Are you making light?

This is the question I tend to ask myself around this time of year.Rainbow

At Chanukah, which begins on December 16, we celebrate how light – in all its forms – can triumph over any darkness.

Creating this light in every moment and every interaction is a choice. Whether it’s a meal for someone hungry, support for a friend in crisis or simply a smile and kind word for someone in need, making light is what it’s about.

Here are two of my favorite Chanukah recipes which will surely light up your family’s faces. My best wishes to all of you for a holiday season full of light!

CARAMELIZED ONION LATKES

Ingredients:

  • 4 – Medium russet potatoes, grated
  • 2 – Large vidalia onions, sliced
  • 3 – Eggs
  • 3 tsp – Kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp – Ground black pepper
  • 4 tsp – Baking powder
  • ½ cup – AP flour
  • 1 cup and 2 tbsp – Canola oil

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 300* and line one baking sheet with paper towels and place a wire rack inside a second baking sheet
  2. Add 2 tbsp of canola oil and sliced onions (with a generous pinch of salt and pepper) to a large skillet over high heat. Once you hear a sizzle, lower the heat to medium-low and cook until onions are caramelized (soft, light brown and sweet). This could take up to 40 minutes – stir regularly and add a splash of water if onions begin to burn. Set onions aside in a large bowl and cool.
  3. Grate potatoes (I keep the skin on mine and grate in a food processor) – place grated potatoes in a clean dishtowel and squeeze out all the excess liquid
  4. In a bowl, combine the grated potatoes with the caramelized onions, eggs, baking powder, flour, salt and pepper
  5. Heat the remaining 1 cup of oil in the skillet over medium-high heat and when hot (test it by dropping in a bit of the latkes mixture – it should sizzle but not smoke) drop spoonfuls of the mixture into the oil and flatten with a spatula – flip after 2-3 minutes and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes on the other side to ensure a golden brown color on both sides. In between batches, remove any stray bits of potatoes from the pan as they will burn.
  6. Transfer cooked latkes to the paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain and then onto the second baking sheet with the wire rack and place it in the oven to keep these latkes warm while you finish cooking the rest
  7. Serve with sour cream or applesauce

RAINBOW COOKIES A LA CHANUKAH

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 8 oz almond paste
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 12 drops blue food coloring
  • 12 oz apricot preserves, heated and strained
  • 12 oz high-quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, melted

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F
  2. Butter three 9 X 13 baking sheet pans and line with parchment paper
  3. Beat almond paste in stand mixer until smooth
  4. Add butter and sugar and beat until fluffy
  5. Add almond extract and then eggs, one at a time
  6. Add flour and salt – only beat until combined
  7. Divide batter into thirds and place 1/3 in one bowl and 2/3 in a second bowl
  8. Add blue food coloring to one bowl
  9. Spread each 1/3 of batter into its own pan and bake each for approximately 10 minutes and cool on a wire rack
  10. Once cooled, place one of the blue cakes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper
  11. Spread preserves on it and place the plain cake on top
  12. Spread preserves on plain cake and place the other blue cake on top
  13. Freeze for 1 hour to set jam
  14. Spread melted chocolate on top and on sides – chill for 30 minutes to set
  15. Flip cake onto another piece of parchment paper and spread chocolate on the other side – freeze for at least one hour
  16. While still frozen, slice cake into 1 ½ inch logs and slice logs into individual ½ inch cookies. Allow cookies to defrost before serving
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Discovering My Culinary Roots

Simple, yet elegant, dignified and proud. Much like the vibe in her hometown of Strasbourg, this is how I remember my grandmother Greta.

Alsatian Tarte a L'Oignon

Alsatian Tarte a L’Oignon

Alsace-Lorraine, this very special region in eastern France (on the border of Germany), has been under French control since 1946. However, over the years, France and Germany have repeatedly alternated control over the region. The result of all this political turmoil is a very unique blending of the French and German cultures. Charming architecture reminiscent of Hansel and Gretel combines with French language and sensibilities.

Nowhere is this mélange more striking than in the food. Set against the backdrop of a beautiful wine country producing seven different grapes (Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Muscat d’Alsace, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Gewurtztraminer), Alsatian cuisine incorporates rich foods balanced by the unique flavors of its wines.

One of my favorite culinary discoveries was this hearty Tarte a l’Oignon, a filling mixture of bacon, onions, eggs and cream encased in a beautiful pie crust. Paired with a Riesling or Gewurtztraminer, this recipe perfectly exemplifies how simple ingredients can be elevated.

Enjoy this savory pie recipe with or without the bacon and remember that once you learn the basics of pie crusts here, you can make any pie you like – sweet or savory!

TARTE a L’OIGNON

Pie Crust

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ cups AP flour
  • ¼ cup cold butter
  • ¼ cup shortening
  • ½ cup cold water

Method:

  1. Place flour on a cold work surface
  2. Cut cold butter and shortening into flour with a bench scraper
  3. Create a well in the center of the flour
  4. Gradually add cold water into the well and blend with the flour until it becomes a      dough and holds its shape
  5. Refrigerate in plastic wrap for 30 minutes
  6. Roll out dough on a floured surface to fit a 9 inch greased pie dish

Filling

Ingredients:

  • 6 slices bacon
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 7 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4 eggs
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 400* F
  2. Render bacon in a pan until crisp. Remove and drain on paper towels.
  3. Remove bacon fat and add butter
  4. Once melted, add onions, season with salt and pepper and cook for approximately      15 minutes until soft
  5. Off the heat, mix in flour, cream, bacon and nutmeg
  6. Add eggs one at a time and mix well in between
  7. Pour mixture into pie crust
  8. Bake for 40 minutes until top is browned

                       

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Light up!

