֶה לְרֹאשׁ וְלֹא לְזָנָב

May it be Your will, Lord our G‑d and the G‑d of our fathers, that we be a head and not a tail.

(The following is added only over the head of a ram:

וְתִזְכֹּר לָנוּ עֲקֵדָתוֹ וְאֵילוֹ שֶׁל יִצְחָק אָבִינוּ בֶּן אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ עַלֵיהֶם הַשָּׁלוֹם

…And You shall remember for us the binding and the ram of our forefather Isaac, the son of our forefather Abraham, peace be onto them.)

Spanish Morrocan Fish

Spanish Moroccan Fish

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 red bell peppers, seeded and sliced into strips
1 large carrot, thinly sliced
3 tomatoes, diced
4 green olives, sliced (optional)
1 (15 ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
3 tablespoons paprika
4 tablespoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons chicken soup powder
Salt to taste
5 pounds tilapia fillets

Directions:

Heat the vegetable oil in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in the onion and garlic; cook and stir until the onion has softened and turned translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the bell peppers, carrots, tomatoes, olives, and chickpeas and continue to cook until the peppers are slightly tender, about 5 minutes more. Sprinkle the parsley, paprika, cumin, cayenne, and chicken soup powder over the vegetables. Season with salt to taste. Stir to incorporate. Place the fish on top of the vegetables and add enough water to cover the vegetables. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until fish flakes easily with a fork and juices run clear, about 30-40 minutes. Serve over rice, couscous or with crusty bread. Can be served hot or cold. This dish serves 6 as an entrée, 12 as an appetizer.

Kebabs

Grilled Ground Lamb Kebabs with Fresh Hot-Pepper Paste

Ingredients:

1 ¼ pounds ground lamb
¾ cup finely chopped onion
½ cup finely chopped fresh parsley
½ cup finely chopped fresh mint
4 garlic cloves, minced
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
12 bamboo skewers
Olive oil
Warm pita bread
Fresh Hot-Pepper Paste

Directions:

Combine lamb, onion, parsley, mint, garlic, salt, pepper, paprika, and cayenne in large bowl and mix well. (Can be prepared up to 6 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate.) Place bamboo skewers in shallow dish. Cover with cold water and let stand at least 1 hour. Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Drain skewers. Form generous ¼ cup lamb mixture into 3-inch-long sausage around centre of 1 bamboo skewer. Repeat with remaining lamb mixture and skewers. Brush lamb kebabs with oil. Grill kebabs until brown and cooked through, turning frequently, about 12 minutes. Serve in warm pita bread with Fresh Hot-Pepper Paste. Makes 12 skewers.

hot pepper sauce

Fresh Hot-Pepper Paste

Ingredients:

1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup chopped seeded fresh red serrano or red jalapeño chilies
¼ cup water
¼ cup olive oil
1 ½ tablespoons garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin

Directions:

Combine all ingredients in processor and blend until very finely chopped. Can be prepared up to 1 week ahead. Store in an air-tight container in the fridge.

New Year’s Countdown – 5775 is Here!

New Year 5775

Well folks, we made it! Another year under our belts. Out with the old and in with the new. I’m sure I could add a few more cliches but I think you get the idea. This year is 5775 in the Jewish calendar or תשע״ה. Over the past week and a half I’ve gone through quite a few of the symbolic foods that we eat on Rosh HaShannah, but I’ve now come down to one of the more difficult ones, at least from a visual and palatable point a view. The fish head, or for the daring, the sheep/lamb’s head. Yes, you read that right. The head. At the dinner table. Staring at you. You can imagine how your niece, the vegan, is going to feel about this one!

Most people I know use the fish head, and just eat a little bit from the cheek area (which by the way is the best part!). Additionally, it’s usually only the host of the dinner that does the actual eating of the meat, while the rest look on, and then quickly remove it from the table in case some of their fellow diners have weak stomachs. A little play on this that my mother does is she cuts the heads off jelly candy fish and passes those out for all of the guests to indulge in. The kids love it and the adults get a kick out of it. Plus, no one gets queasy from seeing a disembodied candy fish!

