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While I was reading an article about nutrition and running and beets, the article mentioned a beet smoothie that was included in Shalane Flanagan’s cookbook Run Fast. East Slow. “Hmm… I have that cookbook!”, I said to myself. Joel’s mom gave it to us a while ago and I kind of forgot about it. I am not sure why that was. As I was browsing through it, I could not believe how many delicious recipes it included. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by a new cookbook even though I really wanted to have it… I feel like I have to leave it and come back to re-appreciate everything that is included.

I love beets. We ate a lot of them growing up, as any other Eastern European has. One of my favorites is borscht, of course. My mom makes a superb borscht.

I also love them roasted… especially mingled between sweet potatoes and carrots. I have roasted pans and pans of the combination over the years, especially since having Julia. She loves the combination too. I am always excited when I find different beet varieties… yellow, candy striped, white. They are so pretty… they look like candy!

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Roasting whole beets is also super easy! You simply chop each end to create a flat surface and then place them on a sheet of foil, drizzle them with a bit of oil (I have used both olive oil and sunflower oil), and then close the foil to form a pocket. You can roast them in a 400 degree oven for anywhere between 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of the beets. Once the beets are roasted and cooled, you can peel them using your hand… the skin comes off super easily.

Beets are also great raw. You simply slice them super thin (using a mandolin) and then drizzle them with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle them with some salt and pepper.

Another way to use beets is to include them in a cake along with some cacao… that’s right… beet chocolate cake. It is super delicious! Every time I make it, it gets eaten up. I even made it for Julia’s birthday two years ago and everyone loved it… even all the 4 year-olds!

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Including beets in a smoothie is such a great idea too! Shalane Flanagan’s smoothie includes roasted beets, blueberries, banana, almond butter, coconut water, and almond milk. Yum!!

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Lastly, I discovered these amazing crackers at Trader Joe’s. They also have a sweet potato version that is equally as good.

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Beets are super good for you! They are rich in folate, manganese, and other nutrients. They also seem to help improve sport performance, per the article that I mentioned earlier. What’s not to love! If you are not a big fan, try roasting them… it will definitely change your mind!

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I recently read the book 52 Loaves by William Alexander. The author, while at a restaurant, ate the best bread that he has ever encountered, which prompted him to bake a loaf of bread everyday for a year in order to achieve that perfect loaf of bread. I loved the story and his experiences (I highly recommend it!). One my favorite lines in the book was “Bread is life.”

I have a bread obsession too. When someone tells me that they gave up bread, I cannot imagine that world. Walking by the bakery section of my grocery store is like candy. Just a woof of the freshly baked bread makes my mouth water. I cannot resist not buying anything. The best day is when the bread is hot or warm… oh my!!

Bread has always been part of my life. Growing up in Romania, bread was served with every meal. My parents used to send me to the bakery and while walking back to our apartment, I could not resist and dig my hand in the soft inside of the bread. I would eat half of a loaf before getting home. My mom would always yell at me. Luckily I always bought two loaves.

A while back I had stomach issues, so my doctor recommended that I get tested for Celiac disease since apparently a lot of folks who are from Eastern Europe suffer from it. I was so grateful that my test was negative. That would have been the worst day of my life (it is bad enough that I am lactose intolerant!!). I wondered why that was though. In his book, William Alexander discusses the history of flour and how the process in the US has changed over the years, including the addition of these enriching ingredients. Can that be the culprit?

Since not much was available in Romania, my mom baked a bunch. Once in the US, she took out her recipe book and started baking the same cakes, cookies, sweet breads that she baked for years. But they never came out the same as they did in Romania. She finally realized that the four was different. Since then, she has found a flour that only the local German or Russian store sells… her baked goods are back to normal. It was very interesting.

A friend of a friend mentioned that her husband owns a bread delivery service and that he delivers via his bicycle. How cool is that!! Two of my favorite things in one! But after a minute I realized how dangerous that would be… I do not think that anyone would appreciate half eaten bread.

Julia likes Mo Willems books, so while at the library, I found Nanette’s Baguette. In the book, Nanetts’s mom sends Nanette to the bakery to buy a baguette. But on her way home, Nanette eats the baguette. Then both Nanette and her mom go to the bakery to buy a baguette and on the way home, Nanette’s mom eats the baguette.

I am glad to see that I am not the only one who finds bread irresistible!

