Sunday, April 27, 2008

April 27, 2005 - A Passover Memory

As John Lennon beautifully sang, "Life is what happens to you when you're making other plans." I learned that lesson very well three years ago today.

Back in April 2005, I was working as a fundraiser and an event planner for a wonderful nonprofit that mentored teens from disadvantaged areas of the city. I was in charge of a major reception to honor this program which was set to occur inside the U.S. Capitol building on April 27. Needless to say, I was juggling quite a bit to make it a success. Typing emails at 2 am, sitting at a desk all day answering phones and faxing letters, barely eating, sleeping or exercising took a toll on me and I didn't acknowledge the fact that I wasn't feeling well for days. My body was sending me a lot of signals that I ignored - shortness of breath, pain in my leg and a burning sensation in my chest. What did I do? I tried to pretend it wasn't happening because I had the biggest event of my career to plan. I even made sure the catering services prepared kosher for Passover appetizers to serve the guests!

On the day of the event, I decided I couldn't ignore it any longer because I was in bad shape. I took a cab to the hospital (yes I went into work that day!) to just make sure everything was okay before I went to the Capitol. I was still answering my cell phone and giving parking information to guests when the nurses called me in. I was admitted immediately due to blood clots in my lungs that began as a Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) in my leg.

It's April 27, 2005. I am 30 years old and about to married in less than two weeks.

Obviously, I came through okay. More than just okay, actually. I spent a week in the hospital getting better. They found the cause of the clot was my use of the birth control pill. I had absolutely nothing else wrong with me. I walked out of that hospital and never looked back. What a crazy fluke. I'm one of the 1% that gets a clot on the pill! With those odds, I should have bought a lottery ticket, maybe?

What does all this have to do with my blog, you ask? Well, from that day forward I've been learning some very important lessons that I would like to share. Listen to your body and treat yourself really, really well. Be pro-active about your health & be your own advocate. Get eight hours of restorative sleep every night. Take a brisk walk everyday. Eat gorgeous vegetables with most meals. Enjoy dessert in moderation. Love yourself and act like you mean it. And don't believe that the world will come to a screeching halt if you do any of the above. You deserve to live happily and healthily.

To end this public service announcement, I'd like you to do me a favor. I feel I have a responsibility to share with you the causes and the symptoms of a DVT. Will you please go to, read about it, commit it to memory and then go on with your day? It's extremely treatable when caught - but you have to know when to act.

In Judaism, we have a toast. L'chaim. It means, "To Life."

Thanks again for reading today's memory and this week's Passover recipes. I hope you continue coming to my blog to learn about what's cooking in Test Drive Kitchen. Now raise your glass and join me in a toast.


Last day of Passover! Where did the time go?

You know what's strange? I really haven't missed bread at all this week. There was so many fantastic fruit and vegetables available to us this week that I didn't feel denied at all. Last night at the movies I could have used a small popcorn, but that was the only time I felt like I wanted something not kosher for Passover.

I hope you found some recipes this week that helped you to not only "get through" the holiday, but really enjoy your meals. I would love some feedback on any of the dishes you tried.

Sundays are usually our grocery shopping days, so I decided to see what was left in the fridge. Woohoo! We still had our golden beets left. A couple of nice oranges, too. I grabbed a few items like cider vinegar and honey from the pantry and started lunch.

Here we go:

Roasted Beet and Citrus Salad by Cooking Light

1 1/2 pounds small golden beets

Cooking spray

1/4 cup orange juice

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon honey

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 garlic clove, minced

4 cups mixed salad greens

3 cups chopped beet greens (about 3 ounces)

1 1/2 cups tangerine or orange sections, halved crosswise (about 8 tangerines) 2 tablespoons shaved fresh Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted

Preheat oven to 400°. Leave root and 1-inch stem on beets; scrub with a brush. Place beets on a jelly-roll pan coated with cooking spray. Lightly coat beets with cooking spray. Bake at 400° for 45 minutes or until tender. Cool beets slightly. Trim off beet roots; rub off skins. Cut beets in half.

Combine orange juice and next 6 ingredients (through garlic) in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add beets, tossing gently to coat. Remove beets with a slotted spoon, and set aside, reserving orange juice mixture in bowl. Add salad greens and beet greens to bowl; toss well.

Place about 1 cup greens mixture on each of 6 salad plates; top each with about 1 1/2 cups beets, 1/4 cup tangerine sections, 1 teaspoon cheese, and 1/2 teaspoon nuts. Serve immediately.

  • I confess. I have basically given up on finding a tasty orange. Most of the time, I buy oranges to zest or juice and get rid of everything else. You see, I've been hurt before and I just don't trust that once I peel an orange it will turn into a sublime snack. Usually they are just mediocre. Even Clementines have started to disappoint me. So, imagine my utter shock, when I peeled this orange- said a little prayer- and popped a slice in my mouth. It was fantastic!!! The best orange I've had in years. Seriously. I was so excited. This salad was going to rock. (Yes, I realize we're just talking about an orange here. I should probably not admit to these things.)

  • I sampled the array of nuts I had left, and truthfully, the pistachios were a lot more appealing than the walnuts. So I used them instead. They were so yummy that I didn't even bother to toast them.

  • This is the first time I've roasted beets without wrapping them in foil first. Usually when I take them out of the oven and remove the foil, the first layer comes off with it. This time, my heart skipped a beat when I opened the oven and saw charred beets. I burned them! They're ruined! Then I paused a moment and scratched the layer to reveal a perfect golden beet underneath. Now I just feel stupid, but relieved.

  • You know what they say. Put quality in and quality comes out. I can't even take credit for how amazing this salad turned out. I did nothing but accidentally put the right ingredients in my grocery cart.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Four fruits. One dessert.

Sweet, caramelized baked apples. What's a more perfect dessert than that? Well, I found a recipe that kicked it up a notch.

This Passover-friendly dessert uses four different fruits: lemon, orange, banana, and of course, the apple.