One year, my father actually got a lamb’s head. While we were impressed with his resourcefulness and his desire to fulfill the mitzvah to the extreme, the head had teeth! It could have been still chewing grass next to us it was so life-like! We very quickly made him remove it from the table after he said the blessing, and requested that he use fish heads from then on ONLY! For the rest of you, here is a fish and a lamb dish that I hope you’ll enjoy and I wish you all a healthy and a happy new year!

Apple and Honey – תפוח בדבש

While dipping an apple in honey, we have the custom of making the following request:

יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה’ אֱלֹהינוּ וֵאלֵֹהי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, שֶׁתְּחַדֵּשׁ עָלֵינוּ שָׁנָה טוֹבָה וּמְתוּקָה כַּדְּבָשׁ

May it be Your will, Lord our G‑d and the G‑d of our fathers, that You renew for us a year good and sweet like honey.

This is the quintessential New Year’s food tradition! Apples and Honey! This year, instead of a raw slice of apple with honey, why don’t you try one of these recipes?

Apple Wedges

Apple Fries with Honey-Cinnamon Caramel Sauce

Ingredients:

2 cups apple cider
2 tablespoons margarine
1 teaspoon coarse salt (optional)
4 tart but firm apples, peeled, cored and cut into 8 wedges (per apple)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400F. In large saucepan over medium-high heat, boil cider until reduced to ⅓ cup, about 20 minutes (it should have a syrupy consistency). Remove from heat and whisk in margarine and salt. In bowl, toss apples with 2 tablespoons of the glaze and ½ tablespoon thyme. Arrange in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Place the apples on the bottom third of the oven. Roast for 10 minutes. Drizzle apples with remaining glaze and move baking sheets so the apples are now on the top third of oven. Continue to roast for 15-20 minutes until apples finish caramelizing. Sprinkle apples with remaining thyme and additional salt if desired. Makes 32 fries.

Caramel Sauce

Honey-Cinnamon Caramel Sauce

Ingredients:

14 ounces canned coconut milk
¾ cup light brown sugar
¼ cup honey
2 cinnamon sticks
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons coconut oil
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
Small pinch of sea salt

Directions:

In a small heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the coconut milk, palm sugar, ground cinnamon and honey. Bring to a boil and toss in the cinnamon sticks. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes and then remove from heat. Remove the cinnamon sticks and whisk in the coconut oil, vanilla, and sea salt.

Allow the Caramel Sauce to cool for 20 minutes. A thin film will naturally form over the top of the sauce; this is perfectly normal. Simply give the sauce a good whisk before pouring it into an airtight container. The sauce will continue to thicken (although not much) while it cools. Store in the refrigerator. Can be served warm or cold. Use within 5-7 days.

NOTE: When you first bring the coconut milk, palm sugar and honey to a boil, don’t leave it unattended on the stove. It can (and will) boil over if you aren’t careful. Keep an eye on it. If you can’t find coconut oil, you can use canola or vegetable. Just nothing with a strong taste, like olive.

Apple Filo Cups

Fruity Apple Filo Cups

This is a sweet and tasty appetizer, featuring filo pastry, fruit, cinnamon, lemon and more, could double as a dessert but also makes a nice appetizer.

Ingredients:

3 cooking apples, peeled and diced
3 teaspoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons honey
6 tablespoons raisins
9 sheets filo dough
6 tablespoons melted margarine
1 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 teaspoons lemon juice
Non-stick cooking spray

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Mix together the apples, honey, raisins, lemon juice, cinnamon and flour. Brush one of the filo sheets with some melted margarine and put another filo sheet on top. Brush that one with melted margarine and put a third sheet on top. Cut this stack of filo sheets into 4 smaller squares. Repeat this process with the remaining 6 sheets. Take a muffin tray and spray it with non-stick cooking spray. Fit each filo square into a muffin slot, creasing the edges to make filo cups. Spoon some of the apple filling into the centre of each filo cup, and then brush the remaining melted margarine over the tops of the filo cups. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden, then serve warm. Makes 12 cups.

New Year’s Countdown – 1 Day To Go!

