Thursday, January 24, 2008

What do you do with an empty blogger?

Well jeez what is the point of having a blog if you don't do anything with it?

Politics just don't float my boat no more.

Food, recipes, - I can do that. I SHOULD do that. But so many do it better.

Being a mom. OK. But it doesn't consume my life anymore, now that my son is a gradeschooler. Should I write about being the mom of an "only"? Does anyone care?

Technology and other cool stuff? If I just listen to what my husband is up to, I can do that do too.

Then there's TV, music, entertainment, gossip - so not my bag I should leave it to the experts. We just switched to Comcast - is that fun to write about?

Jewish stuff? Yeah, I could do that. As long as it involves mahjongg!

So here are my new topics:
  • Mommy-ing a gradeschooler/only child
  • Having a kosher Jewish home
  • Recipes and food (Jewish/kosher focus)
  • Cool mahjongg stuff
  • Gadgets/technology with focus on the home
  • Stuff I like (housewares, clothes, paper goods)
  • What I'm reading/watching/listening to
A new goal: one short blog a day. I guess this counts...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Drash on the Leevees

I LOVE this. Rabbi Yonah at Blog Shul completes his Midrash on the LeeVees album.

My son has been listening to the LeeVees Hanukkah Rocks album nonstop for the last two weeks. What can I say, it beats most any Hanukkah album every made, and 99.4% of all Christmas songs as well.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Best Recipe: Parve Mashed Potatoes

Now if you are like me, and I hope you are, you are a huge fan of mashed potatoes. I adore mashed potatoes.

The sad thing is ever since I have gone over to kosher, I rarely get my fill of mashed potatoes. Although Taboun Grill has delicious kosher meat dishes, their mashed potatoes are merely OK. I'm just not sure that the middle-eastern cooks really "get" the creamy goodness of mashed potatoes. Plus, there is no gravy.

I have been known to order mashed potatoes as a side dish with fish (yes, I eat fish and vegetarian when I go out), but still there's nothing like a big plate of roast chicken with mashed potatoes.

So this past Thanksgiving I was assigned to make kosher mashed potatoes for my large extended family. Of course only my mother-in-law and I care about kosher parve, but luckily she was in charge and was making all kosher turkeys! Yay!

First step was to invest in a potato ricer. My sister got one of these years ago, and has raved about it. I HATE to buy one-use gadgets, but every now then you gotta go for it. So I got the Oxo Good Grips Potato Ricer.

Then, I grabbed a 10# sack of russet potatoes. (Don't get me started on those waxy Yukon Golds.) I needed potatoes for 19 people, so I think I peeled about 8 pounds of potatoes. Probably 10-12 medium-large Russets. Not the huge-mo baking potatoes; the more modest bagged Russets.

Next, I got a stock pot of water going. I cut the larger potatoes in half, put the smaller ones in whole, added a couple good spoonfuls of salt, brought the water to a boil, and reduced it to simmer, cooking the tatties for about 1/2 hour until they were nice and soft.

Using a slotted spoon, I pulled the potatoes out and one at a time, put them through the ricer. This took all of 5-10 minutes and the texture was perfect.

Now here's the secret to parve mashed potatoes: TOFUTTI SOUR SUPREME. I added about 2/3 c Tofutti Sour Supreme, and 6-8 T of Smart Balance tub maragine, along with salt and white pepper to taste. (You can use black pepper, but I like white pepper for white mashed potatoes.) To make the potatoes a little looser, I added small amounts of the water you boiled the potatoes in - I started with a couple tablespoons and kept going until they were the texture I wanted. I probably used about 1/2 c of the reserved boiling water. This is instead of the milk that is typically used for dairy mashed potatoes, or stock for meaty dishes.

I received many rave reviews, from people who had no idea they weren't the typically creamy dairy potatoes.

Here is the formal recipe, sized down for a medium-sized family dinner. I like big portions, so if you want extra, size up. Keep in mind that the recommended amounts of sour cream and margarine are just personal preferences. Feel free to adjust as you see fit.

8 servings

3 pounds of Russet potatoes
1/4 c Tofutti sour supreme
2-4 T Parve margarine (I prefer Smart Balance)
White pepper
Reserved cooking water from the potatoes

Peel the potatoes and put into a large pot. Cover with water, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 20-30 minutes until the potatoes are soft.

Remove the potatoes from the water; do not throw out the water. Reserve at least 1 cup!

Put the potatoes through a ricer, or mash with a fork or masher. Fold in the sour supreme and the margarine. Add small amounts of water about 2 T at a time to get the desired smoothness.

