Here at the Gibson Ranch, we like to step outside the corral of meat and potatoes to try a little something different. For Hanukkah this year, we indulged in one of our favorites: Lebanese meat pies. They’re perfect as an appetizer, a side dish, or even a main dish. It’s all a matter of perspective, what you’re serving them with, and how many you want to eat!
This easy recipe is a great introduction to Middle Eastern cooking. I’m sure you’ll end up making it part of your holiday traditions, too.
Lebanese Meat Pies
2 lb. ground beef or ground lamb
¾ c pine nuts, toasted
2 large sweet onions, diced
Juice of 2 lemons
½ – 1 t sea salt
½ t black pepper
Hearty dashes of cinnamon
Slight dash of allspice
36 frozen dinner rolls (I used Rhodes)
Egg white for glazing
Prepare the dinner rolls the night before. Place them on baking sheets coated with cooking spray taking care to leave room for rising. Cover with plastic wrap also coated with cooking spray and place the trays in the refrigerator. The rolls will defrost in the refrigerator, but you will need to let them rise at room temperature until they are at least doubled in size.
When the rolls are ready, preheat your oven to 450° degrees.
Toast the pine nuts in a toaster oven at 325° for 5 minutes stirring at least once. Pine nuts burn easily, so start with 5 minutes and only cook in additional minutes, if necessary, until they are golden. You can do these in a conventional oven, but keep an eye on them. Set aside to cool, and then chop or grind coarsely.
Dice the onion and place it in a skillet with the ground beef. Cook until the meat is no longer red and the onions are translucent. Drain thoroughly; there will be quite a bit of liquid. Return the meat/onion mixture to the skillet and add the lemon juice, salt, pepper, cinnamon, and allspice. Stir to mix and warm through.
To assemble the meat pies, take one roll, stretch it out round, and place a spoonful of meat mixture in the center. Fold one side in toward the center, and then fold up another side. Pinch the seam shut between the two sides. Fold up the third side, and pinch the other two seams shut as well. You will end up with a triangular-shaped pie. Some people bake them seam down, but I’ve always baked them seam up. If your seams are secure, I’ve found it really doesn’t matter.
Brush the sealed pies with beaten egg white taking care not to rip them open. Bake for 10 – 11 minutes until golden brown, ending up more on the golden end of the color spectrum. Depending on your oven, you may go 12 – 15 minutes, but do not burn the bottoms or overbake the tops.
I love the craziness that is planning for Hanukkah, especially the food. Traditionally, fried foods are consumed as part of the commemoration of the Maccabees not having enough oil for the menorah which miraculously burned for eight nights despite the small quantity. Why fried foods you ask? Because it’s fried in oil. Get the connection?
We’ve tried an all-fried or mostly fried menu in the past, and our stomachs lived to regret it. There are, however, many delicious recipes one can make for Hanukkah that aren’t fried. They also probably aren’t traditional, and may raise a few eyebrows, but good eating is part of what it’s all about for us, and Adonai has blessed us richly!
So don’t laugh when I tell you the Gibson household will be dining on my homemade macaroni and cheese for Hanukkah tonight. It’s so rich and cheesy that it’s almost sinful. Fear not, we pray over it before eating to counterbalance that last point.
HL’s Homemade Macaroni & Cheese
1 – 1 lb. box of elbow macaroni
½ c (1 stick) unsalted butter
½ c all-purpose flour
4 c whole milk
3 – 8 oz. blocks of cheese, shredded
Salt and pepper to taste
½ – 1 t dry mustard, optional
Side note: I start with blocks of cheese over pre-shredded because it’s creamier. The pre-shredded stuff always seems dry to me. Also, I suspect the quantity isn’t exactly what the packaging says. You’ll want at least six cups of cheese, however, I’ve found that a little more never hurts which is another reason I prefer blocks of cheese.
When choosing cheeses, I like to include at least one orange cheese to make it look like traditional, American mac-n-cheese. However, an all-white version is just as tasty and visually pleasing.
Consider mild, sharp, or extra sharp orange cheddars, NY white cheddar, mozzarella, Gruyère, Swiss, Monterrey Jack, Colby-Jack, Longhorn, etc. I know some of these are considered to be the same, but I’ve found subtle taste differences that make choosing half the fun.
Preheat your oven to 400°.
Cook the macaroni according to package instructions until al dente. Drain thoroughly as macaroni holds a lot of water in the crook of the elbow. While the macaroni is draining, use the hot pot you cooked it in to melt the butter over a low heat. Add the flour and whisk until smooth. Cook for one minute and do not let it burn.
