The Great Big Challah Bake

Last night, I was one of 400 lucky ladies who gathered for Minneapolis’s Great Big Challah Bake.

For starters, I think we broke a record for the most Jewish people ever to assemble in Medina, Minn. Yes, 400 women arrived at the Medina Ballroom around 7:00 and each one walked out two hours later with two ready-to-bake, beautifully braided challahs. The logistics of this alone are mind boggling – the ingredients were meticulously pre-measured, the tables were set and the event organizers anticipated every possible baking need. A demonstrator showed each step on stage but “challah doctors” roamed the scene to help with any dough maladies that arose. Pun intended.

What struck me most about the event was the incredible diversity of women present. It was mostly a Jewish event, but I was reminded that this can mean so many things. There were girls as young as ten, grandmothers, and everyone in between. Some women were raised in other religions, while others wore wigs and skirts in keeping with Orthodox Jewish law. Over the course of the event, I heard women speaking in Spanish, Russian and Hebrew.

The Great Big Challah Event is part of an international movement called The Shabbos Project. Their mission is to inspire people around the world to celebrate a compete Shabbat, or sabbath, and connect with their families, communities and themselves. In 2016, people in 85 countries and more than 1,000 cities participated in Shabbos project events and I’ve seen Challah Bake pictures this year from Silicon Valley, Buenos Aires, Johannesburg, Paris and more.

What I loved about this event was a) delicious challah, b) spending time with friends new and old, and c) feeling part of something bigger. I believe that people have more similarities than differences, and I loved getting together with a diverse group of people around a common purpose.

Footnote – my challah braids looked pretty great when I left the event, but between the car ride, Saran Wrap and a night in the fridge, they came out looking a little like Jabba the Hut. They are truly delicious though – better tasting than my first challah attempt last month.

Until We Eat Again,

Two Happy Cooks 

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Challah Flow

Challah is a special, magical bread. It’s soft, sweet, golden and eggy… completely addictive and drop dead gorgeous. I’ve witnessed, participated in and enjoyed the benefits of others’ challah making in the past, but never attempted do it beginning to end all by myself. This weekend, that changed, and I think I fell in love.

Have you ever heard of Flow – the state of being totally engrossed in and energized by something? Apparently that’s me when I’m making challah. 

Round braided challahs started silently invading my carb-heavy Instagram feed last week, and I could not get them out of my head. The circular variety is traditional for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New year, which is coming up this Wednesday. That seemed like a great excuse to give it a go.

Bread making and anything yeast-related typically intimidates me, but this time, I decided, would be different. I used Smitten Kitchen’s recipe and meticulously measured the water temperature and weighed all of my ingredients out on the scale. I let the dough rise in our garage, much warmer than our over air conditioned house. And best of all, I braided. 

I found this whole process to be deeply satisfying.

The challahs turned out pretty great… but I want to raise the bar. I want them to be sweeter and eggier. I want to try new types of braids. And I want to try to make challah baking into something of a ritual. Weekly is aggressive, but even every couple of months might be a good place to start. 

Have any good tips or recipes? Send them my way!

Until We Eat Again,

Two Happy Cooks

The World Series of BBQ

This weekend, Mike, my brother Jeff and the rest of the Smokin’ Bunz BBQ team competed in the American Royal in Kansas City.

They don’t call it The World Series of BBQ for nothing… the American Royal surpassed all my expectations about what a BBQ competition would be like. Think of it as tailgating on steroids minus the sports. It’s held over three days inside the track at the Kansas Speedway; you could not have found a more appropriate venue than this 75,000-capacity NASCAR stadium for an event filled with other great American dude pastimes like meat, smoke and booze. And apparently bacon pants.


More than 400 teams from near and far competed for ultimate BBQ glory. Near the Smokin’ Bunz tent alone, we met the Japan BBQ Shogun Society, Craft & Cleaver from the UK, as well as teams from Germany, South Korea, Quebec and more. There were plenty of local entries with magnificent names and logos I could devote an entire post to like Overland Pork BBQ, Redneck Scientific, Inhognito, Grills Gone Wild, Pork Illustrated, Pig Newton and the Dead Poultry Society.

