December 26, 2008

Festival of Lights

It is a well-known secret that I have been vying to host a holiday party. Unfortunately, I never have had the opportunity, as there are plenty of other "hosts" in our family. Is it a coincidence then, that I finally got to host a holiday party for the holiday that is all about miracles and never loosing hope? I think not!

The Breakdown:

Although my husband sometimes thinks I'm crazy, I love putting together a beautiful table, wonderful meal, and enjoyable atmosphere, and the smiles on my guests' faces is more than worth the effort!!!

The Decor

Since Hanukkah is the festival of lights, I decided to do a candlelit dinner for our 18 guests.

The Tablescape

I used blue tablecloths by Origins from Bed Bath & Beyond. These are actually my favorite table cloths (I own them in multiple colors) because they look great, they are stain resistant, and they are pretty reasonable (especially if you have BB&B coupons to spare).

Instead of using a table runner, I created a faux table runner with silver Hanukkah gelt, and I spread the candles down the middle of the "runner."
Since I didn't have enough napkin rings for all of our guests, I used garland I found at Crate & Barrel to create napkin holders. Then, I tucked a dreidel under each garland, so that every guest could spin their own dreidel at their leisure.

I took the left over garland from the napkin holders, and hung it from the chandelier.

I had been eyeing these silver containers at Gelson's for some time now, and I finally broke down and treated myself to them. I placed floral foam on the bottom and arranged white hydrangeas and roses in each container.

Seating Cards

When I have a lot of guests, I prefer to make seating cards. My husband thinks it's too formal, but I personally think that when you have a lot of guests over for a sit down dinner, you really should use seating cards. First, everyone always asks you were they should sit anyway, and second, it allows you to strategically place your guests so that you can ensure that everyone is having a good time.

I made the seating cards using scrapbooking paper that I had on hand. I cut 4x4 pieces of white paper and folded them in half. Then I attached a 1x4 piece of silver paper to the center of one of the folded sides.

I found a great free dreidel font online by Artsylady. The first initial of every name is set inside a dreidel, but the best part was that the English letters resembled Hebrew letters. A lot of our guests know how to read Hebrew, and they got a real kick out of the font on the cards.
Additional Decor
I bought 4 napkins to match the tablecloths, so I could add a little color to the living room. I set two of them on an entry way table, where we were planning on lighting the channukiahs. I then set the other two on the coffee table. I placed a centerpiece over the napkins to hide the place where they overlapped. I then spread out mini dreidels and silver Hanukkah gelt.

I also repurposed a candle holder I bought from Bed Bath & Beyond for my husband's birthday. It originally came with sea shells, but ironically I've never used them. For my husband's birthday, I lined the inside with fragrance beads (also from BB&B), and I placed orchids on top of the beads.

This time, I left the beads in, but I placed mini dreidels on top of the beads.

The Menu
First Course: I like serving a first course because it allows me to have time to greet my guests. Then when they sit down to have the first course, I have plenty of time to heat the main course.
  • Israeli Salad

  • Winter Salad
Main Course: I found it was helpful to have two serving plates for each dish so my guests didn't have to wait until the serving plates went by 17 other people before they could enjoy.
  • Brisket

  • Moroccan Chicken

  • Schnitzel

  • Mashed Potatoes

  • Latkes

  • Zucchini and Corn in Tomato Sauce
Dessert: Everyone was so full after dinner, so I waited to serve dessert until after we opened presents. I cleared the dishes from a section of the table, and served dessert buffet style, so everyone could sit where ever they wanted.
  • Apple Cake

  • Sufganiyot

  • Cookies

  • Fruit

I wish I could post pictures of the amazing family and friends that enjoyed the holiday with us...but, alas, I choose to stay anonymous.

November 17, 2008

On the Menu: Weekly Dinner Challenge #3

Plans with friends and a road trip lead to a short cooking week.

I didn't want a busy work week to get in the way of the few nights I would be cooking, so I made the most of leftovers. The key was that on Monday I roasted eggplant and zucchini, which found its way into each meal (first in a cous cous, next as a side dish, and lastly in a pasta).
  1. Diced Onion Chicken

  2. Israeli Cous Cous with Roasted Zucchini and Eggplant

  1. Left Over Onion Chicken
  2. Roasted Zucchini and Roasted Eggplant in Tomato Sauce
  1. Wheat Pasta with Roasted Zucchini and Roasted Eggplant (all I had to do was cook wheat pasta and stir it into the side dish I made the night before)

November 16, 2008

On the Menu: Weekly Dinner Challenge #2

While I was off to a good start, a cold and plans with friends made for a pathetic cooking week (that is unless I get bonus points for baking six loaves of pumpkin bread and an apple tart).

