Dinner Guests ~ A Family Dinner with a Middle-Eastern Twist



            So…on February 22 we had my in-laws over for dinner.  I made a fun, yummy dinner and took pictures of everything for a blog post with great plans.  It’s been really busy around here and I thought I had!  Then the other day I was posting all my recipes on Pinterest (Have you checked it out yet?  You can follow me at http://www.pinterest.com/epselos/ ) and didn’t see that one.  I swear I remember posting it!  Did I dream I did?  I must have.  Am I dreaming now?  I hope not because I really wanted to share this with you!

            As I stated already it has been really busy around here, but it is almost all good.  We are running two businesses out of our home.  (There is my husband’s, Integrity Transportation Service – we do airport runs, weddings, proms, wine tours, or anything else you need a ride to, and my own.  Under the name PreciousBelovedBlessing I offer homemade jewelry, custom-made cards and prints, and my artwork.)  That keeps us busy enough but on top of that we are trying to finish unpacking, have dealt with TWO garage floods in the last month, and are chasing after a toddler.  Phew!

            We moved on January 9 and absolutely love our new place and are doing a good job of getting settled I think but I’ve been struggling not to get discouraged.  We are having a party tomorrow to celebrate my 35th birthday (wow, 35?!  When did I get this old?!  I’m entering a whole new age bracket tomorrow!  Yikes!) and are also having a housewarming.  My goal was to be completely unpacked by then.  Very realistic I thought, but as I said it has been busy and I’m not completely done, although I do have to say all the boxes left are mostly craft stuff, some stuffed animals of Blessing’s, and movies and a few knick knacks.  The crafts haven’t been a priority and have been unpacked as I need them or make a space for them.  In our old place we had a shelf that ran all along the top of the walls in his room and displayed a bunch of stuffed animals; we haven’t decided yet if we’re going to do that or something else to display them so they’re still boxed up.  As for the movies and knick knacks, I am still trying to decide what to do with them; we got rid of our entertainment center before the move because it was big and bulky and something we got super-cheap but really wasn’t our taste, so we are making due with the television on a sturdy coffee table which works fine but there is no storage!  So until we get something else I have no idea what to do with them so they are still boxed up.

            I was so excited for the move, but shortly after we got here I just burnt out.  I was so tired!  I had been packing for several months then there was all the craziness of the holidays, a family death to deal with, and lots of other stuff that just plum wore me out I guess.  After being here a couple of weeks I was suddenly running on empty and felt so unmotivated and so was so worn out I even got sick!  My body was just telling me to SLOW DOWN!

I tried to boost my spirits with a little retail therapy, shopping for some decorative stuff and things we needed (new shower caddies, I replaced my fifteen year-old broom and dustpan, and some floor rugs).  My mom had helped me start Henry’s bathroom (we went a different direction; the guest bathroom in the old place was golf-themed and now it’s blue and fishes – super cute!) and I put the finishing touches on that.  I want to go a bit of a different direction in my bedroom/bathroom too, and so I started looking for those.  It’s been fun but I was finally getting motivated again when we got some (desperately!) needed rain…only to find water in our garage!

            Cut to several days of messy cleanup, insurance adjustor visits, maintenance visits and ensuing messes, and a new organizing disaster in the garage.  It was awful but our management company jumped right on it and even offered us a free carpet cleaning when maintenance was done (traipsing through the house and cutting holes in walls to find the source of the leak) and gave us two free ceiling fans and installed them for us.  Hubby jumped right on the organization band wagon and ordered some nice, sturdy utility shelving and we thought it all was behind us but the cleanup really took some time and there’s still a lot of organizing to do…  Then the next storm hit and there was water in the same place again!  Hopefully we can find the root cause and nip it in the bud and luckily this time nothing was ruined, but it was still very discouraging and lots of work!

            Suffice it all to say, I am working on budgeting my time and trying not to let the bad stuff steal my joy from the good stuff.  There is a lot of exciting stuff going on that is taking a lot of my attention!  A year ago at this time my husband was deep in negotiations with his former boss, thinking he was taking over the business we had sacrificed so much for, for the last seven years, and were weeks away from a major disappointment when his boss unexpectedly sold the business out from under us, leaving my husband without a job and a lot of disappointment after all that hard work, not to mention losing a friend in the process!

