Sunday, May 20, 2012

Scalloped Potatoes and The Happiness Box

Many years ago when, my boys were small, when we wanted to teach certain lessons we would look for books in the Jewish Bookstore that would reinforce the messages we were trying to convey.   We have collected a number of wonderful books over the years and have read them to each of our children.  We still periodically read those stories to our girls, although they are getting big themselves.  One of my favorite all time stories is “The Happiness Box” by Bracha Goetz.  The story begins with a school age boy who is never happy with what he has.  He is constantly grumbling and complaining.  One day his parents get a new washing machine and his father gives him the huge box the machine came in as a gift, with the following message:  “This is a happiness box.  You may only think happy thoughts when you play in it.  Negative thoughts are not allowed.”  The boy goes in the box and forces himself to only think happy thoughts.  As time goes on, he comes to rely upon the happiness box and his whole negative outlook on life becomes a positive one.  (Spoiler alert!) One day, when he is going off to camp he worried that he wouldn’t be able to take his huge Happiness Box with him.  What would he do when he got sad or became worried.  He then had an epiphany…the Happiness Box was really his head, and realized he had the ability to be happy all along.  I love that story!!!  Even as a grown-up it spoke to me about the power we have over our thoughts and feelings.

However, that being said, sometimes life is a little harder and more challenging and the solution doesn’t come in the shape of a washing machine box.  The consolation however might come in a much bigger box…in the shape of say…a kitchen!  It’s true.  I love my kitchen. Many years ago, when we literally ran out of bedroom space for our children we ended up adding on to our house.  The bonus was that I ended up with an incredible kitchen.  My father (z”l) and I spent years designing and re-working the plans for the kitchen so that it would be incredibly functional and efficient, and one that I would love spending hours in.  It was an incredibly special gift he gave me – the gift of working with him to create something long lasting.  I really spend more time in the kitchen than any other room in the house!  Even before my father passed away a few weeks ago, the kitchen was really my favorite room in the house.  So much so that we all lovingly call it my “Happiness Box”.  I have found that on some of my hardest days, there is nothing better than losing myself in a recipe or baking great volumes of cakes, cupcakes & treats.  It’s incredibly cathartic. 

Creamy and delicious!!!
I also have found that I love my friends in my online community.  I routinely check and comment on several Kosher and general cooking sites and feel like I’m part of an extended family.  If I need help with a recipe, I’ll often post it on one of the facebook groups and will likely get back excellent advice in a relatively short time.  I recently noticed someone asking for a recipe for Scalloped Potatoes.  I actually was pretty excited about it because I have had a fabulous one that I have used for years.  It can be made dairy or pareve (both are equally good), it’s fairly low in fat (healthy bonus!), and with Shavuot around the corner it’s a perfect dish to serve with your dairy meal.  It’s fairly fast to make too – especially if you use a food processor or mandolin.  I prefer the mandolin, I find that it allows for more uniform potato slices, but either would work to make this a quick recipe.  When the potatoes come out of the oven they are wonderfully creamy with a beautifully browned top.  They are also excellent reheated, which bodes well for making them in advance – always good when having to make a lot of Yom Tov and Shabbat food.

I love preparing food in my personal “Happiness Box” kitchen.  I wouldn’t change a single thing about it, except for wishing that my dear father (z”l) were still here with me in it, laughing as he shnookered food out of pans on the island.

The Happiness Box By: Bracha Goetz
I must have laughed right out loud
The moment it was clear.
The Box was right there with me
There was no need to fear!

The Box is never far away.
That Box is here with me to stay.
Where was my Box?  Can you guess where?
Above my eyes! Below my hair!