Serve hot with kosher gravy.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Recipe: Kosher Beef Barley Mushroom Stew

Here is a great winter meal -- all in one pot. The key to the recipe is making sure the beef is tender. Sometimes stew meat cooks quickly; sometimes it takes a bit longer. Figure a minimum of 2 hours total cooking time.

2-4 T olive oil
2 lbs beef stew meat (chuck, shoulder)
1/4 lbs beef fry (cured beef bacon), chopped
1 med onion, chopped
1 small celery rib, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
4 cloves garlic chopped
1 large can of tomato sauce (28 oz)
2 c broth (chicken, beef, or vegetable) or other liquid (water, red wine)
1/2 t each of dried thyme, rosemary and oregano
1 bay leaf
salt and black pepper to taste

3/4 c pearl barley
4 med red potatoes, chopped into cubes
8 oz mushrooms, quartered

1 c. frozen peas and/or green beans
1/4 c chopped fresh parsley

Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven or stock pot over a med-hi flame. Add half the beef cubes and brown on all sides. Remove from pot and add the other beef cubes. It will take about 5-10 minutes to each batch to brown.

Remove the beef cubes. Turn the flame down to med-low. Add the chopped beef fry and cook about 5 min until the beef is crispy. Add the onion, celery, carrots and garlic and saute until softened, about 5 min.

Add the beef back to the pot, along with the tomatoes and broth, herbs and pepper. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot and simmer for one hour.

After an hour, add the barley, potatoes and mushrooms. Cover and cook for 45 minutes.

At the end of the 45 minutes, test the beef to be sure it is tender. It should be easy to chew and soft. If it is not, continue cooking, checking every 10 min. When the beef is tender, add the frozen beans and peas and the chopped parsley. Cook for another 10 minutes. Salt again to taste.

Serve with crusty (parve) bread.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Big Fun Mah-Jongg Sunday

While many Chicagoans were basking in the glow of a Bears playoff victory, I was feeling the true joy of having played 4+ hours of mah-jongg yesterday.

Some friends accosted me on my way to minyan after dropping my son at his Hebrew class. Given the choice between minyan with the altekockers and mah-jongg, I made a choice to pray another day. And God seemed like he was going to withhold victory, as I had bad hand after bad hand. But then at the end, I played and won a closed hand. Oh bliss, oh rapture!

Then, my regular mah-jongg group convened at 7:30 last night, and I had no compunction about going out in semi-blizzard conditions and icy roads. Again with the bad hands most of the night, but, then, joy of joys, I managed to win on a closed hand.

Wow, two closed hand victories in one day. True big fun.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Make All Happiness Joy: MAHJ!

I started playing mahjong about 9 months ago. I was pulled into the game by some friends (well, at that point they were acquaintances) at my synagogue. After a few lessons, I was off and running.

I know I really like a game when after I play it, I think about it, dream about it (literally, at night, dreams), and want to learn everything there is to know about it. That was me with mahjong. I couldn't wait to play the next time, and since that day, I think I've played almost every week.

I couldn't wait to tell my mother, who had a regular afternoon mahjong game when I was a youngster. I can remember the ladies mixing the tiles and calling out "crack...bam...dragon." But I never learned the game, and eventually she stopped playing. Bless her heart, we recovered two old sets, one of which belonged to my grandmother. I use it now, and it's wonderful to play with.

Mahjong American Style is a tricky game -- there is a lot of luck involved, and a decent amount of skill in choosing a hand, and it can be painful and beautiful. Even today on my Shabbat afternoon game, I went for a pairs hand that was a long shot. But it looked so pretty on my rack, I had to go for it.

A great part of the fun has been a newfound camaraderie with my mahjong ladies. Yes, I have turned into my mother! It's been a long time since I have had close girlfriends. As a work-at-home (not stay-at-home) mom, I've been out of regular social circles for a long time. And here I found a group of women who have been a lifeline for me; people I can call for advice, talk about our kids, our husbands, gossip, schmooze, laugh, and cry when our hands go dead.

I'll probably have a lot more entries on mahjong. Along the lines of "mahjong, it is so like life..." Gack!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Bad pundits...bad, bad pundits

This great article on how well the pundits who were WRONG about Iraq are doing; by comparison those who were RIGHT are still struggling on the outskirts of mainstream media outlets.

Can't we fire pundits? I'm so weary of these bobbleheaded babblers who are paid millions of dollars to discuss their empty useless hypotheses.