            The next couple of months before that and the six months or so before that were some of the toughest of our marriage.  I’ve shared a bit of already and I will a little more in the future, but through it all we are smarter and closer, not to mention stronger.  My husband shook off the disappointment in a matter of days, picked himself up, brushed himself off, and started making phone calls!  Two other limo companies in town were nice enough to hire him but we decided to go off on our own.  Both companies were very supportive of him too, believe it or not, and we still have business relationships with both of them!  More about this another time…I’m getting off subject!

            What I was trying to say is we have learned so much and come so far, so why let a little discouragement over a few cardboard boxes get me down?  I have a beautiful new place, filled with beautiful things that have been stored away for ages and a happy, healthy family to share them with!  Not to mention yummy food to make for them!

            So, back on point here!  My husband’s mom and step-dad had been here before, and seen our place, but we hadn’t had them over “officially.”  We had tried a few times, but it never worked out (once the day after the first flood!) and then we finally worked it out and had a fun evening of yummy food and play time.  They brought Henry a set of blocks that he loves so much he sleeps with them sometimes (it is one of the cutest, funniest things I have ever seen him do)!

            I am going back to my Good Book Cookbook again.  I love that cookbook and you’ll be seeing more from it.  I don’t make Middle-Eastern style dishes very often because my husband isn’t crazy about it (although he claims to be but seems to like it whenever I cook it…hmm) but this turned out great and he couldn’t get enough of it.  It’s hearty and delicious, but wholesome and healthy too. 

            It’s called Traditional Sabbath Casserole, and the concept is you’re not supposed to do ANY work on the Sabbath so you get all this ready, do your chopping and pre-cooking ahead of time and put in the oven on Saturday night to cook slowly until you’re ready to eat it on Sunday.  I’ve always wanted to try the recipe and our first dinner date was for a Sunday so that’s why I picked it.  We’re not Jewish, but what does it matter?  Plus, it sounds like a good idea to me; a day of no work, just relaxing, worshipping the Lord, and spending day with family…yes please!

            Several of the recipes have additional menu ideas – and this was one of them – so I turned to that page and found it was a cookie that was gluten-free, not to mention refined-sugar free and filled with healthy honey and nuts instead!  Of course, I added a little homemade ice cream to it.  Then Blessing and I went to one of our favorite local markets that morning and picked up some yummy olives, dates, and artisanal cheese to serve with it and my mother-in-law brought a broccoli salad to share (which she graciously gave me permission to share with you)!  Yum!

            A note about the ice cream.  This is our favorite homemade ice cream recipe.  It is so simple and the creamiest, most luscious homemade ice cream I have ever tried!  I’ve shared it on my Facebook page before but in case you missed it, here is the link: http://thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/video-healthy-homemade-ice-cream/ .  It is not dairy-free, but gluten- and refined-sugar free.  And so, so, so good!  There is a nice breakdown on the website too about some of not-so-good truth about even so called “natural” store-bought ice cream.  I’ve said it before – I love finding healthier alternatives to our favorite treats and this one is near the top of the list.  With maple syrup instead of sugar and organic, grass-fed cream and eggs there are actually some good health benefits in it!  Can you believe it?!  (I won’t bore you with the details, but if you want to read more about it, check out:  http://www.eatwild.com/healthbenefits.htm .)  So scoop up!

            On to the recipes!


Traditional Sabbath Casserole

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God.  In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. ~ Exodus 20:8-10


The Fourth Commandment forbade all labor on the Sabbath, including cooking and housework.  Before sun-down on the Sabbath, casseroles were placed in the embers of the Sabbath fire to bake overnight, providing a hearty one-dish meal for the day of rest.  Records of this type of cooking date as far back as the SecondTemple, about the time of Jesus.


2 cups dried hulled fava (broad) beans or other dry white bean

3 onions, diced (mine were kind of big so I used only 2)

3 pounds brisket or lamb shanks (you could probably use your favorite cut of any meat.  Realized while shopping it probably calls for those because they would be Kosher!  Not an issue at our house but I used lamb because my hubby and his parents like it.  I recommend getting it ground – I didn’t and it took forever to clean off the fat and chop it!)