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Julia has been really interested in helping me cook lately. She loves to crack eggs, add ingredients to the bowl or pot, and mix everything. It is fun cooking and baking with her!

I have been thinking about these coconut date bars that I have found while browsing the Isa Does It cookbook. The recipe is simple… it requires smooth peanut butter, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, coconut oil, vanilla, a bit of salt, oats, crisp rice cereal, unsweetened coconut, and dates.

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After looking at the ingredients, I realized that I did not have any crisp rice cereal and brown rice syrup. Purchasing the crisp rice cereal was easy enough. The brown rice syrup on the other hand was not. After visiting the grocery store several times with no luck, I finally asked someone about it. Apparently, Lundberg brown rice syrup, which is the only brown rice syrup that I have ever found around my area, had a factory malfunction, so they have been out of commission.

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The woman at the grocery store mentioned that it was probably going to be out until the summer. So much for my bars! But she also mentioned that a substitute exists… Lyle’s Golden Syrup. Luckily I was able to locate it in the grocery store, so I was now ready to bake the bars.

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I asked Julia if she wanted to help me make them and she agreed.

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We mixed everything together and added the batter to a lined baking pan. I pressed it pretty firmly per the recipe and placed it in the oven.

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The bars were pretty good! I did find them a bit sweet. I wondered if it was due to my brown rice syrup substitute. The recipe required 1/3 cup of brown rice syrup and 1/3 cup of maple syrup. I will have to try them again once I can find the brown rice syrup. Or I wonder if I can cut the sugar a bit… maybe to a 1/4 cup each.

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I also found the bars to be flaky. For some reason I was expecting them to be firmer, similar to a rice crispy bar but maybe not quite as firm. The coconut flakes that I used were not finely shredded… I wonder if that was the culprit. Although, the recipe does not require finely shredded, so maybe not.

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Lastly, I think that next time I will add a bit more peanut butter. I did not taste it too much and I think that it will be a good change.

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Nevertheless, we enjoyed the bars!

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Every March 9, in some regions within Romania, folks celebrate the day by making măcinici. The măcinici are different depending on the region… they vary from a pasta-like dough to a bread-like dough. Growing up, my family always made the pasta-like dough (read more about the tradition in an old post).

Since having Julia, exposing her to my childhood traditions have been important and fun. We have also exposed her to the Jewish traditions, which I also love. Julia is curious and seems to enjoy them all, which makes it even more fun.

March 9 fell on a Friday this year. Making anything on a weeknight is challenging, but my mom and I decided to still make them… we could not break the tradition. My mom made the dough and I took a half a day vacation so we can get an early start. Making măcinici is time consuming.

As soon as we rolled the dough into a sheet, Julia insisted that she wanted to use the punch. The punch is not an easy tool… you really have to press it into the dough, wiggle it a bit to release the dough from the rest, and then lift and press the top to release the cutout. She tried a couple of times and got frustrated. My mom and I told her that it was even hard for us to do, but I am not sure if that made her feel better.

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My mom had an idea… she tasked Julia with moving the măcinici from our working area to the towel so that they can dry. Julia thought that it was the best idea! She was even counting them.

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At one point I looked over and Julia was arranging the măcinici in rows… it looked so pretty so we continued the pattern.

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As with any 5 year old kids, she eventually got tired of moving the măcinici over so she abandoned her post. My mom and I continued for a while. After about 2 hours and a few breaks, we were ready to boil them.

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The măcinici are pretty much considered fresh pasta, so just like fresh pasta, once they come to the surface, they are done. To finish them off, we added finely ground and chopped walnuts, lemon zest, cinnamon, vanilla and rum extract, sugar, and a pinch of salt. We boiled it a bit more until the sugar dissolved and then we were done.

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We truly enjoyed our hard work… the măcinici were delicious.

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Ever since I met Joel, we have celebrated the Jewish holidays… Rosh Hashanah, Passover, Chanukah. But of course there are many more, including Purim. A traditional dish for Purim is hamantaschen cookies, which are triangular shaped cookies, that resemble a hat, and are filled with poppy seeds as well as fruit jams. I was surprised to learn about the poppy seed filling tradition… poppy seeds are used in traditional Romanian cooking and baking too, especially for Christmas. I love all the similarities that I discover about the Romanian and Jewish traditions. There are more than I have ever imagined.