There’s a Happiness Box in your head, you see.
It’s a Happiness Box if you let it be!
But if it’s hard to use your head,
Just get a cardboard box instead!
Scalloped Potatoes (Pareve or Dairy)
  • 5 large potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 ½ cups soy milk or dairy milk
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • 4 tablespoons margarine (I used Earths Balance), or butter
  • non-stick vegetable spray
Preheat oven to 375° F.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, salt, and pepper.  Set aside.
Spray a large 9x13 inch casserole dish with non-stick vegetable spray.  Place a layer of potatoes on the bottom of the casserole, completely covering the bottom of the pan.  Evenly distribute some of the onions over the potatoes.  Sprinkle ½ tablespoon of the flour mixture over the potatoes and onions.  Evenly place another layer of potatoes, onions, and flour over the previous layer, repeating until no ingredients remain, ending with flour mixture.  Dot the top of the potatoes with the margarine.  Pour the milk and water over the potatoes.  Cover the casserole tightly with aluminum foil and bake for one hour.  Uncover and bake for an additional 30 minutes until lightly browned on the top.  Serve warm.

 All the ingredients...
 Note the evenly sliced potatoes!
 Thinly sliced onions and flour mixture...
 Place an even layer of potatoes in the pan.
They can even overlap slightly.
 Distribute some of the onions...
 Sprinkle with some of the flour mixture...
 Dot with margarine, add the liquids...
 Cover tightly and into the oven it goes.
 One hour later...
 Uncover and put back into the oven for another hour.
 Out of the oven it comes!
Creamy, savory, deliciousness!!
 Even better close up!

Kosher Everyday is dedicated to the memory of my father
Dr. Theodore Saltzberg - Tuvia Ben Nachum Z”L
May his memory be for a blessing - Yihi zichro baruch.

Look for additional information about Edible Experience Kosher Everyday at,, Mishpacha Magazine’s Kosher Inspired Magazine,
The Chicago Tribune Syndication,
 or on Facebook at Edible Experience by Sharon Matten.

These recipes are for sole, personal use of visitors to Sharon Matten -Edible Experience Kosher Everyday. Edible Experience Kosher Everyday recipes are for your enjoyment but are not to be posted or reprinted without express permission from Sharon Matten. Thank you!!

KosherEveryday is one of the finalists for the 
2011 CBS Most Valuable Blogger Awards!! 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Chicken and Mushrooms, Herb Roasted Salmon Medallions, Preserved Lemons: A review of Levana Kirschenbaum's new "The Whole Foods Cookbook"

This year at Kosherfest I had the privilege of meeting Levana Kirshenbaum.  Dynamic, emphatic, and a true food expert, she was one of the expert panelists at the Kosherfest food panel session (I got to be part of the audience).  I was immediately drawn to Levana – how could I not be...she’s a passionate foodie!  A successful restaurateur, Levana really knows food! I was able to speak with Levana after the presentation and was extremely impressed by how warm, welcoming and enthusiastic she was.  I purchased her original (beta) copy of her latest cookbook, The Whole Foods Cookbook, and parted with a promise to keep in touch.

It turns out that many years ago, while living in New York as a cash-strapped engineering graduate student,  I had the privilege of being taken to Levana’s restaurant on a date.  The food was amazing (the date…not so much – not dear husband so I guess it all worked out for the best) and I still remember how good the meal was after all these years. I was really looking forward to my new (beta version) cookbook, and was eagerly anticipating going through it.  I found it a little hard to read, so when I saw online that Levana had re-done the book, I eagerly requested a copy.  I love the new updated version!!  Levana’s new and improved The Whole Foods Cookbook is a gorgeous cookbook with a gajillion recipes. It’s nearly 400 pages long!  You can tell that this is truly one of Levana’s life’s works, written straight from the heart with love. You can hear Levana talking to you throughout the book.   It’s written as if she’s sitting across the kitchen table from you, giving advice and encouragement while you cook.

