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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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I have been cooking a lot of pasta lately. Julia tends to prefer it over rice. In an effort to have something different, I decided to make a rice dish. I needed some kind of a sauce, so after searching in a few of my cookbooks, I came across the Peanut Dragon Dressing recipe in the Isa Does It cookbook. It seemed super simple and I pretty much had all of the ingredients.

I do have another peanut sauce recipe that I really like and I have it made many times… it is the Peanut Sesame Noodle from SmittenKitchen, but that requires fresh ginger, which I did not have at the time. I suppose that I could have just omitted the ginger from the recipe, but I was kind of excited about this new recipe.

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As I mentioned, the recipe is super simple… it requires smooth peanut butter, garlic, some water, rice vinegar, soy sauce/tamari, agave, sriracha, sesame oil, and some salt. I did not have agave so I decided to use maple syrup instead. Also, I did not use the sriracha, since Julia tends not to prefer spicy foods and I used garlic salt, since I do not care for raw garlic.

The recipe also mentions to blend all of the ingredients in a food processor or blender… I did that the first time that I made it (I used a food processor) and it made a royal mess. It was liquidy enough that it oozed all over my counter. A blender would have definitely been better. I no longer do that. I simply whisk it and it is just as good.

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I love this sauce since it is so versatile and easy. The dish is now part of my weekly routine. I have served it over rice (I love jasmine rice!) and topped it with any vegetables that I have on hand… grilled/steamed broccoli, steamed carrots, avocado, steamed green beans, grilled zucchini, fresh tomatoes… the possibilities are endless! I have also topped it with some grilled chicken and some peanuts. Using some sautéed/grilled shrimp and tofu would work just as well.

The first time that I made it, it turned out a bit thick, so I have been playing a bit with its thickness… I added a bit more water to it the second time that I made it and it worked out well. It does thicken even more if you store it in the refrigerator, but of course you can thin it with a little more water before serving it.

I always search for easy weeknight dinners and this one is definitely a keeper. And Julia has converted… she is now a rice eater. :)

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Another variation of the dish…

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I cannot roast a chicken for the life of me. It is super true! I have tried it numerous times over the years with no success. It always ends up way too dry. I have a fear of it being under cooked, so I tend to roast it way longer than needed.

A while back I got food poisoning from uncooked chicken. It was the worst experience! It was so painful that I could not move. If I made just a slight move, I would get the worst stomach pains. I spent the entire day motionless in the fetal position. I do not wish that pain even on my worst enemies, if I had any. So now you understand.

I have tried several recipes, with no success… even a Martha Stewart recipe! I have been successful with roasting chicken pieces, mostly chicken thighs. I guess that you cannot really overcook chicken thighs since they tend to be more fatty.

As I was walking thorough the grocery store a few weeks ago, I was eyeing this whole chicken. “It would be so nice to roast an entire chicken in order to have leftovers for the week.”, I thought. I also thought about just buying a premade rotisserie chicken but I decided that roasting my own would be so much better. So I took it. Since I have no clue about how to break down a chicken and do not really care to attempt it, I asked the butcher at the grocery store to cut it down for me.

As soon as I got home, I contacted my brother (who is a chef). “I have this entire chicken. How long will it take? An hour at 425 degrees?”, I asked. His answer changed my life… ok, maybe not my life, but definitely shed all my fears about roasting a chicken. :) It really did!

Before divulging all the secrets, I have a disclaimer, which is that I own a convection oven, so my roasting time may differ from your oven. Ok, so here it goes…

First, do not roast a chicken whole. Roasting a broken down chicken allows each piece to cook independently, especially the breasts, which take the longest. Also, never add lemon juice or any acid during the cooking process.

Second, submerge your chicken pieces in a brine. I have been using about 6 cups of water and 1/2 cup of salt. You can certainly use more or less depending on the size of the chicken. I let it sit in the brine for no less than 15 minutes. If you let it sit longer, go easy on the seasoning during roasting.