  1. Cesar Salad
  2. Chicken Parmigiana
  3. Wheat Pasta with Marinara Sauce
  1. Greek Salad

  2. Schnitzel
  3. Israeli CousCous

  4. Roasted Zucchini
  1. Fall Salad

  2. Arroz Con Pollo

Wednesday & Thursday: Out sick :(
Friday & Saturday: Plans with friends made for a short week of cooking.

November 9, 2008

Coffee or Tea?

As the days are getting cooler, I am finding myself slipping into a tea phase. Caffeine, sadly, is a necessary evil for me these days. While I love coffee just as much as the next gal, coffee, unfortunately, doesn't always agree with me. I typically end up with jitters or an upset stomach. So, I've just had to deal with stares from coworkers as I sip away at a diet coke every morning.

However, as fall has been slowly approaching, I've switched out my morning cola for tea. It's been a nice substitute for coffee in some ways (apparently caffeine in tea form doesn't jolt my body like coffee; rather, it gives me a natural energy, and it's warmth is still soothing on a cold day), but it didn't feel like a true substitute for the aromatic coffee I was missing . . . that is, until I stumbled upon vanilla bean tea from Mightyleaf. It has the soothing aroma of a french vanilla latte, but the benefits and effects of tea. I think I found my new best friend for this fall.

On the Menu: Weekly Dinner Challenge #1

OK, so here goes nothing, my first weekly dinner menu post:

On The Menu:

  1. Fig Salad

  2. Glazed Salmon

  3. Zucchini in Tomato Sauce
  4. Grilled Corn
Left over tip: Leftover fig salad made for a great lunch on Monday. The side dishes were turned into another dish for Tuesday.

  1. Organic Tomato Soup (from Trader Joe's)

  2. Pan Grilled Cheese on Wheat Sourdough Bread (using soy cheese . . . but you couldn't tell the difference)

    Inspiration: I knew I would be working late, so I decided to use a little help from the store. It took me about 7 minutes to make this dinner, and it will be back again (although I might try a different tomato soup next time).

  1. Fall Salad

  2. Lemon Garlic Chicken

  3. Zucchini and Corn in Tomato Sauce

Leftover Madness: I combined the side dishes I made on Monday to make the zucchini and corn in tomato sauce. The fall salad made for a great lunch on Wednesday!
Wednesday: Plans with friends translated into a night off from cooking.

  1. Santa Fe Salad
  2. Fajitas
Leftover Magic: When I made the fajitas, I made an extra batch with just onions, so I wouldn't have to cook a main course the next night.

  1. Challah
  2. Caesar Salad
  3. Onion Chicken
  4. Asian Broccoli
Leftover Magic: Since the chicken was cooked the night before, I didn't have to spend any time on the main course.
Stretching Ingredients: I used the leftover romaine lettuce from the package we bought to make the Santa Fe Salad (for Thursday night) for the Cesar Salad. Since I am trying to minimize my time at the market, I used frozen broccoli. The Asian broccoli allowed me to use some of the ingredients I picked up for the glazed salmon.
Saturday: We went to a friend's house for a dinner party, so, sadly I only cooked a total of 5 nights this week.

November 4, 2008

Information Underload

I was looking forward to staring at a map of the US all night, watching reporters talk about the same thing over and over for hours upon hours, as the states slowly would start turning from grey to blue or (dare I say it) red.

I figured the news casters would be cautious before coloring in each state (especially given the debacle of 2000, when I opened up a bottle of champagne right before they took Florida away), so I decided it would be safe to wait till I came home to follow the coverage . . . but nope, this time, they called it so fast, that I was still on the 405, headed home from work when history was made.

Sure, I made it home for one amazing speech from a future president that I helped elect. But, since this is one of the few times a year I enjoy the news, I am left feeling a bit cheated. Instead of the exciting night I had planned of watching the country turn it's true colors, there was no map on the TV screen; instead, the news was reporting on the Internet. They actually had a reporter searching the web for election coverage posted online by ordinary users and such. After watching the reporter take me to flickr, youtube, and the like, I finally had enough of watching the Internet on the news, and decided to get over my laziness and go straight to the source.

As a result, I've spent the greater part of the evening staring and clicking at maps online, examining the different percentages of each state, and learning random useless statistics that no one cares about, such as the fact that that biggest Obama loving state (although it's not technically a state) was Washington D.C., where Obama received 97% of the vote, and the biggest McCain loving state was Oklahoma (but McCain only took 61%). I was no longer a passive media watcher, I was interacting. True, at first I still felt like I was missing out on the excitement of a full night of news coverage, but the Internet was becoming a nice efficient consolation prize (that is until I got board and decided to blog).