Slowly add the milk, whisking thoroughly, and cook for another minute over medium heat. Add all but a half cup of the cheese by handfuls, stirring after each addition. Continue cooking until the cheese melts and becomes stringy. Not all the cheese may melt, but this is acceptable.
Add the drained macaroni to the mixture and stir to coat. Carefully pour the mixture into a well-greased 9 x 13 glass baking dish. (Do not panic if it seems soupy. The extra liquid will be absorbed and make the mac-n-cheese creamy.) Top with the last half cup of cheese. Bake at 400° for 25 minutes or until the cheese on the top browns and bubbles. Let it sit for ten minutes before serving.
I’ve chosen all Italian cheeses, added ½ – 1 T of Italian seasoning, grilled chicken, and topped with slices of provolone.
Bread crumbs tossed with parmesan cheese is also a delicious topper.
Uncured turkey bacon, cooked and diced, tastes wonderful stirred in. We use Applegate.
Most of the recipes I supply are connected to my writing, but this time I’m offering a favorite Gibson Family recipe just because. Well, that and we’ll be eating it for Hanukkah this year. This recipe comes highly recommended by my husband and son, and it’s super easy to make. Factor in the deliciousness, and you’ll want to make it part of your holiday traditions, too.
We’re ice cream freaks at the Gibson household, and nothing makes ice cream a little tastier than a homemade sauce. With that thought in mind, what could be more American in flavor than peanut butter? The following recipe is one we enjoy time and again on chocolate or vanilla ice cream. It’s also good on waffles, pancakes, banana bread, and shortbread cookies. I’m sure you’ll come up with a few places to try it, too.
Peanut Butter Sauce
1 c smooth peanut butter
⅓ c sugar (I use raw)
¾ c heavy cream
2 T butter
¼ c light corn syrup
1 t vanilla
If using raw sugar, place the heavy cream and sugar in a small saucepan over the lowest heat possible. Stir constantly but gently until the sugar dissolves. This step is necessary to melt the larger crystals.
If using regular white sugar or a small-grained, organic sugar, place all the ingredients in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir until the ingredients are combined thoroughly. Do not boil or overcook as this will make the sauce too thick.
Cool the sauce slightly before using. I’m told you can store it covered in a refrigerator for two weeks, but ours never lasts that long. You can reheat the chilled sauce in a saucepan on a low heat. Thin it with 1 – 2 tablespoons of heavy cream if necessary. Do not microwave the sauce or it will become grainy.
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: there are advancements to technology, but they aren’t always advancements to the quality of our lives. Yet every day I find myself more dependent on some form of technology, and I must admit that a few have become quite the convenience. Take my laptop, for example.
About six years ago, my parents surprised us with a laptop because our son had reached the stage of his schooling where he needed one to complete his homework. Then there was the fact that the school insisted communication with students and parents be conducted mostly, if not solely, via e-mail and homework sites. We had an old desktop model, but it just wasn’t cutting it anymore.
Since the generous gifting of the laptop, I have come to enjoy it for online banking, communicating with friends (although I still argue that social media makes people who once met for socializing somewhat lazy), watching movies, and my favorite, ripping CDs into custom-made playlists. And then one horrific day, the DVD/CD drive thingy stopped working.
At first I couldn’t open it. Not even with the cool trick using a paperclip the guy at the store showed me. And when I placed a DVD or CD inside and shut the drawer, the laptop no longer read it. Imagine my dismay. My playlists would grow no more, and worse, it may be time to look for another laptop.
There was the option of an external drive, but even the sales clerk thought the price his employer was charging to be a little outrageous. He suggested I try shopping online if I absolutely needed one. At least he didn’t try to sell me a laptop I wasn’t prepared to buy at the moment. Our finances aren’t ready for that commitment yet.
I’m not exactly technologically challenged, but I’m not savvy either. Perhaps with all this streaming, DVDs and CDs were going by the wayside. One day while running errands, I consulted our in-house IT geek also known as our son. When I posed this thought to him, he agreed that an external drive would simply be a convenience for old-schoolers like me.
“You could rip all your CDs, Mom. They even have external connections for those other things you and Dad have.”
“What other things?”
He cupped his left hand with a U-shaped slot between his thumb and fingers and inserted his other flattened hand inside, mimicking something.
“You know, those square things.”
Images of 3.5-inch floppy disks sprang to mind, but they had nothing to do with our discussion.
“What things, Joshua?”
Again, and with much exasperation on his part, he mimicked some bizarre function by rotating his index fingers in circles going the same direction.
“Those things that are square and go ‘round and ‘round.”