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My favorite hamantaschen cookies have always been the fruit filled ones, specifically the prune filled. I must admit that I have not seen any poppy seed filled cookies at the local Jewish bakery or the grocery store. Not sure why that is. Also, I have always wanted to make them, but the recipes that I have found did not appeal to me, since most of them require a ton of dairy… butter, cream cheese, and/or sour cream.

My friend Mark and I were chatting the other day and he asked me if I was planning on making the cookies since Purim is this week. I explained my recipe dilemma to him. But then I got inspired and decided to search for a non-dairy recipe. After reading through the search results on Food52, I found the perfect recipe! I also thought that it would be fun to make the cookies with Julia, since she loves to help me bake.

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The dough recipe is super simple… it requires flour, baking powder, salt, a bit of water, vegetable oil, eggs, and sugar. You mix the dry ingredients in a bowl, then you mix the wet ingredients in another bowl, and then you mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until a thick dough forms. Lastly, you knead the dough a bit to bring it together into a ball, cut it in half, and then form two disks. The caveat was that you had to let the dough chill for at least 3 hours or overnight, so Julia and I made the dough first thing in the morning and then continued with the rest 3 hours later.

Although the recipe included the chocolate poppy seed filling, I really wanted to use prune jam and apricot jam, since I love both flavors. Also, my mom gave me a few jars of her home-made prune jam, so I thought that it was the perfect opportunity to use some of it. As I was grabbing the prune jam, I realized that I forgot to buy the apricot jam. But then I remembered that my mom also gave me a jar of her home-made peach jam, so I decided to use that instead. The cookies came out delicious!

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I do have a few things to share about the recipe…

I, of course, cut the sugar… I cut it from 1/2 a cup to a 1/3 of a cup and the cookies were plenty sweet. I also added a teaspoon of vanilla since I like the flavor. I did not have to add any extra water since the dough seemed good.

The recipe suggests rolling the dough to an 1/8 inch thickness. I found this to be too thin when shaping the cookies. Having the dough slightly thicker made shaping them much easier. Also, the folding technique explained did not make any sense to me, so I just pinched the circle in 3 spots, which still resembled the traditional cookie shape.

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A few of my cookies did loose their shape during baking. After talking to my sister, I found out that she had the same issue when she baked some and she used a different recipe/dough. I do not feel too terrible about it, since they still taste good. I wonder how the cookies that are sold at the grocery store come out so perfectly-shaped… they must have a bunch of discards. I am picturing the bakers enjoying them.. I hope. Ha!

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I am glad that I finally gave these cookies a try. I would definitely make them again, even though they were a bit time consuming. It is also a nice tradition to start with Julia. Happy Purim!!

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I am always on a lookout for easy dinners. Recently, I have discovered a new dish… One Pan Creamy Tuna Pasta.

I have been subscribed to the Martha Stewart Living magazine for a super long time. Over the years, the magazine has evolved; however, recipes have always been spotlighted throughout. In recent editions, towards the back of the magazine you can find four recipes that are printed on a perforated page, which can be torn into four small recipe cards. I have discovered a bunch of good finds over the years. The pasta dish is one of them and is definitely a keeper!

The recipe is simple… shallots, pasta, broth, water, a couple of veggies, tuna, lemon zest and juice, and cheese. What I really like about it is that you make the entire dish in one pot! Super easy cleanup! You simply add the shallots, broth, water, pasta, and salt and pepper and boil until the pasta is tender. Next you add your veggie. Once the veggie is tender, you remove the pot from the stove and add the tuna, cheese, and the lemon zest and juice. That’s it!

The first time that I made the dish, it came out very dry and I had to keep adding water to it while cooking the pasta. I later realized that the recipe required 8 oz of pasta and I used 16 oz. It made perfect sense why my version was so dry. Since I like to make enough to have leftovers, I adjusted the amount of water. I usually add enough to cover the pasta, which I think that it is somewhere between 4.5 or 5 cups of water, depending on the pasta.

Speaking of the pasta, I used gemelli and penne and both worked. One thing that I would like to mention is that my version has never had a sauce. If you look at the recipe photo, it includes the clear sauce on the plate. Not sure how that is realized. I just made the dish using penne and this is the first time that I have actually had some sauce, but definitely not enough to add it to the plate. Not sure if the gemelli absorbs more liquid during cooking or not, but when I used it, I never had a sauce.