Here's what you'll need:

Two apples
One ripe banana
Pinch nutmeg
A few drops of lemon juice
Juice of one orange
1 teaspoon sugar

Recipe makes two servings.


Mash the banana. Add nutmeg, lemon juice and sugar. Peel the apples and divide into two. Scoop out the centers and fill with the banana mixture. Pour the orange juice over the top.

Bake in a hot oven at 400-degrees for 20 minutes or until the apples are soft. Serve hot.

  • The flavors were really terrific, but it wasn't as easy to make as I expected. First it took me forever to pare the apple. And I was on the phone talking to my friend at the same time. Accident waiting to happen, right? Next time, I'm purchasing an apple corer.
  • Then, it took forever for the apple to get brown and caramelize. Twenty minutes just didn't cut it. Even the extra ten minutes I added didn't help much. I used a Fuji apple, my favorite. I wonder if they're just too crisp? Next time I'll try a Granny Smith or a Red Delicious. Don't you love all the different names for apples? I even tried a Pink Lady once (at a farmer's market, not at Rydale High)
  • I added a 1/3 cup of vanilla ice cream. You really don't need a lot. Trust me. This is good stuff.

Passover memory for today:

It's March 2001 and I'm no longer the youngest child in my family at Passover seder. Being the youngest child meant that every year I'm expected to sing the four questions in Hebrew. The questions are meant to engage meaningful discussions about the Passover story and how we celebrate the holiday. It's an honor to sing it - I've had it memorized since I was 8 years old. This year was different, though. The youngest child is now my three month old niece who is barely awake through dinner, much less ready to test her vocal abilities. She's my parents' first grandchild. We're all in total and complete awe of her.

I took her in my arms, held her in my lap and sang the four questions to her. Welcome to the family, sweet little one.

Friday, April 25, 2008

A milestone and an award

I started this blog in December as a way to remember all of the hits and misfires (and real fires) that occur in my kitchen. I mentioned it to a few friends, who mentioned it to their friends and I occasionally started to post messages on other people's blogs and get involved with some foodie discussion groups. I never in a million years expected to see 5,000 visits this year. I admit it...I was watching the site meter yesterday as the number rolled over.

It's an old habit. When my dad's cars' odometers showed a number like 99,987, the whole family would pile in the car and drive around the neighborhood to witness it turn to 100,000 miles together. And yes, more than one car of his reached this milestone.

I just wanted to take a moment to thank you for visiting me here. I really love to cook dishes that are good and good for you. And I like to make people laugh. Hopefully you've gotten a recipe or two or at least a chuckle since you've gotten to know me.

And I'm totally humbled by the amazing kitchen feats and adventures my fellow foodie bloggers have achieved. I've seen some incredible dishes out there and I've been inspired more than a few times.

Thank you to one such blogger, Patsyk at Family, Friends and Food- -for sharing her "Blogging with a Purpose" award with me.

It's the first blogger award I've received. Now that she's passed it on to me, I will pay it forward to five new recipients. I'll do that on Monday after Passover ends and I've had enough carbs in my system to make a coherent decision.

I'll check in with you tomorrow! G'night.

Only two more days to go (stop staring at that bagel!)

Hey, this isn't so tough. It's six days into Passover and I'm not even thinking of bread...much.

If you're observing the holiday, I would love to hear how you're "breaking" Passover on Sunday. For us, it's almost always pizza. But this year I'm craving some risotto. Mmmmm. Risotto.

(Looking at watch) Only 50 plus hours to go!

For now, we've got salads. Not a crouton in sight. Sorry.

Ina Garten's Tomato & Feta Salad

3 pints (6 cups) cherry tomatoes
3/4 pound good feta cheese
1 small red onion, chopped
3 tablespoons white wine or Champagne vinegar
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

Cut the cherry tomatoes in half and place them in a large bowl. Dice the feta in 1/4-inch dice, crumbling it as little as possible. Add the feta to the tomatoes and then add the onion, vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, basil, and parsley. Toss carefully and salt, to taste, depending on the saltiness of the feta. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

  • I skipped the cherry tomatoes because the tomatoes on the vine at Whole Foods have truly been perfect recently. And I'm not a huge fan of raw tomatoes, but honestly I could have bitten into these like they were apples.
  • I skipped the onions and added a diced yellow pepper and cucumber instead. I also used Champagne vinegar instead of wine. I find that salads like this need to marinate at least an hour in the fridge before serving.
  • Add some cooked quinoa with this for a meal or spread some on a piece of matzah for a snack.

Mollie Katzen-inspired Pear, Walnut & Goat Cheese Salad

2 cups of romaine lettuce

1/4 cup of crumbled goat cheese

2 T lemon juice (fresh!)

1 pear, sliced

1/4 walnuts, chopped

2 T walnut oil

2 t Champagne vinegar

First I combined the pear, lettuce, walnuts and goat cheese in a bowl and set aside. I whisked the walnut oil, champagne vinegar and lemon juice together for the dressing and drizzled it on the salad.

Mollie Katzen's recipe substitutes feta for the goat cheese, but I've had a lot of feta lately. Also, she suggests marinating the pears in lemon juice first then finishing off the dish with a freshly ground black pepper.

  • You must try this. I think it's the lemon juice that puts this salad on another level. Or maybe it's the walnut oil? I don't know. Just try it and let me know what you think.

Passover memory for today:

It's April 1983 and my parents are taking us to Disney World for spring break! Epcot Center is unveiling the big silver earth thingy and we're truly excited. However, nobody told sis and I that the week my parents chose to go was (drumroll please) Passover! Yes, we visited Epcot Center's France, Italy and Greece. No pastries, pasta or spanakopita for us! We existed on potato chips. Lots and lots of potato chips.

After a few days in the Magic Kingdom, Mickey Mouse's ears started to look like bagels to me.

I'm not still bitter or anything. But I haven't been to Disney World since.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

From Quinoa to Quiche. These are great Scrabble words, don't you think?