Got Honey

One day left people! Are you freaking out yet? I can’t believe that I’m actually going to be eating out for all of my Holiday and Shabbat meals this year and won’t actually be doing any cooking! Now before I start getting hate mail, please know that 1) I miss the joy of creating and sharing what I’ve made with guests and 2) It ain’t so easy being a guest either! Having to be on your best behaviour all the time!? Hopefully this will be good practice for me for the new year, that I continue my good behaviour into the next 12 months.

This reminder to me to behave ties into something I read from Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson, a member of Chabad.org. He explains why we use an apple in particular on Rosh HaShannah, rather than any other sweet fruit. He says that the apple symbolizes the Garden of Eden, which according to the Midrash had the scent of an apple orchard, and in Kabbalah is called “the holy apple orchard.” He goes on the say that when Isaac commented regarding his son Jacob (Genesis 27:27), “Behold, the fragrance of my son is like the fragrance of a field, which the L‑rd has blessed!” the biblical commentator Rashi explains that this refers to the scent of an apple orchard, the scent of the Garden of Eden. Furthermore, when King Solomon depicts the love G‑d harbours for His nation, he writes (Song of Songs 8:5): “Beneath the apple tree I aroused you[r love].” Eating an apple on Rosh Hashanah is an attempt to remind G‑d of our age-old love.

So thank you Rabbi Davidson, now I have a reminder to behave and we have a reminder of G-d’s love for his people. For more information about Chabad, please check out their website at www.chabad.org.

Pomegranate – רימון

On Rosh HaShannah we eat a pomegranate and say:

יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה’ אֱלֹהינוּ וֵאלֵֹהי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, שֶׁנִּהְיֶה מְלֵאִים מִצְוֹת כָּרִמּוֹן

May it be Your will, Lord our G-d and the G-d of our fathers, that we be filled with mitzvot like a pomegranate [is filled with seeds].

With 613 to choose from, I’m sure we can find a way to be filled with mitzvot and pomegranates this year!

Pom Dip

Pomegranate Pepper Dip

This version of muhammara, a Turkish dip made with red peppers, pomegranate molasses, and walnuts, uses fresh pomegranate seeds instead of reduced pomegranate molasses, and pecans instead of walnuts. It has a fresh, bright flavor and is delicious spread on crackers or pita bread or used as a dip for fresh or lightly steamed veggies.

Ingredients:

3 to 4 red bell peppers
1 pomegranate
1 to 1 ½ cups pecans
1 clove garlic
1 to 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ to 1 teaspoon sea salt
Fresh lemon juice to taste

Directions:

Use either the broiler method or live flame method, roast the red peppers until they are charred. Let them sit, covered, about 15 minutes. Heat an oven to 350°F. While it heats, seed the pomegranate and set the seeds aside. You should have about ¾ cup. Lay the pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet and put them in the oven. Cook until lightly toasted, about 10 minutes. Set a timer and check frequently – pecans can go from raw to burnt very quickly. Set pecans aside to cool. While the pecans cool, remove the skin from the peppers – the charred skin should slip right off. Feel free to rinse them under cool running water, if you like. Gently rub the pecans with a clean kitchen towel or paper towels and lift the pecans off the towels. You won’t remove all the pecans skin, nor do you need to, but it should remove a fair amount of it. Put the peppers, pecans, pomegranate seeds (save a few for garnish, if you like), garlic clove, olive oil, and salt in a blender or food processor and whirl until the mixture is creamy and smooth. Add lemon juice to taste and adjust salt to taste. Serve immediately or cover and chill to serve later (the dip will keep for several days). Garnish with reserved pomegranate seeds, if you like.

Pom Relish

Pomegranate Relish

Ingredients:

2 pomegranates, seeded (About 1 ½ cups of seeds)
1 ½ tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 ½ tablespoons orange juice
Dash of salt

Directions:

Seed pomegranates – see How to Seed a Pomegranate. Be careful because the juice does stain! Combine all ingredients and mix well with wooden spoon. Refrigerate for 4 hours prior to serving. Remove from the fridge about 15 minutes before serving so that it is not ice cold.