3 Tablespoons olive oil (I used coconut oil as olive oil is not as heat stable; I don’t sauté or fry with olive oil anymore.  Read more about that here:  http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2003/10/15/cooking-oil.aspx#! )

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons ground coriander

2 cloves garlic, crushed

2 teaspoons alt

1 cup barley (Barley is good for you…but NOT gluten-free!  I used rice instead and it worked great.  I think about any grain would go well here, like maybe quinoa or millet (both gluten-free).  I used rice because it was what I had.)

2 Tablespoons flour (gluten-free works fine)

1 teaspoon capers

1 Tablespoon chopped olives

2 Tablespoons raisins

6 cups boiling water (approximately)


Soak the beans for 1 to 2 days (or do what I did and simply follow the pre-soak instructions on the back of the bag they came in).  Other dry white beans need only be soaked overnight.  In a Dutch oven, brown the onions and meat in oil.  Sprinkle on the spices and salt, stirring as the onions brown.  Stir in all other ingredients except the water.  Pour in enough boiling water to rise an inch above mixture.  Cover tightly with lid.  Bake for 24 hours in an oven at 250 degrees F or 4 to 5 hours at 350 degrees F.  Serve with fresh fruit, a salad, and Pistachio Almond Cookies (recipe to follow).


            I cooked it that day, putting it in the oven after lunch to be ready for supper.  It is savory with a hint of sweet every once in a while from the raisins.  It was so good and a definite make-again!  So glad everyone loved it!  As I said already I served it with some nice cheese, olives, and some dried dates.  (I love dates; have you ever tried them?  If not, give them a chance!  They are so good and so, so good for you.  Blessing and I love them for snacks; you can make all sorts of yummy recipes for them but we often eat all of them plain before we get a chance to!)  Also with dinner, my mother-in-law made a very yummy broccoli salad and shared the recipe.


Amish Broccoli Salad

1 head broccoli, chopped

1 head cauliflower, chopped

1 cup Greek yogurt with a little olive oil to thin

The juice of 2 lemons

½ cup brown sugar

½ teaspoon salt

½ pound bacon, fried and crumbled

1 cup shredded white cheddar


            She left the cheddar aside since she knows I don’t eat a lot of dairy and let everyone add their own.  My husband doused his, along with the casserole!  He said it was really good, and I’m sure it was.  I took his word for it; the cheese I served was lactose-free, but the ice cream wasn’t and I was saving up!  Speaking of which, make the ice cream the day before or at least that morning so it has time to set up in the freezer.  While it’s churning make your cookies!


Pistachio Almond Cookies

…a little honey, spices and myrrh, pistachio nuts and almonds. ~ Genesis 43:11


2 cups shelled almonds

1 cup shelled pistachio nuts

½ cup grape or apple juice

½ teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup honey

1 teaspoon salt


Grind nuts to meal in a blender or food processor, a few at a time if necessary.  (My Ninja blender did an awesome job – I actually mixed the entire batter in it!)  Add juice to make a smooth paste.  Add cinnamon, honey, and salt.  Drop onto an oiled baking sheet and press into rounds.  Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes or until golden.  These cookies burn easily, so watch carefully.


            These went so well with the ice cream!  And where both were made with honey and maple syrup instead of sugar it wasn’t overly sweet either.  It makes a big batch of cookies but I used my small scoop to make them – they were actually perfect toddler size!  Henry loved them.

            Thanks for listening to me ramble on.  I hope you enjoy the recipes.  They were easy and oh, so good!  I better get back to preparing for tomorrow’s party then later I have to head into town.  My mama surprised me by ordering me a carrot cake from my favorite gluten-free bakery I need to go pick up!  And speaking of a toddler to chase after…  Gotta go!




The Good Book Cookbook; 1986, 1990, 1995; by Naomi Goodman, Robert Marcus, and Susan Woolhandler; ISBN 0-8007-1706-6; pgs.30, 82


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