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The recipe requires asparagus and arugula. The first time that I made the dish, I did not have either, so I used peas and spinach since I did have both. I have also used peas and kale. All worked! I am sure that you can also use green beans or any other veggie such as corn and broccoli. As far as the greens go, I am sure that swiss chard or any other greens would work as well.

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Another adjustment that I have made is the required cup of shallots. I tend not to like a lot of onion in my dishes, so I have cut it to 2 small shallots and it was plenty. Same goes for the cheese… the recipe requires a 1/2 a cup of Paremsan. I used about 2 tablespoons of Romano cheese and that also seemed plenty. But if you are a big onion fan, use the full amount. Same goes for the cheese.

One last thing that I would like to mention is the salt. I use the Better Than Bouillon (which really is better than any bouillon) for the broth and it is a bit salty, so I never add salt to my dishes until the very end. Most of the time it is plenty salty.

I hope that you will enjoy the dish as much as we do! It is one of Julia’s favorites!

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A couple of months ago, my parents told me that they were thinking about going to visit my brother for Christmas… they live in Boulder, CO. I was so sad! I have spent every Christmas with my parents… only one time we were not together. And then I thought about the Christmas Eve dinner… my mom and I always make the traditional Romanian dinner together and I have never actually made any of the dishes on my own. I could not have Christmas Eve without the traditional dinner! I asked my mom to write the recipes for me so I could make them.

The dinner includes 7 dishes. It seemed a bit overwhelming to make all of them, especially since some are pretty time consuming. I decided to make my favorites… grâu, bob, and colțunași. I also debated about making the smoked fish dish, but decided on making a simple fish instead. And I did have a helper… sort of.

Grâu means wheat in Romanian. The dish is made with this wheat, which my mom found at a local Greek store. She experimented with a few over the years and the current one seems the best.

 

You have to soak it in boiling water over night, then you change the water, let it come to a boil, and then bake it in the oven for about an hour. Once baked, you add sugar, finely chopped walnuts, and poppy seeds. My mom also adds chopped walnuts, but I forgot to buy some so I did not add it. I actually liked it better without the chopped walnuts.

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Bob is pretty much just fava beans. You sauté onions and garlic with some salt and pepper, then you add the drained fava beans, and sauté until all of the liquid is absorbed. My sister mentioned that she skinned the fava beans before cooking them, so I tried that. It was kind of a pain to do, but perhaps it did help with the digestion.

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Colţunaşi, which means dumplings in Romanian, is definitely my favorite dish from this dinner. I look forward to it all year. They are super tasty but also the most labor intensive. I have been helping my mom make them for years. The most labor intensive part is rolling the dough and actually pinching them. It would take my mom and I hours to make. We had an assembly type line in her kitchen… my dad would roll the dough, my mom would cut the squares and fill them, and I would pinch them. We would make anywhere from 200 to almost 300 of them. Crazy, no!?! :) Then one year, one of us bought my mom the pasta attachment for her Kitchen Aid mixer. That was the best gift ever! It cut our colţunaşi making time in more than half.

The dough is very simple… flour, salt, a bit of oil, and water. The filling includes finely chopped granny smith apple that is mixed with poppy seeds. To finish them off, you add some sautéed onions on top and mix them. I made 84 colţunaşi this year. I think that it took me about an hour to make them, so it was not too bad.

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The traditional dinner also includes two types of fish dishes. Both include lots of onions and a bunch of smoked and non-smoked fishes. I decided not to make them. Instead, I got some Mahi Mahi filets, but I was unsure exactly what to do with them. After a quick text with my brother, he told me to sauté some onion, add a few lemon slices to the pan, add the fish filets, pour a bit of white wine, put the lid on the pan, and cook them for a bit until done. And that is what I did. :) It was super tasty!

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Our friend Yokko joined us for dinner. She brought a Cauli Cream Spinach dish, which was tasty and it went really well with the rest of the dinner.

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I am proud to say that the dishes were a success! I must admit that I was kind of stressed out about making them. I was unsure if they would come out as good as my mom’s. I was also worried about ruining the dinner… that would have been a bummer, especially since my parents were not around either.

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Merry Christmas… or La Multi Ani, as we say it in Romanian. It was also the first day of Chanukah, so Happy Chanukah!! :)

 

 

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