Let the laughter begin. I rarely get one up on this kid these days. He’s a titch smug from time to time with all he knows technologically, so when I have the opportunity to laugh (and I’m talking Precious Pup, wheezing type laughter as I’m driving) I take it. Joshua is a good sport, though, and after turning beet red, he joined in the hilarity. Still, he’ll never know the satisfaction of saving a favorite cassette from destruction by rewinding it with a pencil.
The life of a writer is a long and lonely path fraught with amazing highs and debilitating lows. You have to be more than a little crazy to continue the journey, and if you can channel that craziness into passion, you’ll succeed. Keep in mind that your success is not measured by your status in the world of publishing and/or how much money you make at writing. If you’re writing, you are a writer.
The great part about writing is that every now and then you’ll make a connection with someone who thinks and feels exactly the way you do about the writing life. When that happens, you’ll experience a surge of encouragement that keeps you going despite your belief that writers play it close to the vest, no one wants to read what you’ve written, you’ll never be published, or whatever the voices of doubt are whispering in your ear.
It would be so easy to hoard the energy you feel when you strike gold and make that all important connection that leads to a writing relationship. A better thing to do is be the inspiration someone else needs by providing the shoulders for them to stand on even if that means you’re giving back to the person who just encouraged you.
Such was my experience recently with a fellow writer turned great friend. We met to discuss her upcoming interview on another fellow writer’s blog, but the discussion turned personal as we shared our beliefs, experiences, fears, and desires for our writing lives. It was incredible, but the writing high didn’t stop there.
I’d forgotten that my husband had attached a love note proclaiming his support for my writing to the cover of my laptop, and I inadvertently shared his sweet message with all of Starbucks. A young man who had noticed the sign approached me to inquire about my writing. We had a lovely conversation during which he shared his aspirations for writing. I responded with the positive statements I’d received when I began my journey. By the time we shook hands and wished each other a Merry Christmas, I was jittery with excitement.
It would be wonderful if every day in the life of a writer could be like this especially since staying positive is quite a challenge. My personal goal is to continue seeking such instances as well as providing them. More and more I’m encountering this sentiment across social media, so I know I’m on the right track. Giving back, paying it forward, or whatever you choose to call it will never be wasted when the investment in is another person.
I have to admit, we have a pretty great kid. True, the teen years have been trying at times, but every now and then our son, Joshua, takes a giant leap of maturity. We first witnessed this when he achieved the rank of Eagle Scout in October 2016. What an amazing day that was as we watched Joshua, no longer a little boy, stand before his leaders and peers and promise to do his duty to God and his country and to serve other people.
Of course, being an Eagle Scout wasn’t a magic fix against the angst of the teen years, and once in a while his Dad and I had to be the heavies in a situation. People have complimented us on how well we raised Joshua, telling us what a pleasure he was to have around. We tilted our heads, plastered on a smile, said thank you, and thought to ourselves you only say that because you don’t live with him. We’ve learned to chalk it up to Joshua being a typical teen.
On occasion, however, he does something that shocks his father and me to the point that we can’t quit talking about it. Like today, for example. Joshua works at a local grocery store one or two days a week. It’s his first job, and he takes it quite seriously. Already he’s making comments that let us know the good work ethic we instilled in him is paying off.
As if working hard and earning his first turkey this Thanksgiving (he was so proud) wasn’t reward enough for me and my husband, Joshua said to me, “Hey, Mom. Why don’t you give me the grocery list, and when I get off work, I’ll do the shopping.” Imagine the few stunned seconds that preceded, “Oh, okay…” Where did that come from? I know he’s extended his employee discount to us (another fact about which he was proud), but to actually expend his own time and energy shopping for the family? Has the lesson of caring for others finally sunk in?
I made an extremely detailed list for him including brand names and item counts. He laughed at me, but he folded it up and placed it in his wallet. We made sure he had a secure form of payment, another thing for which he must display the ultimate responsibility, and then his father dropped him off at work. And as I mentioned above, we could not stop talking about it all day long.
William repeatedly wondered aloud what made him offer to do the shopping. I got tears in my eyes and immediately envisioned Joshua as the CEO of a major corporation sitting behind a mahogany desk in his top-floor office with a picture of him working at his first job in a frame with a photocopy of his first paycheck. If you don’t understand my leap in logic, you’re probably not a woman and possibly not a mother. In any case, I built a little wiggle room into the grocery list in case he makes a small error, and I left the choosing of flavors for certain items up to him. Let’s pray my coaching on how to pick a good apple sticks.
Now if we can just get him to pick up his room on a daily basis.