Remember that long list of vegetables I had on the Passover grocery list? Well, it's time to take them out of the fridge. I would suggest you save this recipe for the weekend. It's not a hard to do, it just took longer to prep everything than I expected. I started by taking every single ingredient out and laying it on the dining room table. I almost completely covered the table. Yep, that's a lot of goodness in one spot. I wish I took a picture of it, as it was a sight to behold!

For all of you CSA subscribers out there, this is a fantastic way to use your excess vegetables before your weekly box of produce arrives. In fact, I think my hubby should anticipate this as our Sunday brunch meal for the summer.

Doesn't this look pretty?

Vegetable Quiche from The Healthy Kitchen by Dr. Andrew Weil & Rosie Daley


1/2 cup purified water

1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes

1/2 pound asparagus (about 2 cups chopped) or broccoli florets

1/2 medium onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, sliced

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 carrot, cut in small cubes (about 1 cup)

5 mushrooms, sliced

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil, or 1 teaspoon dried

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

1/8 teaspoon chili flakes

1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3 small red potatoes, washed and thinly sliced

1/2 cup grated cheese, Pepper Jack or Swiss

1/4 cup milk

1/2 cup low-fat sour cream

6 eggs

1 medium tomato, sliced (seeds squeezed out)

3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375º F. Boil the water, pour over the sun-dried tomatoes, and allow to soak for about 15 minutes until they become soft and plump. Strain off any remaining liquid, and coarsely chop.

Cut off about 1 inch of the coarse ends of the asparagus stalks and discard or save them for soup. Cut the remaining stalks into about 6 pieces or chop coarsely. (If you are using broccoli, cut into florets.) Blanch the asparagus by boiling it in a medium pot of water for 2 minutes or less. Asparagus should be bright green and firm to the bite. Drain, rinse the asparagus in cold water, and drain again in a colander.

Sauté the onions and the garlic in the olive oil over low heat until the onions are transparent, approximately 10 minutes. Add the carrots, mushrooms, basil, parsley, chili flakes, nutmeg, salt and pepper and continue to cook for 5 more minutes. Remove from the heat.

Lightly grease the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie pan. Line the bottom with the potato slices, overlapping them slightly.

Whisk together the cheese, milk, sun-dried tomatoes, sour cream and the eggs in a large bowl. Mix in the sautéed vegetables and the blanched asparagus, coating everything with the cheese, milk and egg liquid, then pour into the potato-lined pie pan.

Arrange the tomato slices on top and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake for 1 hour, covering after 45 minutes if top browns. Completely baked quiche should be very firm. Let cool 15 minutes before slicing and serving.

  • Purified water? I would like to tell you that I went down to the rambling stream by my house, paused to pet a deer and dipped my golden ladel in the water. But that didn't happen. I got it right from the tap.

  • Instead of blanching my asparagus, I decided to steam it for 2 min. with a Glad Simply steaming bag. I didn't want to wash another pot!

  • If I had this to do over, I would cut the carrots a little smaller and probably sauteed it a bit longer. Or maybe grating them would have been better? It was still a little too hard when I ate a piece of the quiche. Not bad at all, just inconsistent with the rest of the texture of the other veggies.

  • I saved some time by purchasing sliced mushrooms. But I'm not going to kid you...this dish took about 40 minutes to prep. It was incredibly simple to put together, though. Oh, and did I mention it is really, really tasty? So please try it. Just do it on the weekend.

  • To lighten it up a bit, I used three whole eggs and three egg whites. I also chose a lowfat Swiss cheese, but a full fat sour cream. Like Ellie Krieger, I prefer some things full fat, but in moderation.

Passover memory for today:

No one in my family can remember the year, so I'm going to say it's circa 1980. I was very young, possibly 6 years old. We are all gathered at my aunt and uncle's home for seder and there must be 25 people in attendance. The seder goes on as normal- no flaming hairdos to speak of- but one unusual thing did happen. It snowed. Alot. Actually, it was a blizzard. Now this is Philadelphia, mind you, in the Spring. By the end of the seder, no one could get their cars to budge an inch. We were snowed in. All 25 of us had one big sleepover.

Did I mention it was April Fool's Day? I know, I know, it sounds like a joke. But it really happened. I remember thinking my father should keep extra pillows in the car just in case this happens again.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Quinoa. Keen-what?! No, it's keen-wah...

My breakfast most mornings consists of Bob's Red Mill 5 grain oatmeal with fruits and nuts. But, not on Passover. All the smoothies in the world can't make up for the heartiness of warm oatmeal in the morning. I decided to try a little experiment with a Kosher for Passover seed (not a grain!) called quinoa.

Gourmet magazine said this of quinoa:

"Like the new kid in town rolling up in a shiny convertible, this grain-that’s-not-a-grain is becoming the belle of the Passover ball." Wow, so clearly quinoa is in the running for prom queen!

Actually, quinoa is a member of the beet family and is not related to any of the five grains prohibited on Passover. It's very easy to make and can be used in both sweet and savory dishes.

Here's how you make it:

First, rinse. Repeat. And rinse again. You see, there's a coating on quinoa that can be tough on your digestive system. Rinsing it is the only way to get it off. Remember to use a very thin sieve to drain the quinoa because the seeds are so tiny. Squeeze out any excess liquid, then place in a medium saucepan. Now, toast quinoa in a dry saucepan. Toasting it first brings out a nice, nutty flavor. After toasting for five minutes, add about 2 cups of water. Bring to a rapid boil, then cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

Now that you have cooked quinoa, what do you do with it? Really, anything you want. Here's one option:

1 cup of cooked quinoa
2 t pure maple syrup
1/2 banana, sliced
large pinch of sliced almonds
10 large golden raisins

And, here was the result:

Looks good, doesn't it? I wish I had a better camera so you can see what cooked quinoa looks like. Basically, it resembles couscous but it's translucent. You can really play with quinoa and make a dish that suits your tastes. If I had any dried cherries, I would have used them instead of the raisins and replaced the maple syrup with pure vanilla extract. Also, I would have traded the almonds for crushed hazelnuts.