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Third, after adding some olive oil and some salt and pepper, roast the chicken in a preheated 425 degree oven until the pieces reach about 150 to 155 degrees. For me, that is anywhere between 20 to 25 minutes. The thighs reach the temperature faster than the breasts. I have to let the breasts roast about 5 minutes or so longer than the rest of the pieces. If your oven runs hotter, check it earlier. The trick is to reach that temperature, so check often if needed.

Fourth, once the pieces reach the 150 to 155 degrees, remove them from the oven and let them sit for 10 minutes. Do not be tempted to do anything with them at this point. Just let them sit.

Fifth, once the 10 minutes are up, put the chicken back into the oven and continue roasting it until it reaches the recommended 165 degrees. For me this is anywhere between 10 to 15 minutes. Again, the trick is to reach the 165 degree temperature, so check often if needed.

Sixth, once roasted, remove the chicken from your pan and squeeze some lemon juice over it. This will give the chicken that great lemony flavor, which I love.

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This is the best roasted chicken that I have ever made and tasted. I really mean it! I made it 3 times so far and every time it has come out fantastic. The meat is super juicy and delicious! It was so good in fact, that each time I made it, we almost ate the entire thing. :)

Next time you are craving roasted chicken, give this a try… you will not be disappointed.

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Oh Good Luck… where do I even begin?!? I just love you! I really do.

Good Luck in my opinion is one the best restaurants in town. Every time I visit, it just gets better and better. I am not sure how that can even be possible, since every meal is just super. Every time! But it is true. I realize that there are other restaurants in town that are perhaps just as good, but I cannot get myself to go anywhere else. It is not like I visit it that often… we only go there for special occasions. Maybe it is because I know that I will always have a memorable dinner there. It is just perfect.

First, the cocktails. I admit that I find myself asking the server what a lot of the ingredients are, but even so, the drinks are SO good. Somehow all the different ingredient combinations just work. So creative! My latest find is the 1620 Japan… bonded bourbon, plum wine lavender syrup, lemon, Regan’s bitters, soda, sorrel, fresh mint. Oh my! And I do not even like bourbon. Ha! I hope that it will be on the menu next time I visit. It is definitely a keeper.

Then, the food. I really love how the dishes are made to share. It provides an opportunity for the group to taste multiple dishes. And that is exactly what we do.

One of may favorite dishes is the gnocchi. I have an obsession with gnocchi. It is my comfort food. The gnocchi at Good Luck are just heavenly… little goat cheese pillows that just melt in your mouth. And the sauce… oh the sauce… simple, yet so delicious. What makes the sauce is the guanciale… cured pork (of course) that is pan fried to a crisp. Salty, crispy bits of yumminess! Seriously! The combination of the gnocchi and the guanciale is just heavenly. Bread is definitely necessary to scrape the bowl. No residual allowed. In fact, the servers asked multiple times if they can take our “empty” bowl… our answer was a strong “No!”. :)

During our recent visit, we brought Julia along. Of course her favorite dish was also the gnocchi… she is my daughter after all. She kept pointing to my dish asking for more. “But, but… they are my gnocchi!” I thought. Those few gnocchi were on my plate for a reason… I saved them to savor them slowly. But how can I say no to my sweetie pea. Oh the sacrifices that we do for our children. :)

Another favorite is the organic greens salad with avocado vinaigrette. That’s right… avocado vinaigrette. It is a simple salad, but the vinaigrette makes the dish. Once again, bread is definitely necessary to scrape the plate. No residual allowed here either.

Another dish that we savored during our recent visit was red lentils with sweet potatoes, swiss chard, and agave. It was served straight out of the oven and it had a stew like consistency. The sweet potatoes and agave gave it a perfect amount of sweetness but the dish also had a touch of spice. The lentils and sweet potatoes just melted in your mouth. Mmmm… Yes you guessed it… bread is also necessary here too. :)

The other dish that is becoming a favorite and that I hesitate to admit to is the burger. I know what you are saying… “You do not eat beef, Veronica!”… I know! But the burger at Good Luck is SO good. I do not know what they do to it, but it is so tasty. Again, I really do not want to admit it, but cannot help myself. Ha! And the fries are amazing too… thinly cut (my favorite), a little crispy, and salty. A perfect companion to the burger.