So, thanks to being able to perform my very own Internet search, I've gotten my news fix, and, more importantly, now I remember why I stopped watching the news in the first place.

As an added bonus, Obama's victory has been a pleasant distraction from the disappointing fact that "No on Proposition 8" in California is not looking good . . . all in all it's been a great day to be an American and a computer owner (although I am not to sure how I feeling these days about California).

P.S. If you missed Obama's acceptance speech, I highly recommend youtubing it!

November 2, 2008

And the Winner Is . . .

As a follow up to my search for the perfect couple's costume, and in case you are curious, the winner was: Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf.

Not only did we take the prize for best couple's costume (taking down the reigning champs for the last 3 years in the process), but I managed to look girly while my husband's costume got the laughs he was searching for. Mission accomplished.

Weekly Dinner Menu Challenge

I'm not quite sure what makes someone "ready" to be a parent. However, my husband and I have joked that we will be ready to have kids when we can make our own lunches and cook dinner every night (or at least, most nights) for a year. It turns out this challenge was harder than it sounded. Sure, there were times when we were on top of it, and were cooking healthy almost everyday . . . and then . . . not so much. What can I say, I have a demanding career, a very tempting couch, a need to veg out after a long day, and a long slew of other excuses that keep me from the kitchen. Let's just say it's a good thing that this challenge was more of a joke than a reality, or we would never have kids.

But, if the fifteen pounds I've gained since I graduated from college weren't motivation enough, my husbands newly discovered heart condition was the motivation I needed to cut down on the fast food, and start cooking. Sure, I haven't always excelled at meeting this goal, but if I've learned anything this year, it is that no matter how busy I feel, the only way for me to have the time to do something, is for me to make the time.

I'm proud to report that for some time now, I've been cooking again. The down side - I haven't really been taking the time to blog lately. So, I've decided it's time to multitask and post a weekly menu every Sunday. In order to share the successes, failures, and lessons learned, I will post the menu at the end of the week.

Now-a-days, many of us struggle to balance work and life. Hopefully others who are facing the same struggles, will find these posts helpful.

Stay tuned for the first weekly menu . . .

October 26, 2008

Healty-ish Mashed Potatoes

Although some of my favorite mashed potato recipes call for butter milk or cream, I love this healthier version.


1 package baby yukon potatoes

2 garlic cloves, peeled

2 tbsp. skim milk

1 tbsp. non-hydrogenated margarine
Salt to taste

(if you like your potatoes really creamy, use 1/4 cup skim milk and 2 tbsp of the margarine)

  1. Add potatoes and garlic cloves to pot, and cover with water

  2. Bring to boil over medium high heat

  3. Reduce to a simmer, and cook for about 35 minutes or until fork tender

  4. Drain potatoes

  5. Place potatoes in a large bowl
  6. Mash the potatoes using a hand-held potato masher

  7. Heat the milk and margarine in a small pan (optional, but worth the effort)

  8. Add milk and margarine to potatoes

  9. Continue to mash the potatoes mixing the ingredients together
10. Add salt to season to taste
11. Enjoy!

Quick and Easy: Onion Chicken

Cooking dinner on a weekday can be a difficult task. Over time, I have accumulated recipes that are quick and easy, and never fail to please. One of the easiest chicken dishes I make is Onion Chicken. It takes about 10 minutes to make from start to finish, and is worth the effort! It goes well with almost any side dish, so the possibilities are endless. When I'm really tired, I pair it with couscous (another quick dish), and dinner is ready in about 15 minutes.

6 boneless chicken fryer breasts (thin) (or 10 chicken tenders)
1 onion, sliced into long slices (about 1/4 inch thick) or diced (use pre-diced onions to save time)
Lawry's seasoned salt
Canola Oil

  1. Heat pan
  2. Add oil to coat pan (about 2 tbsp. or 4 sprays of Pam)
  3. Add sliced or diced onions
  4. Stir occasionally until onions are almost golden brown (about 3 minutes)
  5. Push onions to one side of the pan
  6. Season chicken with Lawry's
  7. Place seasoned side down on pan
  8. Season top side of chicken
  9. As you add the chicken pieces, move the onions so that each piece touches the bottom of the pan (e.g., move the onion on top of the chicken)
  10. Cook each piece about 3 minutes on each side (until cooked through)
  11. Remove chicken from pan when cooked all the way through
  12. Add a tbsp. of oil
  13. Continue to stir and cook onions until golden brown, or if you prefer onions well done, continue to cook until onions are dark brown
  14. Top the chicken with the onions and serve
If you have leftovers, you can slice the chicken into small pieces and serve as fajitas the next day with tortillas, sour cream, and salsa.

