Matzo Meal

It’s been over a week since our Passover Seder. A box of unopened matzo is still staring at me from the kitchen counter where it sits patiently waiting to be eaten. Matzo in our house has almost become a holiday decoration like a tree ornament at Christmas. Something to be pulled out for the season and then packed away for the next year.

Before I went to put this matzo away I realized that the expiration date simply read PASSOVER 2015. In other words, the manufacturers want to guarantee I am going to buy another box next year. I am skeptical that matzo ever actually expires though. It would be impossible to get any staler than it already is!

At our Seder one of our guests was raving about making lasagna with matzo. I was sure a dish with cheese, a breadish product and some sauce could work at our house, so instead of dumping the box in the trash I opened it and gave it a go.

*Afikomen Lasagna

Ingredients

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1 lb. chopped beef or turkey

1 cup shredded carrots

1 garlic clove, minced

28 oz. can crushed tomatoes

1 Tbsp. basil

1 Tbsp. oregano

Salt & Pepper

1 container ricotta cheese, 16 oz

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 Tbsp. parsley

2 cups shredded mozzarella, ½ cup reserved

¼ cup parmesan cheese

5-6 full size matzo crackers

Method

In a large saucepan heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the chopped meat, carrots and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until meat is cooked through and carrots are softened and starting to brown, about 10-12 minutes.

Add the crushed tomatoes, basil and oregano to the meat mixture. Bring tomato mixture to a simmer, season to taste with salt and pepper. Simmer for about 20 minutes, remove from heat and set aside.

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Meanwhile, in a large bowl combine the ricotta cheese, egg, parsley, and mozzarella cheese.

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Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

To assemble the lasagna, ladle about ½ cup of the meat sauce onto the bottom of a 13X9 inch baking dish. Arrange the matzo crackers in a single layer to cover the bottom. Each layer uses about 1 ½ sheets of matzo.

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Next spread about a cup of the meat over the matzo “noodles”. Then add a cup of the ricotta cheese over that.

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Add another layer of matzo. Repeat twice. Top the lasagna with the remaining sauce, reserved mozzarella and sprinkle on the parmesan cheese.

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Cover with foil and bake for 25-30 minutes. If making ahead you can cover and refrigerate or freeze unbaked lasagna. Use a layer of plastic wrap before you cover with foil. Remove the plastic wrap before baking!

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And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 7): “There are matzo balls in this?”

Liam (age 6): “Pretty good”

Dylan (age 6): “I taste the afikomen but don’t see it”

*During Passover it is customary to play hide and seek with a piece of Matzo called the Afikomen. Children are rewarded with a small prize when they find the hidden piece of matzo and return it to the table. I decided to name our lasagna recipe after this tradition to see if my kids could “find” the matzo.

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Baby, It’s Cold Outside

If you happen to be stuck indoors because a Polar Vortex has descended and it’s seven degrees outside, and your garage door breaks so you can’t leave the house until the repair guys come, and school just announced a 2-hour delay, making it futile to bring your kids to school for the remaining 15 minutes, then I have a great activity for you to try.

Make your own sun dried tomatoes! Besides tomatoes, a little oil and salt, all this requires is that you are home for four or five hours while they bake in the oven. Your reward will be a batch of the sweetest, tangiest, tomatoes which will taste 100% better than the leathery store-bought ones. Trust me, these are definitely worth the effort.

And hopefully by the time the tomatoes are done the temperature will have risen to at least two digits. The kids will still be home from school for the day but thinking about all the mouth-watering dishes you can add these tomatoes to will surely boost your spirits. Okay, that’s a stretch, but since the garage door will certainly be fixed at least you can get out of the house!

How To Make Your Own Sun-Dried Tomatoes

2 lbs of Campari or plum tomatoes

2 Tbsp olive oil

1/2 tsp coarse sea salt 

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Prepare a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Slice tomatoes in half and toss with the olive oil.

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Spread them out cut side up on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and place in oven.

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Bake until the tomatoes are slightly charred, at least 4 hours. If you have more time, you can bake these even longer but I prefer to have a little juiciness left to them.

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Tomatoes can be refrigerated for up to two weeks. Store them in a glass container and add some more olive oil. They are great tossed in a salad and the tomato infused oil can be used to make salad dressing.

Now that you have invested all this time in these beautiful, flavorful tomatoes, here is a great recipe to make using them:

Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto

Ingredients

1-cup sun-dried tomatoes (see above)

1/2-cup fresh basil leaves

1/4-cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese

1/4-cup blanched slivered almonds

1 clove garlic

1/4-cup olive oil

Squeeze of fresh lemon (optional)

Salt & pepper

Note: Pine nuts are traditionally used in a pesto but are very expensive. Almonds are a great substitute and give this pesto a slightly crunchy texture.

In a food processor, blend the tomatoes, basil, Parmesan cheese, almonds and garlic to a chunky paste. Scrape down sides; add olive oil, lemon and salt and pepper to taste. Pulse until oil is blended.

Serve with chips or toss with some fresh pasta. Enjoy!

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And the VERDICT is: 

Matthew (age 6): “It’s just too much of one flavor…”

Liam (age 4): “I like the chips!”

Dylan (age 4): “I will only lick it once”

This might be a better sell with the girls in our weekly Mah Jongg game. But at least I got one taste and a lick!

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Play Dates

A lot of times when the boys have friends over they want it to be a “dinner” play date. As I am cooking for three anyway, I usually don’t mind, what is one or two more. But since all play dates are not created equal, there are times the night doesn’t always end as planned.

Awhile back we had a few friends over and I served tuna fish to the kids. OMG – big mistake – I thought since I mixed it with plain pasta it would be a no-brainer, but it was a disaster. The moms had to scramble in my fridge for something to feed their melting children. To this day, we still laugh about the “tuna incident”.