The Smokin’ Bunz team moved into their tent at the Speedway around dawn on Saturday and began smoking the first round of meat for the party Saturday night. I don’t know if it was the intense smell of smoke, crowding around standing tables with the whole family or just darn good food, but this was a spectacular meal. We feasted on brisket, chicken wings, ribs and assorted other pork parts complemented by a massive tray of coleslaw my mom whipped up. Because, vegetables.


When we left around 9:30 Saturday evening, the Smokin’ Bunz team was just getting started. They spent Saturday night at the Speedway prepping for their Sunday “Turn In,” or official entry of chicken, ribs, pork, brisket and sausage. Mike and Jeff came back home Sunday late afternoon exhausted, smelling of smoke and anxious to hear their scores.


And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for… the results.

Smokin’ Bunz came in #247 out of 407 teams overall for the open competition. They ranked 53rd for chicken, 250th for ribs, 249th for pork, 341st for brisket and 189th out of 197 for sausage. I am super impressed and am grateful to have gotten to help consume some of that sweet, sweet meat.


Having only experienced this as a guest and not a competitor, I think I learned that the beauty of the American Royal and BBQ in general is about slowing down. In a world where faster is better, smoking meat is a process that cannot be rushed. We should all be so lucky as to have such a passion for something and people we like enough that we want to spend two days with them just chewing the fat. So to speak.


Until We Eat Again,

Two Happy Cooks

Gift Card Weekend 2017

If you’re like us, you have a drawer where gift cards go to die.


Enter Gift Card Weekend 2017. The goal: Fight back against the unused gift card epidemic and spend as many as possible in one rainy weekend. The results: There were some wins, some fails and some surprises. Here’s how Gift Card Weekend 2017 went down:

Friday

  • Two Mystery Gift Cards to Lunds & Byerly’s: I picked up a few necessities like gelato, fresh flowers and bacon. Gift Card #1 had a $0 balance. Gift card #2 had a $5.00 balance. #GiftCardFail. Bought it all anyway.
  • $25 to Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants: Big Bowl Express inside Lunds & Byerly’s is a Lettuce Entertain You restaurant. I planned to get the Friday Family Dinner deal for $22. The gift card did not work at the register. #GiftCardFail, again! Bought it anyway, again.

Saturday

We regained some confidence after Mike successfully bought two BBQ sauces with a $10 Kitchen Window gift card. Feeling ambitious, we arrived at the Mall of America with a stack of gift cards in hand and nothing to lose:

  1. $10 to Jamba Juice: Mike got a $5 Mango A-Go Go Smoothie. I detest smoothies. We gave the remaining $5 to the people behind us in line. Gift Card Weekend is about giving, too.
  2. $10.71 to Barnes & Noble: Sam walked out with Dinosaur Dance and the Animal Alphabet
  3. $25 to Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants: We were so excited for crepes at the Magic Pan Crepe Stand and to redeem ourselves from the Friday Lettuce Entertain You gift card fail. At the last moment, I realized we forgot to bring it. We were too excited about crepes. Bought them anyway without the gift card. #GiftCardFail number three.
  4. $100 to Macy’s: I’m way more excited than Sam about his first dress pants, vest and tie for my cousin Avery’s Bat Mitzvah. Only managed to spend $34 at Macy’s, will save the rest for the next Gift Card Weekend…
  5. $50 to Creative Kidstuff: Sam picked out a birthday present for his friend Ross and of course, a car for himself.
  6. $136 to Anthropologie: My most anticipated gift card. Found a new dress. Was feeling pressured to leave by some nameless members of our family who were more than done shopping at this point. Bought the dress. Have since decided the dress isn’t quite right. Taking the dress back.
  7. $100 to D’Amico: Enjoyed some killer braised short ribs, scallops and an amazing Butterscotch Budino at Campiello in Eden Prairie. We blew through the gift card and then some after Mike ordered a glass of 40-year old port. You only live once.

Sunday

  • $100 to Target: Sam scored again with some new bacon & egg-themed PJs. We used the rest to restock our medicine cabinet and cleaning supplies. Super glamorous lives we lead.