The last thing that I would like to mention is the chocolate cake. The first few times I ate at Good Luck when they first opened, the chocolate cake was made into a shallow ramekin. It was served straight out of the oven and the top was crispy and the middle was gooey. Oh my! Joel and I would go there just to have the cake and drinks. Then over the years, the cake evolved into a smaller and taller cake. It still comes right out of the oven, but it is no longer gooey. At first we were disappointed, but during our last two visits, we decided that it is just as good, maybe even better than it was originally.

Their menu changes with the seasons, which I love. But sometimes it is sad since the dishes are not exactly how I remember them. Their evolution, however, is never a disappointment. The chefs are so creative and amazing. Just like the drinks, the different ingredient combinations that they blend just work.

So yeah, Good Luck… I really do love you! You are just perfect!

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I recently started feeding Julia cheese, yogurt, and regular table food. At her 9 month appointment, her pediatrician advised us that we can start doing that. I was taken back a little since for the past 3 months I have only given her simple purées. “She has never had garlic, or onions, or any spices at all. Is it ok to feed her all those things now?”, I commented. “Go for it!”, she said. So I went for it.

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Dinner on the deck!

Her first real food was couscous. I love making it since it is so simple and can be served as a side dish or a main dish. I do not follow a particular recipe… I just make it up depending on the ingredients that I crave. This time I added some olive oil, lime juice, olives, spinach, roasted tomatoes, salt, black pepper, goat feta cheese, and alleppo pepper (I love this pepper! If you have a Penzeys near you, grab some and sprinkle it on anything that you desire. It’s delicious!). I was not sure what Julia was going to make of the dish. She just loved it!!

The next dish that I made was a potato salad. This is another simple side dish that I love to make and it is a little more interesting than your typical potato salad. I found the recipe in the Lucid Food cookbook. It includes potatoes, pesto, olives, and hard boiled eggs. I did not make my own pesto this time. Also, since Julia cannot have eggs, I did not include them in the entire dish. I also added some avocado on top for all of us. Julia loved it since I gave her pieces of potatoes and avocados to feed herself (she loves feeding herself!). Another success!

Next up was a pasta with a chicken broth and shallot based sauce, kale, peas, and goat cheese. Since the pasta was not too soft, I did not think that Julia would be able to eat it, so I chopped it a bit with the rest of the ingredients. She loved this too! I was so excited that she liked the kale! Good thing, since she will be eating plenty of that in her lifetime! :)

The next dish was a little different. I was not sure if I wanted to feed Julia meat just yet. Since I do not eat meat or hardly ever cook it, I could not bare the thought of boiling chicken for her. And there was no way that I was going to get her the chicken dishes in the jar. That sounded even more appalling. Also, I cannot roast a chicken for the life of me. So what to do? Then a few weeks ago I found a recipe that sounded somewhat promising. I decided to give it a try. (I know!! Can you believe it!?!?) The dish includes chicken thighs, a few shallots, a pint of cherry tomatoes, 1/2 a cup or so of olives, fresh thyme, olive oil, salt, pepper, fresh mint, and feta. You roast the chicken with all the ingredients, minus the mint and feta. Once the chicken is done roasting, you add the mint and feta. The dish was delicious!! Since we loved it so much and it was easy to make, I decided to make it again and give some to Julia. She loved it too!

I must say that since I started feeding Julia regular food, my thoughts about dinner have changed a bit. I feel like I now have to think even harder about what dishes to make, since she cannot eat everything that we eat. For example, I tend to use nuts a lot in my cooking… specifically for pesto. But at the same time, I am super excited that she can now eat more of the things that we eat. It will definitely make it easier to not have to make multiple dinners for us. I also feel super lucky that she is such a good eater. Still to this day, she has only disliked bananas, pears, and cauliflower. If that is the extent of it, I have nothing to complain about, no?

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I have been having a lot of fun making food for Julia. And Julia has been having a lot of fun trying new foods. So far, she has loved almost everything that I have made for her… almost everything.

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Soon to be dinner…

Veggies have been a success. Avocados, peas, carrots, sweet potatoes, and spinach… she loved all of them.