Passover memory for today:

It's April 1991 and it's been a long winter for my parents. We had been caring for my ailing grandfather in our home for the last three months. After a lifetime of smoking, emphysema was taking it's toll on him. Even though it was a miserable condition, my grandpop always made others smile and laugh with his flirting, joking and dancing. His knowledge of cards and magic tricks were unmatched. He had one blue eye and one brown eye. And they both sparkled mischievously.

Right before Passover, my grandpop entered a hospice, as we could no longer give him the care he needed. He was always a fixture at Passover seder and it was hard to think about celebrating the holiday without him. Amazingly, we didn't have to. The staff at the hospice cleared out the furniture in their beautiful sun room and set up a long table and chairs for us. About 15 of my family members came with our meal served from tupperware dishes instead of the usual china. With my grandpop at the head of the table, and sunlight streaming in, it was the most beautiful seder table I had ever seen. We concluded the seder with the usual toast: Next Year in Jerusalem!

My grandpop passed away a month later. A man- who only had an eighth grade education - had seen the world by joining the army. My mother and aunt decided the grandkids should honor his memory by going on our own adventures. So, my sister and I both spent the summer in Israel. When we finally reached Jerusalem and gazed at the Western Wall, he was definitely with us.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Peel me a grape

Shopping for delicious blueberries, strawberries and grapes can be really a hit or miss endeavor. You just never know. You can do your best by shopping for fruit when it's in season. But even then you take a chance. I love those days when I open up a bag of red seedless grapes and every single one of them is sweet perfection. I happened upon a bunch like this yesterday. Today's Passover-friendly recipes are inspired by the grape!

Banana, Berry & Grape Breakfast Smoothie

1/2 frozen banana
1/2 fresh banana
8 red seedless grapes
1/2 cup of blueberries
1/2 cup of nonfat plain yogurt
1/4 cup orange juice
2 t of honey
handful or two of crushed ice

If you have an immersion blender, you can put all of these ingredients in a plastic pitcher to blend. I always put the ice in last since that's what the blade touches first. However, if you have a conventional blender, you may want to blend the ice first, stop and then add the other ingredients before blending again.

Moving on to lunch, I focused on the grapes again and made a Curried Chicken Salad with Grapes and Apples. I adapted this recipe from Gourmet magazine.

Poached Chicken:

1 1/2 lb of chicken
4 cups of water
1 3/4 cups of chicken broth
1/2 onion, roughly chopped
7 baby carrots
handful of flat leaf parsley

Add the water, broth and vegetables to a large saucepan and bring it to a simmer. After a few minutes of simmering, add the chicken. Simmer for 6 minutes uncovered, then turn off the heat and move the saucepan to another burner. Cover the pan tightly with foil and a lid and let it sit for 15 minutes. By adding the vegetables to the broth/water mixture, the chicken turned out very flavorful! Thank you to my mother in-law for that suggestion. It made all the difference in this dish.

For the salad:

1 1/2 lb of cooked chicken, cubed
1 cup of red seedless grapes
1/2 cup of toasted & crushed cashews
1 Fuji apple, chopped roughly (you can leave the peel on)
1 celery stalk, diced
1/2 cup of lowfat mayo (kosher for Passover)
1 T freshly squeezed lime juice
1 T honey
5 t curry powder
1/2 t ground ginger
1/2 t salt
1/4 t ground black pepper

Add chicken, grapes, apples, celery and cashews to one large bowl and set aside. In another bowl, whisk the mayo, lime juice, honey, curry, ginger, salt and pepper. Combine the dressing with the chicken mixture. Dish can be served warm or cold.

As you can see from the picture, I'm serving this with a swiss chard leaf. Since you can not have torillas on Passover, I rolled it in the leaf like a sandwich. You can do this with a big Romaine lettuce leaf, too. But I find swiss chard to be heartier and the "sandwich" stays together better.

Finally here's another Passover memory from the past.

It's 1998 and for the first time in many years, my extended family is divided by a large ocean for Passover. Our custom has always been to share the holiday with my mother's sister and her family. My aunt was working at the London School of Economics for four months that Spring. But as a family we were determined to not let that stop us from spending Passover together. So we went to London! My uncle, cousins, their significant others, my parents and I made the trip to be with my aunt for seder. Incidentally, this was my parents first trip abroad which made it that much more exciting. My aunt was renting a flat that happened to be on the fifth floor. No elevator. The stairs were so steep you can literally feel them brushing against your nose as you climbed. You had to be an Olympic athlete to get up those stairs without stopping at each landing. When my aunt called around to rent tables and chairs for seder, there wasn't one company that would make the round trip up and down those stairs. She wound up purchasing everything so they would come! Don't ask me what the owner of flat said when he came back after renting it to my aunt and found the extra furniture.

Ever year on Passover we ask, "Why is this night different than all other nights?" Gathered around that table for seder, in a cramped London flat, was certainly different & one of the most wonderful memories I've ever had. Here were all were in London, thousands of miles away from our homes. But we were home because we were together.

Monday, April 21, 2008

A nice palate cleanser

Welcome back! If you're celebrating Passover this year, you may already have one or two seders under your belt. Now that the first two nights are over, it's time to put down the brisket and try something new. A nice fish dish.

What's that you say? You've had your fill of gefilte fish and you wouldn't mind if a month passes before you touch any fish again?

Before we get to the recipe, I must take a moment to share that growing up, I experienced what can only be described as a beta version of "Fear Factor." About one or two times a month, my entire family would get together with our grandparents and great aunts and uncles for a Sunday brunch. The buffet table contained many exotic treats including white fish salad and pickled herring. But the piece d'resistance, was a very large, dead and unhappy looking fish with blank eyes. Of course, the fish was used to showcase how fresh it was - but to the kids it only served as the object of many games of "Dare you to try it."