There is one little guy I particularly enjoy having over, he eats everything I put on his plate and always asks for seconds. My kids see him eating so they usually follow suit. I once mentioned to his mom how much he enjoyed my dinners. She laughed and said that he would never refuse to eat something served to him. He was taught that would not be polite. Huh?! And here I thought it was my cooking!

The other day he came over and I decided to try a recipe that my cousin Judy sent me. I thought it would be a perfect choice for the four of them. She sent me the recipe in a narrative without any specific measurements so I sort of winged it.

Judy’s Pasta  (adapted from cousin Judy’s arsenal of recipes)

Ingredients:

1 Tbsp olive oil

2 cloves garlic

1 can diced tomato

1/2-cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1 cup fresh spinach, rough chopped

1 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

10-12 large shrimp, cooked and chopped into bite size pieces

Salt & pepper

1 lb dry pasta, we used Rotini

Directions:

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and cook about 2 minutes until fragrant. Add the diced tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, spinach, and Worcestershire sauce.

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Reduce heat and let simmer until tomatoes have softened, about 20-25 minutes. Do not add the shrimp until the last minute; they just need to heat through.

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Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water. Drain and toss pasta with the sauce in the skillet. Add a bit of the reserved pasta water to help the sauce stick to the pasta. Salt and pepper to taste. Add grated parmesan cheese if desired.

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And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 6): “It’s a little good”

Liam (age 4): “It’s bad – just kidding!”

Dylan (age 4): “Don’t like the seaweed part”

Jaume (age 5): “Really yummy!”

Globe Trotting

This year for his 6th birthday Matthew asked for a spinning world thingie. Translation: a globe. It has been a lot of fun pointing out all the exotic places he has traveled. So far, about five in total; New Jersey being one of them. The world has really opened up for him and it is exciting to watch. He now has ambitions to travel to the North Pole and his second favorite continent, besides North America, is Australia. Maybe because it is so large, his little finger always ends up on that one.

He can now see where his Daddy is traveling to when he goes away for work. And he can pinpoint Israel, where his Aunt Lisa, lives. It is a destination we point to several times a week. He wants to know when we will visit and I explain to him that even the THOUGHT of traveling 5500 miles on an airplane with him and his brothers is enough to have me committed. Well, not in those exact words…

Good thing she comes to visit us twice a year – Because I am not sure I would survive the 12-hour flight just yet, but SOON we will brave it (I promise, sis!) In the meantime I can bring him a little of the local culture by way of food. If I had my way we’d make a layover in Italy on the way there, so I am combining the two.

Israeli Cous Cous  – Italian Style

Ingredients:

2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes (you will have xtra for another dish)

1/4-cup olive oil, plus 2 Tbsp

1 cup Israeli cous cous

1 lemon, juice of

1 Tbsp capers, with some of the brine

2 scallions, sliced, reserve some for garnish

1 jar or can of Tonno tuna with oil, drained and flaked

Salt & Pepper

 

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Toss the tomatoes with 2 Tbsp of the olive oil and spread in one layer on baking sheet, season with salt.

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Roast for approximately 25-30 minutes until charred in spots and tomatoes are ready to burst. Shake the pan about halfway through. (Note: this step can be done in advance, refrigerate tomatoes in airtight container)

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Meanwhile, cook the cous cous according to package directions. While the cous cous is cooking combine the rest of the olive oil, lemon juice, capers, scallions, tuna, and tomatoes in a large bowl.

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Let cous cous cool slightly and then add to tuna mixture. Gently combine, and add salt and pepper to taste.  Add remaining scallions to garnish.

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And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 6): “Nope, do NOT like it”

Liam (age 4): “I DO like it”

Dylan (age 4): “I only like the white ball parts”

Since Liam only had two bites, I am suspicious he was just trying to butter me up for the ice cream bars he had spotted in the freezer… And ironically Matthew ate the most of anyone even though he didn’t like it, he must have been hungry.

I’m on to something BIG

Most weeknights at our house the kids eat first and Brian and I have dinner after they are tucked away for the night. So sometimes when they are eating I am also cooking something for later. One day soon, and we are slooowwwllly getting there, we will all be eating the exact same thing and life will be less complicated. At least as far as dinner goes…

On this particular night I was roasting asparagus and they asked for a taste. And then another, and another…. The problem was they only ate the crunchy tips so I was left with a whole bunch of headless asparagus. Dinner for Brian and I quickly morphed into a stir-fry with cut-up asparagus, sans tips!

That is when the light bulb went off! Just think how convenient it would be to buy a bunch of asparagus made up entirely of tips! If it could be done with muffin tops why not asparagus tops?  Hmmm, I really might be on to something….

Until my bright idea gets off the ground I will continue to try and get my kids to eat the whole thing, spear and all. And if Birdseye starts selling asparagus tips, remember you heard it here first!

Roasted Asparagus

Ingredients:

1 bunch thin asparagus spears, trimmed*

2 Tbsp olive oil

Sea salt, coarse

Freshly ground black pepper

*To trim asparagus, bend at tough end until it snaps. It will naturally snap where it gets tough. If asparagus are thick you can also peel the ends after they are trimmed.

Optional toppings

Roasted tomatoes

Queso fresco cheese, crumbled

 

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

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Place the asparagus on a baking sheet and drizzle with the olive oil. Toss to coat evenly. Spread the asparagus in a single layer and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast for about 25 minutes until tender but still crisp, shaking the pan at the halfway mark.

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Serve plain or with optional toppings-

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And the VERDICT is:

Matthew (age 5): “I ate 3!”

Liam (age 4): “I like the crispy parts – save the long parts for Daddy”

Dylan (age 4): I love asparagisis”