Moroccan Chicken Made Easy

Moroccan Chicken is one of my favorite recipes. Unfortunately, it takes a really long time to make, so it's just not realistic for a weeknight meal. However, I decided to take a cue from Rachel Ray, and ventured to discover a 30 minute version (OK more like 45 minutes--but it's a start). I switched out the thick bone-in chicken breasts I usually use for thin skinless boneless chicken fryer breasts (although chicken tenders would have worked just as well). The result--a healthier version, that took less than half the time of the original dish. Ironically, I think my husband preferred this recipe to the longer version . . .
  • 6 thin chicken fryer breasts (boneless, skinless) (or 10 chicken tenders)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Pam
    4-6 garlic cloves, chopped (depending on size of cloves)
  • 3 Roma tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/8 tbsp. turmeric
  • 1 can green Israeli olives
  • Juice from 1/2 lemon
  • A handful of parsley
  1. Drain olives, and place in pot
  2. Cover with water and bring to boil

  3. Once boiled, reduce to a simmer

  4. While the olives are cooking, rinse and pat-dry chicken breasts

  5. If breasts are not all even in thickness, pound breasts so all pieces are thin and even

  6. Sprinkle salt and pepper over chicken

  7. Heat pan, add 4 sprays of Pam (or 1 tbsp of canola or olive oil)

  8. Lie seasoned side of chicken down in pan, and season top side with salt and pepper

  9. Cook chicken on each side 1-2 minutes until golden brown (no need to cook all the way through, you are just sealing in the juices)

  10. Remove chicken from pan

  11. Add a bit more oil to the pan (approximately 2 more sprays of Pam, but may vary depending on how dry pan is)

  12. Add the garlic and cook until light golden brown (about 2 minutes)

  13. Add the chopped tomatoes

  14. Season with salt and pepper

  15. Stir occasionally until tomato mixture is reduced and liquid evaporates (approximately 6-8 minutes)

  16. In a measuring cup, measure 2 cups of chicken broth, and add the turmeric

  17. Mix the broth mixture together with a spoon

  18. Add the chicken breasts back into the pan
  19. Spread the tomato mixture over the breast pieces

  20. Add the broth mixture to the pan (broth should cover the chicken, add more broth if necessary)

  21. Cook on high heat until boiling, then cover and simmer for 10 minutes

  22. While the chicken is cooking, remove the olives from the heat, and drain
  23. Add olives and lemon juice to the pan with the chicken

  24. Cook for another 5 minutes

  25. Add parsley, recover

  26. Cook until parsley is wilted (about 5 minutes)

October 17, 2008

Expanding the Pumpkin Pie

One of the biggest challenges of being married is that you are expected to compromise. However, it turns out (from a negotiation perspective, anyway) that comprise is the worst alternative--as essentially, no one gets what they want. In fact, in college, when I took a negotiations class, I learned that the goal of negotiations should never be compromise; instead, you want to try to "expand the pie." That is: you have to think outside the box and try to find a solution that makes both people happy.

I've given it some thought, and I have decided to put my negotiation skills to the test for Halloween. The challenge is a simple one: . . . my husband wants to be dress up as something scary or funny, while I prefer to look cute or, if I can swing it, sexy. While this usually means that we end up picking our own costumes, and not doing the "couple thing," this year I was determined to find a couples costume that met both of our goals. While my first thought was to dress up as a sexy version of Marie Antoinette (yes, I am easily swayed by "The Girls Next Door"), I realize that my husband's idea of a good costume isn't dressing up like prince charming.

So, I have been spending most of my Internet time searching for a solution. Thankfully, now-a-days, almost anything comes in a "sexy" costume, so it turns out there are lots of choices out there.

We haven't decided yet which one we're going with, but I did get my husband to agree to the couples concept! Since I figured that others might be faced with the same issue, I thought I would share some of our findings:

Working Beer Keg and Beer Garden Girl (The keg costume actually pumps beer, though I have to admit, I am not sure what a Beer Garden Girl is):

Bong & Sexy DEA Agent (my husband's clear favorite, but due to the advances of facebook, I'm

Big Bad Wolf & Red Riding Hood (I've seen tons of red riding hoods, but I've never seen the hilarious wolf costume):

Scary Ghost and Sexy Ghost Buster:

Mummy King and Mummy Queen:

Stay tuned for the final decision . . .