Back to Passover. One of these delectable - daring to some- dishes is of course gefilte fish. Gefilte fish is best described as a sweet fish sausage with carp as the main ingredient. Sounds okay so far, right? If I never saw how it was packaged, I'm sure it would be fine. But if you frequent the Kosher for Passover section at the grocery store, you will see that it's jarred in a congealed jelly.

Enough said.

I've believed for a long time that you either have the DNA strand that indicates whether you will enjoy gefilte fish or if you're destined to hate it. Let me make this clear. I LOVE IT. I can't get enough of it. Hubby hates it. But that's okay because usually he's sitting next to me at seder and I will just eat it right off his plate. Last night, we had a newcomer to our seder at my parents house. I watched out of the corner of my eye as he stabbed the gefilte with his fork, tasted a mere morsel and pushed the plate out of the way. What? You don't like it? No problem. I'll take it.

So, back to a dinner recipe for the post-seder, non-gefilte, mid-Passover week.

Sea Bass (or any white fish fillet) in Lemon Butter Sauce (adapted from Cooking Light)

2 (6-ounce) sea bass or grouper fillets
Cooking spray
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon butter
1/2 cup chopped plum tomato
(6-ounce) bag baby spinach, coarsely chopped


Sprinkle fish with salt. Heat a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat. Add fish to pan; cook 5 minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Remove fish from pan. Place one fillet on each of 2 plates; keep warm.

Add wine and juice to pan; cook over medium-high heat 2 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in parsley and butter. Drizzle sauce over fillets.

Add the tomato and spinach to pan; cook 1 minute or until spinach wilts. Arrange 1 cup vegetables on each plate.

  • This really is a delicious and quick dish. I haven't made it with sea bass yet, because it's rather pricey. But I'm sure it would be outstanding. I typically use turbot. But I'm sure any white fish fillet would be excellent. Just make sure it's thin enough (but not too thin because then it would fall apart!) for you to flip it while it maintains it's shape.
  • Speaking of flipping, run out and get yourself a fish spatula if you don't have one already. It's a flexible spatula that bends at the end- to pick up thin flaky fillets of fish- but it also has wide open slots. Anytime I cook with hot oil, I use it. Basically when I flip, the oil doesn't flip with it. It just slides through the slots. I'm a huge fan of this spatula because I never get splattered anymore.
  • Please use fresh lemon juice with this recipe. It's the main flavor of the dish and bottled lemon juice will not cut it.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Calvert Farm

Happy Passover, everyone! If you are celebrating, I hope your first seder was enjoyable and meaningful.

I'm taking a short break from Passover for just a moment to share with you some pictures from our trip to Calvert Farm yesterday.

Here's our group planting onions.

Remember the asparagus recipes from yesterday? Well, here's a lone, tall spear shooting up from the ground!

George, the cat (one of 18 on the farm!), taking a brisk walk through the cabbage.

Dr. Seuss was right. I do like green eggs! Look closely and you'll see green, brown and white eggs. And that fresh spinach was unbelievably delicious.

I'm heading up to New Jersey this morning to help my mother prepare for seder. I'll be back on later to post today's Passover recipe.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

First Night

Tonight, after the sun sets, Passover will finally begin. Later this evening, I will be sitting down with my hubby's family and friends for the first seder of the holiday. But before that even happens, hubby and I are going on a little adventure. We are headed to Calvert Farm, about two hours from our home, to plant some onions and lettuce with a group of children from Inner City Outings. This wonderful program takes children from Washington, DC's low income neighborhoods on outdoor adventures. In the past, they've enjoyed camping in National Parks and hiking on local trails. Today will be their first visit to an organic farm. It's funny that we're planting today, rather than pulling and gathering, as Passover actually marks the beginning of the spring harvest in Israel.

I'm especially excited about our trip today because hubby and I own one share of Calvert Farm and we will begin to enjoy a weekly bounty of vegetables starting on May 12th. In less than a month, the first crop will be asparagus. I find this a particularly versitile vegetable. In fact, it's often one of the side dishes on my parents' seder table.

A quick and easy way to serve asparagus is to roast it. Wash a bundle of it carefully, then individually bend them and let them break naturally. Throw out the bottoms and put the spears in a 9X12 baking dish. Add 2 T of extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. The oven should be preheated at 425 F. The asparagus should be ready in 20 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges.

Another, very tasty asparagus recipe can be found here. Be sure to skip the soy sauce, as it is not kosher for Passover. Soybean is a legume, of course!

Okay, before I head out to the farm this morning, I promised you some stories from Passover past.

It's Passover and I'm a freshman in high school. It's 1989 and I'm from South Jersey, so imagine me with teased bangs and crunchy hair dyed blonde with "Sun-in." My aunt and uncle's seder is always packed with people and that night was no exception. The dining room was tight and was often hard to squeeze past the numerous chairs. I did my best as I tried to move from the kitchen back to my seat at the table, but someone decided to squeeze past me and I had to lean back to let them through. Little did I know that I came too close to the lit candles behind me. The next thing I knew my cousin was up and out of his chair heading toward me with a look of "crazy" in his eyes. He smacked my head numerous times before I could even smell the smoke. Yep. A head full of hairspray is a very flammable thing. The seder had stopped abruptly and everyone stared at me in shock while the fire on my head was put out. I felt absolutely no pain, but I truly thought I would die from embarrassment.

I never wore hairspray again.

Okay, I wore mousse. I had to. They wouldn't let you into my high school without it!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Been there, done that

Passover is never far from my mind when I'm cooking - even when the holiday is six months away. There have been a few times this year when I've made a mental note when a dish is either kosher for Passover or could be adapted easily for that purpose.

I've gone through my virtual recipe box on this blog and found a few favorites to share. I've made some notes next to the dishes that need some slight alterations to keep within the rules of the holiday.

On Sunday, my hubby and I will be joining my family at my childhood home in New Jersey for the second night of Passover. I'm planning on making one of my absolute favorite side dishes for seder. If you're unfamiliar with a seder, check out this wonderful article (

Here's what I'm making:

Sweet Potato & Cranberry Hash

The next morning for breakfast, this is an easy treat. Serve this fruit mixture over yogurt or cottage cheese.