As I stated in my last blog, I have been spending the time between Mincha and Maariv the past few weeks going through Levana’s new release of The Whole Foods Cookbook.  It’s such an impressive work that I wanted to make sure that I was sufficiently diligent. The introduction is really long.  To sum up Levana’s philosophy:  1. Make everything from scratch with fresh, healthy ingredients.  And... 2. Store bought products and mixes are insipid (Levana’s word…she uses it twice!).  That being said, the recipes are outstanding.  Each recipe comes with multiple variations – so if you like a recipe, you can make it again…but a little differently.  I liked so many recipes in the book that I had trouble deciding which ones to make and review.  I had originally planned on writing this review last week but I wanted to make more recipes to write about!  I also love the fact that each recipe indicates whether it is kosher for Passover or gluten free (great for the GFE – Gluten Free Eater!) and has a specific index in the back of the book for each.

I ended up making three recipes from the book, Chicken and Mushrooms (how could I not…we love mushrooms here in the Matten house!!),  Herb Roasted Salmon Medallions, and Preserved Lemons.   I made the chicken for Shabbat dinner last week.  It was fantastic!!!  It was amazingly easy to make and the taste was incredible.  I loved that it was fresh, healthy, and only needed a few ingredients which I already had in the house.  To quote Levana – YUM!! The reality is that Levana has around two dozen quick variations of the Chicken and Mushrooms recipe – Chicken and fill in the blank. Really – Chicken and (pick one): celery, potatoes, mushrooms, fennel, potatoes, swiss chard, sweet potatoes, carrots, turnips, plantains, tomatoes, olives, garlic, artichokes, corn….you get the idea.  Levana also describes the benefit of each of the ingredients – I learned SO much.

How pretty is this?
(And delicious too!!!)
I made the Herb Roasted Salmon Medallions for dinner on Thursday night.  I figured that with Shavuot quickly approaching, having another delicious fish recipe in my pocket was just good planning.  I have started growing my summer herbs, so conveniently had basil, rosemary and parsley on hand.  The salmon rolls were delicious!  Fresh and very lemony, I was thrilled to have some leftover to eat for lunch Friday – and they were great cold.  The idea of “butterflying” salmon (splitting it open to make a wider thinner piece of fish – just like you do with beef or chicken) was new to me, and it opened up a whole new way to make salmon.  These would be great for a pretty and refreshing Shabbat or Yom Tov (think Shavuot!) appetizer.

I told you I had a lot of lemons!
With life being incredibly overwhelming and crazy lately, I haven’t been doing my usual pantry and refrigerator inventory checking before doing my weekly shopping.  As a result, I have somehow accumulated an incredibly large stock of lemons (really…”Oh look, lemons are on sale!  Do I have lemons in the house?  I don’t think I do…I had better buy half a dozen to make sure….”).  So, when going through Levana’s book I came across a recipe for Preserved Lemons and a bunch of delicious sounding recipes using them, I knew I had found a partial solution to the lemons overtaking my house!  Conveniently, my kids had just finished a jar of pickles so I had the perfect jar on hand.  I didn’t have enough sea salt, but I assumed that kosher salt would work just as well.  It takes a while for the lemons to preserve, a few weeks, so I’ll have to keep you posted.  A jar of lemons in salt is definitely a conversation starter though! 
The lemons preserving...
we'll see how they
turn out!!
All in all, Levana’s book is packed with terrific (mostly) healthy recipes (I had to raise one eyebrow really high when I came across the hot chocolate mix with 3 cups of sugar….LOL!)  I’m really looking forward to making some of the dressings, soups and desserts – they all look fabulous and I’m sure will taste delicious!!  I highly recommend The Whole Foods Cookbook, it’s a great way to add healthy, fast, dishes to your family’s meals – and it’s pretty to look at too!

You can find more information about Levana's book here:

Chicken and Mushrooms
16           pieces chicken                   with skin on
2              teaspoons                         turmeric
2              pounds                             whole domestic or crimini mushrooms, the smaller the better
3              cups                                 water

Place all the ingredients in a wide heavy pot.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the flame to medium and cook covered for about 1 hour.  Transfer the chicken pieces onto a platter.  If the sauce is not thick enough, reduce it on a high flame, uncovered, just a few minutes until it reaches the consistency of maple syrup.  Pour the sauce over the chicken.  Serve hot.  Makes 8 servings.

