Sunday Small Plates, Family Dinner, & Mom’s Mandel Bread (Inspired by Beirut)

(The spread: Cheese/potato and spinach/ricotta pierogis; herbed goat cheese with crackers, apricots and almonds; Spanish tortilla; Mandel bread; brie and apples; three-olive tapenade; quinoa tabouli; toasted baguette; tomato bruschetta. Not pictured: hummus, tzatziki. Pretty much all of this was eaten.)

A small-plates feast and my mom’s Mandel bread (recipes + TONS of photos at the bottom)

Zach Condon of Beirut gets his musical influences from all over the world, much of it from Eastern Europe. It’s not always obvious what elements come from which culture; they’re all seamlessly mixed together and he manages to make complete sense out of it. To represent the tiny pieces from different cultures, my friends and I made a dinner of small-plate dishes — olive tapenade, hummus, quinoa tabouli, tomato bruschetta, tzatziki sauce, pierogis, a Spanish tortilla, a cheese plate, and mandel bread — and they don’t all necessarily come from the places represented in Beirut’s music, but that’s not really the point. My friends come from different cultural backgrounds, too, and our group makes about as much sense as this hodgepodge of a meal or Condon’s music — but it works.

I interpret Condon’s song “A Sunday Smile” to be about a romantic relationship, but ultimately it makes me think of peaceful, relaxing Sundays — which in recent months has meant lots of big dinners like this one. Every few weeks, a group of my closest New York friends (most of them from college, with some others we’ve picked up along the way) come to my apartment for what we call Family Dinner; a huge dinner that we make together. At first it was just for fun, but now it’s a constant reminder that even though most of our blood-related families are far away, what we’ve created here in the city is pretty damn close. We usually pick a theme — in the past we’ve made dumplings, sushi, tacos, holiday cookies — and go from there, and this sharing of cultures and food has become an extremely important part of my life. So these days, when Condon sings the chorus of “A Sunday smile, you wore it for a while,” I think about how the excitement from a Sunday Family Dinner carries over well into the next week.

My own cultural contribution to our small-plates feast was mandel bread (pictured above), a traditional Jewish/Eastern European cookie of sorts (it’s easiest to describe it as Jewish biscotti), which I remember my mom making when I was growing up. Last year I started baking it myself, with her recipe, and it’s become my all-occasion go-to treat. My mom was an amazing cook and baker (she passed away in July 1999), and food was always important in my family. So, I’m really excited to share this special recipe — and the experience of making and eating food with loved ones — with my family here, too.

Beirut is the project of Zach Condon, a 20-something from New Mexico who dropped out of high school to travel to Europe, where he was influenced by Eastern European and Balkan folk music. Condon plays the horn and sings, and his band tends to be up to 10 members strong, with instruments that include the tuba, trombone, accordion, sax, strings, and various forms of percussion.
Beirut on MySpace

<!–more Mandel bread recipe, links to other recipes, and photos below –>

Mandel bread

4 eggs
3/4 c sugar
1/2 c oil
1 tsp vanilla (I usually mix this with 1 tsp instant coffee before adding, but that’s optional)
1/2 c chocolate chips, chopped nuts, or dried berries (or a combination of these totaling about 1/2 c or a little more) — this time I used chocolate chips and dried cranberries. I recommend the mini chocolate chips, or coarsely chopping the normal-sized ones.
3 1/2 c flour
1 tsp baking powder
Cinnamon/sugar OR cocoa powder/sugar mixture (about 3-4 tbsp’s worth)


• Preheat oven to 350 degrees
• Mix eggs through baking powder in the order given (first eggs and sugar, gradually adding everything else).

• Grease a cookie sheet.

• Mold the dough into three long, flat loaves. The dough will be really sticky — don’t worry about these looking smooth and pretty because they won’t!

• Bake for 35 minutes.

• Pull out of the oven and slice; then sprinkle with the cinnamon/sugar (or cocoa/sugar) mixture and bake for another 10 minutes.

The rest of Family Dinner: Small Plates Edition, in photos. (There are at least a few photos I didn’t take; I think Paul took the rest?)

Tomato bruschetta (Recipe)

Herbed goat cheese, white cheddar, dried apricots and almonds

PIerogis! Tonya’s mom’s recipe.

Quinoa tabouli (Recipe)

Olive tapenade — I think this was the favorite! (Recipe)

Tzatziki (Recipe)

Prepping food, goofing around, eating.

Tonya, the Ukrainian pierogi-making master

Teaching Chad.

Missy explaining her Spanish tortilla, a potato and egg dish that I somehow didn’t get a photo of by itself.

Hummus. There’s not really a recipe, I just put these things in my food processor and add stuff to taste: can of chickpeas, some tahini, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, Greek yogurt, paprika and salt.


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