This is a very satisfying lunch of root vegetable soup & swiss chard tart - for the tart, you can skip the bread crumbs entirely or use matzoh meal.

For a snack between meals, I highly recommend these spiced nuts - you will not be able to stop eating these. You've been warned!

I'll be sharing a variety of salad recipes this week, but here are a few past favorites. Skip the bulgur in this one, but don't skip the Creamy Lime Fig Dressing which is out of this world and livens up anything from spinach to spring mix. Just use olive oil instead of the canola oil

Seriously, this might be the best salad I've ever tasted in my life.

Of these three beet recipes, only the beet green salad is kosher for Passover:

You won't believe how easy this chicken dish is to put together (skip the bulgur, and pass on the yogurt sauce since many observant Jews don't mix dairy and meat products.)

Sloppy Joes - skip the corn and use kosher for Passover ketchup. Serve with quinoa, stuff it in a red pepper and roast it for a really amazing treat!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Passover Grocery List

Now don't think you have to run out and purchase everything on this list right away. When I post a recipe, you may or may not have something on hand. When it comes to quiche, soup or salad recipes, you can definitely make substitutions with what you happen to have. Remember, cooking is not an exact science (like baking!), so if you dislike cilantro -like me- skip it! If you like it hot- add a jalepeno pepper. Oh, and by the way, even though the list of vegetables looks particularly long, believe me, you will go through them very fast.

Every breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack recipe will include the items on this list. Here we go!

For Snacking
Apples (for crisp, sweet ones, try a Fuji)
Baby Carrots

For breakfast smoothies
Low or nonfat vanilla or plain yogurt
Fresh or frozen berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries)
Pumpkin puree (check the label to make sure it’s only pumpkin)
orange juice
Crushed ice

Lean Chicken breasts
Lean ground beef (90% lean or more)
White fish fillet, like turbot
Eggs (lots and lots)

For flavoring
Fresh thyme
Fresh flat leaf parsley
Fresh mint
Fresh basil
Extra virgin olive oil
Chicken broth (a lot for soups)
Sun dried tomatoes
Pure maple syrup
Kosher for Passover Dijon mustard
Kosher for Passover white wine (cooking wine is fine)
Kosher for Passover balsamic vinegar
Kosher for Passover red wine vinegar

For salads, soups and side dishes
Golden beets (with their greens attached)
Red peppers
Swiss chard
Yellow onions
Red onions
Sweet potatoes
Russet potatoes
Spring mix or romaine hearts

Dairy products
Low fat sour cream
Unsalted butter
Skim milk
Grated parmesan cheese
Grated swiss cheese
Crumbled goat cheese

Dried Fruit and Nuts (for snacking, salads, sides)
Raisins (golden)

Passover products
Matzoh meal

I didn't include dry spices on my grocery list, but here's what is in my pantry that I'm bound to use:

Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
garlic powder
red pepper flakes
chili powder
cayenne pepper

Let's get this party started.

Here we go! Welcome to Test Drive Kitchen: Passover 2008 Edition. For the next ten days, I will be sharing tips on healthy, delicious, and affordable meals to enjoy during Passover. Why am I doing this? Simply put, this is my all time favorite holiday. It has always meant time spent with my extended family -and believe me, they are a fun bunch. We've had some hiliarious moments over the years during this holiday, and I will share a few with you this week. Also, growing up in a very non-Jewish area of New Jersey, I was often the only kid in the cafeteria with matzoh for lunch. Needless to say, being different wasn't always so easy. I can't help but think back to that time and marvel at my parents. I give them a lot of credit for infusing my sister and I with a strong committment to our Jewish identities.

Passover Basics: The Dos & Don'ts

(the following information was found on - the Rabbinical Assembly website.)

Let's get this out of the way and start with what we can't have:

Say goodbye (for the week) to leavened bread, cakes, biscuits, crackers, cereal, coffees containing cereal derivatives, wheat, barley, oats, spelt, rye, and all liquids containing ingredients or flavors made from grain alcohol. Pasta is considered leavened, so that's a no-no, too.

Now, as a Jewish person from Eastern European descent (aka Ashkenazi), I will add a few other items to this list. They are: rice, corn, millet, and legumes (although string beans are okay.) This also means no items with corn sweetners, corn oil or soy oil. If you are a Jewish person of Spanish descent (aka Sephardic), you are free to enjoy these products during Passover.

So, what does that leave us with? Well, EVERYTHING!! Fresh fruits and vegetables, poultry, meat, fish, dairy products. Basically, Passover is a great opportunity to kick processed foods out of your life and embrace whole foods. Now do you see why I love this holiday?

I will admit, there are some real challenges. Breakfast is notoriously tough. During the rest of the year, oatmeal is part of my morning ritual. This week, I'll be sharing recipes that focus on fruit, yogurt or eggs. Another task to tackle is packing lunches for your kids. It's definitely a time to get creative.

I bet you wondering why I haven't mentioned matzoh yet. I will confess something to you. I like matzoh. I think it's very tasty. However, matzoh does not like me. Around the third day of Passover, my body starts fighting it (I won't go into details, but a few of you know what I'm talking about.) With that being the case, my hubby and I have only purchased one box of egg matzoh to get us through the holiday. Because I'm not a baker, I probably will not buy matzoh flour. If you're here to find out 1, 003 ways to make a meal with matzoh, you're out of luck.

What you will find here are meals made with real, unprocessed ingredients. You may discover a new vegetable or two along the way.

To all my new friends checking out this blog during Passover: Thank you for stopping by! I hope you take a few helpful tips and maybe a few recipes away from here. Please feel free to email me or leave a comment if you have any questions or just want to say hello.

To my blogger friends: Even if you don't observe Passover, I really appreciate you taking the time to read about something new! Please feel free to ask me any questions about the holiday or why we're doing this.