Herb Roasted Salmon Medallions
3              tablespoons               olive oil
                juice and peel of        2 lemons
1              bunch                       flat parsley
                sea salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste
                                         A handful of fresh herbs of your choice: thyme, basil, rosemary, tarragon, chervil, etc. (no more than 2 kinds), leaves only
6              cloves                garlic
1              side                    salmon, skinless and boneless, about 4 pounds trimmed

Place all but the last ingredient in a food processor and grind until you obtain a smooth paste.

Preheat oven to 425° F.  Cut he salmon into 10 strips, reserving the tail end for another use.  Cut each strip through their thickness, leaving them attached at one end.  You will get long thin strips.  Rub each strip with the paste, then roll tightly and secure with toothpicks.  You will get neat little cylinders (medallions).   Place the medallions in a pan just large enough to contain them.  Roast 20 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  Garnish with lemon slices and chopped herbs.

Preserved Lemons
8 to 10   large          thick-skinned lemons
                                coarse sea salt

Wash and dry the lemons thoroughly.  Remove any green points attached to the ends of the lemons  Cut them in quarters lengthwise.  Place 2 to 3 pieces in a clean wide-mouth quart-sized glass jar, top with a thick layer of salt.  Repeat: Lemon, salt, lemon, salt, and so on, all the way to the top, pressing down hard as you go to draw out the juice. Don’t worry if the juices don’t appear immediately; they soon, will, with all that salt.  The lemons should be totally submerged by their own juice, and reach all the way to the top of the jar.  Top with an extra layer of salt to enur that no lemon skin is exposed (or it will mold).  You will need 2 jars.  Place the jars in a dark cool place (I keep mine under the sink).  They will be ready in two weeks, at which point they should be refrigerated.  To use, take out a quarter of lemon at a time.  Discard the pulp, rinse the skin thoroughly, and mince.  Add to fish and chicken dishes, bean soups, salads, and salsas.  Makes about 2 quarts.  After the two weeks of pickling at room temperature, store refrigerated.

Chicken with Mushrooms
So simple...all the ingredients in
a large pot...
 Cook the sauce to reduce it...
it smells amazing!!
 How gorgeous is this chicken!!
Mushroom heaven!

Herbed Salmon Medalions
The herbs are right on the 
window sill!
All the ingredients!
 Put them in the food processor....
 Butterfly the salmon pieces....
 Spread on the herbs...
 Place them on the pan...
No toothpics for me - freestyle!
(The two pieces are for my herb phobic kids)
 Baked & out of the oven!
 SO pretty!!!
 Preserved Lemons
 All the ingredients...
(and a pickle jar too!)
 Lemons and salt...
lemons and salt...
lemons and salt...
(you get the idea)
 That's a LOT of salt and lemons....
 Now we just have to wait....
 for the lemons to preserve....

This years Mother's Day Omelet!
It was delicious! Made with the
fresh herbs from our window sill!
Way to go girls!  Thanks...I LOVE you!!!

Kosher Everyday is dedicated to the memory of my father
Dr. Theodore Saltzberg - Tuvia Ben Nachum Z”L
May his memory be for a blessing - Yihi zichro baruch.

Look for additional information about Edible Experience Kosher Everyday at,, Mishpacha Magazine’s Kosher Inspired Magazine,
The Chicago Tribune Syndication,
 or on Facebook at Edible Experience by Sharon Matten.

These recipes are for sole, personal use of visitors to Sharon Matten -Edible Experience Kosher Everyday. Edible Experience Kosher Everyday recipes are for your enjoyment but are not to be posted or reprinted without express permission from Sharon Matten. Thank you!!

KosherEveryday is one of the finalists for the 
2011 CBS Most Valuable Blogger Awards!!