New Year’s Countdown – 2 Days To Go!

Pom New Year

One of the most popular symbols of the Jewish New Year is the pomegranate. This ruby red regal looking fruit, bearing it’s own crown, graces the tables of Jewish homes this time of year. Only recently though have we learned what nature has been trying to tell us all this time! The pomegranate is a major superfood! The antioxidant levels in pomegranate are some of the highest recorded for various fruits, even higher than blueberries. There is some speculation that the antioxidant properties of pomegranates may help lower blood pressure, reduce heart disease, and provide protection against cancer. So if the fact that they are delicious wasn’t reason enough, eat them for your heart and your health! Wishing you a happy and HEALTHY New Year!

Gourd – קרא

The Hebrew word for Gourd is קרא, which relates to the word קרע—meaning to rip apart, as well as קרא—to announce. So with this in mind, we eat a symbolic piece of gourd or squash, and ask that our evil deeds are ripped up and our good deeds proclaimed.

יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה’ אֱלֹהינוּ וֵאלֵֹהי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, שֶׁתִּקְרַע רוֹעַ גְּזַר דִּינֵנוּ, וְיִקָּרְאוּ לְפָנֶיךָ זָכִיּוֹתֵינוּ

May it be Your will, Lord our G‑d and the G‑d of our fathers, that the evil of our verdicts be ripped, and that our merits be announced before you.

Once all the ripping and shouting is done, enjoy these gourd recipes with your family!

Squash, Pomegrante, Farro Salad

Roasted Squash, Pomegranate and Farro Salad

Ingredients:

1 medium squash (meat and seeds)
1 cup farro
¼ cup pomegranate seeds
2 tablespoons green onions, chopped
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Spices for Toasted Seeds:

¼ teaspoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon cumin
Pinch of black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees for roasting the squash. Half the squash lengthwise and scoop out the seeds, setting them aside for toasting later. Slice the halves into ¾ inch crescents, coat lightly with olive oil and season with salt. Roast on an aluminum-lined baking pan for about 30 minutes, turning halfway through.

As the squash roasts, boil 1 cup of farro in 3 cups of water. Once at a boil, turn down to a simmer and cover for 15 minutes until al dente. Drain the remaining water, and set aside in a large bowl to cool. Yield the seeds from the pomegranate by cutting off the stem, and scoring the pomegranate skin in quarters. Soak the scored pomegranate in water for a few minutes, before breaking it apart and seeding it under water. The pith with float to the surface of the water as you continue to agitate the seeds. Drain them and side them aside.

When the squash is done, allow it to cool almost completely before cutting it away from the skin and into cubes. Similar to the process for seeding the pomegranate, soak the squash seeds and pith in water, and agitate to separate the seeds. Discard as much of the pith as possible. Use the same pan to toast the seeds. Toss the seeds in the olive oil, salt, paprika, cumin, and pepper, then spread evenly on the aluminum foil. Toast in the oven for about 10 minutes, tossing halfway through.

When all the ingredients are prepared, toss together in a large bowl with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and chopped green onions. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

 

Roasted SquashRoasted Kabocha Squash with Fried Sage

Ingredients:

1 Kabocha squash (or acorn, butternut, etc.)
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Salt and pepper, to taste

To Fry the Sage:

Ingredients:

1 bunch fresh sage
¼ cup olive oil
Coarse salt

Directions:

Pinch off leaves from sage. Heat oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Fry 6–8 sage leaves at a time until crisp, 2–3 seconds. Transfer with a fork to paper towels and sprinkle generously with coarse salt. Prep and fry sage and set aside. You can learn how to clean sage here.

Next scrub the outside of the Kabocha squash and with a very sharp knife and someone who has some strong hands, carefully cut it in half and scoop out the seeds. Lay the squash halves on their flat side and again with a sharp knife and a strong person, cut them into wedges. Place squash on a foil lined baking sheet and drizzle with oil, salt, pepper, curry and dust the top with brown sugar. Roast in oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for a total of 30 minutes. Turn wedges over half way through. When done, top with salt and pepper and the fried sage.