Monday, April 14, 2008

1) crumb: noun, a small fragment especially of something baked (as bread)

Wow, it's been a very busy weekend here. Hubby and I are hosting my cousin, his wife and their three wonderful and totally adorable boys (one 8 year old and a set of 6 year old twins!) while they tour Washington, DC for the first time. They've been here since Friday night and I've been cooking up some of my favorite dishes for them to try. Feeding seven people for five days is a great way to use up my remaining bread products - which is one of my goals as Passover steadily approaches. After they leave tomorrow, I will do a major clean up of my pantry (I'm talking industrial strength elbow grease) and make sure I wipe up every last non-Passover friendly crumb. It will be a Herculean task, I'm afraid, because I haven't been keeping it very tidy lately.

Speaking of crumbs, I've baked for my guests and sadly I don't have a picture of my efforts to show you.However, Eating Well magazine's Zucchini Bread and Cooking Light's Oatmeal, Pecan & Chocolate Chip Cookies were so tasty, that my hubby rated them high enough to share.

(Funny story: last week I made a salmon asparagus risotto that my hubby deemed good, but not "blog worthy." Yes, he enjoys the good life, doesn't he?)

Zucchini Bread from Eating Well magazine

1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup pecan halves
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 large egg whites
3/4 cup apple butter
1/3 cup canola oil
3 cups shredded zucchini (about 2 small zucchini)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat two 9-by-5-inch loaf pans cooking spray. Spread oats and pecans on separate parts of a baking sheet and bake until lightly toasted, 5 to 10 minutes; let cool. Chop the pecans. Stir together all but 2 tablespoons of the toasted oats, the pecans, white and whole-wheat flours, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt in a mixing bowl. Whisk together brown sugar, eggs, egg whites, apple butter and oil in another bowl; stir in zucchini. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients just until well combined. Divide the batter between the prepared loaf pans, smoothing the tops. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the reserved oats on top of each loaf. Bake until the tops feel firm when lightly pressed and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, 45 to 55 minutes. Let the loaves cool in the pans for 5 minutes; turn them out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

  • This is the first time I've seen apple butter as a substitute for oil. Usually, recipes call for applesauce in it's place. I just happened to have three jars of apple butter handy (dropped off on my doorstep by ambitious realtors!)
  • Hubby and I enjoyed one loaf early last week and froze the second loaf for our visitors. I just double wrapped it in foil and put it into a large freezer bag. When I needed it, I warmed it up in the microwave for 1 minute. It was as tasty as the first loaf.
  • When I reached for the brown sugar, I found it to be brick-like. I recently heard of a novel way to soften it. Apparently, putting a slice of bread in the bag with the sugar does the trick. Has anyone else tried this successfully?

Oatmeal, Pecan & Chocolate Chip Cookies, by Cooking Light

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (about 5 1/2 ounces)

1 cup regular oats

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/3 cup butter, softened

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 large egg

1/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted

1/4 cup semisweet chocolate minichips

Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 4 ingredients (through salt), stirring with a whisk; set aside. Place sugars and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended. Add vanilla and egg; beat until blended. Gradually add flour mixture, beating at low speed just until combined. Stir in pecans and minichips. Drop dough by tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350° for 12 minutes or until edges of cookies are lightly browned. Cool on pans 2 minutes. Remove cookies from pans; cool on wire racks.

  • To quote my younger self (straight from Jersey): Oh. My. God. These cookies are totally awesome.
  • The dough can easily be rolled into a log, wrapped in plastic, and saved for a later date. I'm stealing a page from the Small Batch baking playbook by only making a small amount of cookies at one time.

On a completely different note, if you happen to live in the DC area and don't mind laughing until milk comes shooting out your nose, then stop by the DC Improv ( tomorrow night - Tuesday April 15 at 8:30pm. I'm performing in the monthly DC Improv Comedy School cast show. It's the 5th anniversary show- well over 200 cast members have graced the stage. Tomorrow, I'll be one of 15 cast members. We had an all day rehearsal yesterday, and I'm honored to be part of this incredibly talented cast. Hope to see you!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Veggies at Work

Look at what Jessie at Cakespy ( created for me!!! I'm a huge fan of both her blog and artwork. Her paintings of Lil' Cuppie - a very adventurous cupcake- make me giggle on a daily basis. My favorite thing about her work is the attention to details. Just look at the expression on the veggies' faces.

Thank you, Jessie, for beautifully capturing the inner workings of Test Drive Kitchen.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Ding! Round 2 with the Immersion Blender

It's been five weeks since I sprained my ankle and I'm finally back in fighting form. I'm driving again - sweet freedom! First stop? Whole Foods...yes, I know, you're shocked. Hubby and I brought home a major haul yesterday. Honestly, I may have gone a little overboard. So much that I actually wrote a list of every perishable item and taped it to the fridge. I'll let you know if this little reminder actually works.

Oh! On my way home, we drove past a Penzeys Spice store (how could I have missed that?!) and made a mental note to pay a visit this week. Hey, if you use Penzeys spices and have a favorite, please leave me a comment about it.

So, back to the hand blender. I've had a few people ask me which brand I purchased. It's a Kitchen Aid immersion blender. And I love it. This morning I was trying out smoothie recipes and put strawberries, blueberries, one banana, nonfat plain yogurt, a squeeze of honey and crushed ice into a plastic pitcher. Five minutes later, the hand blender did it's job and there was virtually no mess. Anyone who has spent an hour scrubbing out a conventional blender will tell you that the immersion blender is a great investment.

Tonight for dinner, I used it again to make Sweet Potato Soup. This recipe comes from a book called, "The Superfoods RX Diet" by Wendy Bazilian and Steven Pratt.

1/2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 celery stalks, sliced
1 carrot stick, peeled & sliced
1 t fresh grated ginger
1/2 t ground cumin
4 cups water
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled & diced
2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice

toasted pumpkin seeds & diced apple

In a stockpot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, celery, and carrots. Cook for 4-5 minutes or until the vegetables begin to slighly brown. Add the ginger, cumin, water and sweet potatoes. Stir well and cover the pot. Allow the soup to cook 45 minutes or until sweet potatoes are tender. Add the lemon juice. Use the immersion blender to puree the soup. Garnish with toasted pumpkin seeds and diced apples. Add a dash of cayenne pepper if you enjoy a little heat!