Thumbs up for avocado!

Fruits on the other hand have been a different story. The first fruit that I tried were bananas. I simply mashed it and gave it to her to eat. She actually refused to eat it after the initial bite. I was surprised… I thought for sure that she would love it. A few moms have suggested that I add some breastmilk to thin it a bit. I am going to try and see how she feels about that.

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Steaming peas…

The next fruit that I tried were pears. Per the baby cookbook (201 Organic Baby Purées), I chopped them, boiled them until soft, and then puréed them. The first night she tried it, she only ate a small portion. She liked them a bit more the next day, I think partially since I added some rice cereal to it. Same for the third night… I added some sweet potatoes to it. I guess I would call it a partial success.

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Loved the peas too!

It is kind of funny to me that she has not been liking fruits very much. Everyone has been telling me that fruits are easy and that veggies should be introduced first because of that. I guess she is a veggie kind of girl. Hmm… I wonder where she gets that from. :)

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Cooking has been a bit difficult lately, especially on a weeknight. I usually get home from work around 5:00, which means that I only have a few hours to play with Julia since her bedtime is 7:30. It also means that I do not want to spend very much time in the kitchen cooking. So I have been searching for quick recipes… I have found a few good ones.

Soup is a good weeknight meal. It usually makes a bunch, which means that you can have it a couple of times during the week. I have been loving this Leek Soup with Dill Oil, which I found on the 101 Cookbooks site. I have altered it a bit… I do not use any butter, I use an extra potato, I leave it chunky, and I do not add any of the items that she suggests (although they would probably be good to add). I have made it numerous times and it’s definitely a keeper. I usually serve it with a pressed sandwich, leftover pizza, or just a few slices of bread.

Gnocchi is one of my favorite foods. It’s comfort food for me, so it is another dish that I make all the time. I love it with pesto, prosciutto, spinach, goat cheese, and either pumpkin seeds or walnuts. I have also made it with a roasted tomato sauce. To roast the tomatoes, you simply slice a pint of tomatoes and add some olive oil, balsamic vinegar, some of your favorite herbs (I use parsley and oregano), and some capers. The capers are key, so do not omit them. The sauce is delicious, especially on gnocchi! :)

Another recipe that is one of my cooking staples is the Matchstick Pasta recipe, which I also found on the 101 Cookbooks site. This is by far the easiest dish to make! During one of my shopping outings I could not find any pomegranate seeds. I was so upset since I was really craving the dish. I decided to try dried cranberries as a substitute… it worked great!

Pizza is another staple… I find myself making it every week. I usually use Bobolis for the crust, which makes it easy. My favorite toppings are pesto, prosciutto, spinach, and goat cheese. A while ago I found this really delicious pepperoni by Applegate Farms, so I decided to try a peperoni pizza. I used tomato sauce, mozzarella, green peppers, mushrooms, peperoni, and a few thinly sliced onion pieces. It was so good! It is now part of my pizza cycle.

In my recent issue of the Whole Living magazine, I discovered a nice quick dish. You simply sautée some garlic with a few sprinkles of pepper flakes, then you add some chopped kale, and sautée it until wilted and cooked through. Lastly, you add some peas and cook them for a bit. Once done, you serve it with some cooked rice and topped with an over-easy egg. It’s so quick and delicious!

Another dish that I would like to mention is the Peanut Sesame Noodles, which I found on the Smitten Kitchen site. I made this dish recently and I was surprised how easy it was to make. I wondered why I do not make it more often. I did modify it a bit. I do not make the sauce in a food processor. I simply whisk it and it works just as well. I do not use tofu… I have topped it with cooked chicken (usually the rotisserie chicken from Wegmans) and shrimp.

If I am really pressed for time, sandwiches with sweet potato fries are my to go dish. I usually keep a bag of sweet potato fries in the freezer… I love the Alexia sweet potato fries. I also keep veggie burgers and fake chicken patties by Quorn. Chicken patties on a bun are a favorite. :)

I hope that a few of these dishes will become some of your favorite weeknight meals!

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