The Bottom Line: Gift card shopping bonanzas aren’t as easy as you’d think. I think we may need to practice our technique again soon…

Until We Eat Again,

Two Happy Cooks

Fired up that Sam is 2!

Look out world, Sam is officially two!

We have a car-obsessed, tantrum-throwing, picky-eating, 5-AM waking, playground-loving two year old on our hands.  We go to bed every night thinking it would be impossible to love him more, but wake up every day to be proven wrong.

We marked the occasion with a visit to Plymouth Fire Station No. 3 to see the firefighters and fire trucks with some of Sam’s friends and family. Firefighter Anne taught us all how to dial 911 and crawl like puppies when there’s a fire. That made Sam’s safety-conscious grandparents very happy. We got to sit inside some fire trucks! That made Sam and his friends very happy. And then we came home and had meatballs from Firehouse Subs. That made Sam’s daddy verrrry happy.

Sam loves to talk about the new car he got for his birthday, and spent at least 3 hours on Saturday playing with his new car transport truck. 

We’ve all grown a lot in the last 2 years. Sam can’t wait to show these terrible twos who’s boss.

Until We Eat Again,

Two Happy Cooks









Unicorn Hamentaschen

My Instagram feed has recently exploded with an array of magical images of Unicorn foods– hot chocolate, cakes, pancakes, you name it. Being a person who a) loves color, b) loves sugar and c) LOVES sprinkles, I’m 100% on board with this ridiculous food trend. I thought to myself last week, what better dessert to embrace the Unicorn craze than the humble Hamentaschen?

​​This is not the Hamentaschen’s first appearance on Two Happy Cooks. As you may recall from our previous Rainbow Hamentaschen post, Purim falls into the Jewish holiday category loosely entitled, “They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat!” Purim is the Jewish version of Halloween, filled with costumes, parties for both kids and hammered Israeli college students, and of course, sweets.


Hamentaschen is the iconic Purim cookie. Its dough is notoriously kind of blah. I felt it needed some unicorn-izing.


I started with this classic buttery dough recipe from Tori Avery. I filled the cookies with different jams (go team apricot) and Nutella. And then the fun part began – the unicorn-izing of the hamentaschen. I bought some microwaveable candy melt, swirled in some food coloring and dipped one side of each hamentaschen. Add a few sprinkles and voila – Unicorn Hamentaschen.


Sam, Mike and I had fun celebrating Purim – holidays seem to be more fun with a kiddo. Sam loved his first bouncey house experience at the Temple Israel Purim carnival. Our friend Hailey even made an appearance in the Star Tribune – check her out on slide 5!

Until We Eat Again,

Two Happy Cooks

Some Like It Hot

Some like it cold, and Some Like It Hot. 


This weekend was legendary – it will go down as that time it hit 60 degrees in February in Minnesota. Mike and his crew  wanted nothing to do with it, having planned a trip to Lake Mille Lacs for Beer Club On Ice. They headed north where it was still cold enough for ice fishing. Between five guys, they brought no fewer than 110 beers to “The Silver Bullet.” For those of you who are concerned, I’m told they didn’t drink them all, and Mike arrived home in one piece. They also caught a 25 inch Walleye – awesome!


Meanwhile, back in civilization, my parents came to visit from Kansas City and we had a near-perfect day. The sun was shining, Sam slept past six and we had some seriously good food. We visited Cecil’s Deli in St. Paul for some pastrami, latkes and general amazingness. I had a house special called “Some Like it Hot” – pastrami and pepper cheese toasted on pumpkernickel bread. It was truly spectacular. We liked it so much we picked up all the ingredients to recreate it at home the next day.


At Cecil’s, my parents also introduced me to something called an Egg Cream, which contains neither eggs nor cream. It’s a special deli drink made with u-bet chocolate sauce, whole milk and club soda. Again, it was such a hit we picked up ingredients to have more egg creams later in the weekend.


Whether you like it cold or hot, hope you had a great weekend too.

Until We Eat Again,

Two Happy Cooks