  • This was tasty, but if I'm being honest, it paled it comparison to the parsnip-pear soup. I think this soup might benefit by replacing the water with chicken or vegetable broth. Also, what happened to the salt and pepper? A little seasoning in the beginning would have helped.

  • Don't skip the step of adding toasted pumpkin seeds and diced apples. The apples weren't part of the original recipe, but it seems like a natural pairing to me. The flavor was enhanced greatly with these two items.

  • Also, the celery is a lot stronger in this soup than I expected. Next time, I will replace one celery stalk with a carrot.

  • I'm getting the hang of the immersion blender! I found this to be a very easy dish to make and is almost completely hands off once you chop the vegetables. Chop & Blend. That's it.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Look what I made with my new hand blender!

Does this look good to you?

It sure tastes amazing! I've been eager to try this Pear & Parsnip soup recipe from one of my new favorite blogs, The Perfect Pantry. I'm going to send you right over to her house, because it's fun to peek into another person's pantry.

Even if you've never seen or tried a parsnip in your life (often described as a white spicy carrot), you've got to try this soup. The flavors are indescribably good.

By the way, it was quite comical to watch me use an immersion blender for the first time. My hand fatigued after five minutes! I had to keep stopping and starting and finally decided to leave the soup chunkier because I was so inept.

I'll just tell hubby that I prefer it chunky. Hey, look at that piece of pear. Isn't it pretty? It's supposed to be whole like, garnish. Yep, it's a garnish.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

You, yes, you, can make homemade ravioli

Truth be told, I made this recipe about two weeks ago and considered not putting it on the blog. It was delicious, fairly easy to make, but it was the phrase "1 stick of butter" which stopped me in my tracks.

After making this meal, I realized, a little bit of the sauce goes a very long way. As long as I drizzled and did not "glop" the butter sauce on the cooked ravioli, this was a dish I could stand behind. Make the dish about the ravioli and not the butter sauce, and you will enjoy it tremendously guilt-free.

Oh, and hubby thought this was the most beautiful plate of food I had ever served him. I wish I took a picture of it, but it was eaten that quickly!

Caution ahead: longest recipe title in Test Drive Kitchen history-

Butternut squash, sage, and goat cheese ravioli with hazelnut brown-butter sauce

For filling
a 2-pound butternut squash, halved lengthwise and seeded
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground sage
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 garlic clove, minced
3 ounces aged goat cheese, crumbled (about 2/3)

60 won ton wrappers, thawed if frozen
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1/3 cup hazelnuts, toasted lightly and skinned and chopped coarse


Preheat oven to 425°F. and lightly grease a baking sheet.

Make filling: Put squash halves, flesh sides down, an baking sheet and roast in middle of oven 30 minutes, or until flesh is very tender. When squash is cool enough to handle, scoop out flesh into a bowl and discard skin. Mash squash with a fork until smooth.

While squash is roasting, in a skillet cook onion and sage in butter with salt and pepper to taste over moderate heat, stirring, 5 minutes, or until onion is golden brown. Stir in garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute.

Cool onion mixture slightly and add to squash. Add goat cheese and stir to combine well.

Bring 5 quarts salted water to a gentle boil for ravioli.

Put 1 won ton wrapper on a lightly floured surface, keeping remaining wrappers in plastic wrap, and mound 1 tablespoon filling in center. Lightly brush edges of wrapper with water and put a second wrapper over first, pressing down around filling to force out air and seal edges well. If desired, trim excess dough with a round cutter or sharp knife. Transfer ravioli to a dry kitchen towel. Make more ravioli with remaining wrappers and filling in same manner, transferring as formed to towel and turning occasionally to dry slightly.

In skillet cook butter with hazelnuts over moderate heat until butter begins to brown, about 3 minutes, and immediately remove from heat (nuts will continue to cook). Season hazelnut butter with salt and pepper and keep warm, covered.

Cook ravioli in 3 batches in gently boiling water for 6 minutes, or until they rise to surface and are tender (do not let water boil vigorously once ravioli have been added). Carefully transfer ravioli as cooked with a slotted spoon to a large shallow baking pan and add enough cooking water to reach 1/2 inch up side of pan. Keep ravioli warm, covered.

Transfer ravioli with a slotted spoon ( letting excess cooking liquid drip off) to 6 plates and top with hazelnut brown-butter sauce.

  • I have a lot of suggestions for this recipe to make it go smoother. First of all, definitely use squash that has already been chopped and seeded. I find squash to be the hardest of all vegetables to chop and I will gladly spend the extra pennies for someone else to do the work!
  • Instead of following their suggestion for cooking the squash, I laid all of the pre-cut pieces on a baking sheet and mixed it with 1 1/2 T of extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled it with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. I roasted it at 425F and it was tender after 40 minutes.
  • The wonton wrappers are not tricky to use at all, but I strongly suggest only using 1 t of filling per wrapper and then, folding it over into a triangle. I went through several trials of amounts of fillings versus different folding (hey, I did have a fascination with origami for about six months in 5th grade!) options. It turned out that the ravioli that stayed intact were the ones with less filling and the most basic fold.
  • In regards to the sauce preparation: first, put the hazelnuts in a ziploc bag and give them two or three "thwumps" with a rolling pin. Very therapeutic! Then, place them in a dry skillet (no butter or cooking spray) for about 4 minutes. Then, add the butter to start the sauce.
  • I only made 20 ravioli pieces because it was just the two of us. I put the wonton wrappers away for another use and wound up using the rest of the squash filling as a "sauce" for penne pasta later on in the week.
  • I added fresh sage leaves to the skillet as I was finishing the sauce. This recipe is totally worth the effort for the smell of sage and hazelnuts alone!