Think about how you feel when you’re in a pitch dark room and suddenly you open a door Rainbowand allow in a sliver of light… Somehow this tiny bit of light has the miraculous ability to light up the room!

Bringing light – the literal and metaphorical kind – to this darkness is what the holiday of Chanukah is all about.

To help celebrate, I have recently started a tradition of making these Rainbow Cookies a la Chanukah. Colorful with a moist and rich almond interior, these cookies are intensified with a hint of acidic fruit and a touch of bitter chocolate. And in the spirit of Chanukah, they will surely “light up” the faces of your family and friends.

Enjoy the recipe and may you and your families bring much light from darkness!

Rainbow Cookies a la Chanukah

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 8 oz almond paste
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 12 drops blue food coloring
  • 12 oz apricot preserves, heated and strained
  • 12 oz high-quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, melted

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F
  2. Butter three 9 X 13 baking sheet pans and line with parchment paper
  3. Beat almond paste in stand mixer until smooth
  4. Add butter and sugar and beat until fluffy
  5. Add almond extract and then eggs, one at a time
  6. Add flour and salt – only beat until combined
  7. Divide batter into thirds and place 1/3 in one bowl and 2/3 in a second bowl
  8. Add blue food coloring to one bowl
  9. Spread each 1/3 of batter into its own pan and bake each for approximately 10 minutes and cool on a wire rack
  10. Once cooled, place one of the blue cakes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper
  11. Spread preserves on it and place the plain cake on top
  12. Spread preserves on plain cake and place the other blue cake on top
  13. Freeze for 1 hour to set jam
  14. Spread melted chocolate on top and on sides – chill for 30 minutes to set
  15. Flip cake onto another piece of parchment paper and spread chocolate on the other side – freeze for at least one hour
  16. While still frozen, slice cake into 1 ½ inch logs and slice logs into individual ½ inch cookies. Allow cookies to defrost before serving
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For peace sake (and the most amazing salad recipes)!

DSC00495Do you have Ottolenghi fever? If you don’t, I highly recommend catching it!

And no, it’s not some new disease… Chef Yotam Ottolenghi is a restaurateur and cookbook author from West Jerusalem who co-authored the book, Jerusalem, with his business partner from East Jerusalem, Sami Tamimi.

By beautifully bringing together the foods of their divergent, and often conflicting, Jerusalems, Ottolenghi and Tamimi both inspire my culinary sensibilities and reinvigorate hopes that peace in the Middle East remains possible.

Their secret is simple recipes with extraordinary flavor combinations that balance sweet, salty, spicy and acidic flavors with creamy and crunchy textures.

Such is my love for their book that I recently hosted a “Jerusalem” gathering where my table was filled with their creations (see picture). If I had to pick my favorite salad in the book, it would be the “Roasted sweet potatoes and figs”. The recipe involves roasting sweet potato wedges and laying them out on a plate with fresh, ripe figs and a “dressing” of sautéed scallions and red chile peppers. With a garnish of goat cheese and balsamic syrup, the end-product is divine.

Once you’ve caught Ottolenghi fever, I can guarantee that you will not only cook your way through their book but you’ll use their approach and techniques to make your own recipes. Just combine your favorite fresh ingredients in unexpected ways to delight your palate. Here are some ideas:

  • Try roasting the figs and serving them with black olives and goat cheese
  • How about butternut squash dressed with tahini, pomegranate syrup and pomegranate seeds?

What other ideas come to mind?

 

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Pasteles (My way…)

PastelesWhen I crave the tastes of Puerto Rico, my hometown, I  prepare this dish – my own marriage of pasteles (the traditional meat-filled pies) and pinon (a Puerto Rican plantain pie similar to a lasagna).  While most recipes for pasteles are super labor-intensive and are typically reserved for bulk-cooking or special occasions, my version of pasteles is simple, straightforward and doable for an everyday meal.

The first step is to prepare your “dough”. I use ripe plantains and simply boil and mash them.Set up 1

Next, prepare the meat filling. My recommendation is that you make a large portion, freeze it and use it for other recipes.

Then, lay out a piece of foil and dried corn husk (that you’ve soaked to make pliable) and layer the “dough” and meat filling.

Finally, wrap up your packets and cook them in boiling water.

set up 4set up 3

AND DON’T FORGET TO MAKE YOUR OWN RECIPE!

  • Try replacing and/or combining the plantains with potatoes, yucca and other root vegetables
  • I use beef for my filling but how about ground pork, turkey or even soy crumbles?
  • Skip the packets and lean towards the pinon side of the recipe by layering the filling and “dough” in a casserole.

Pasteles (My way…)

Ingredients:
• 12 – Dried corn husks (typically used for tamales – I prefer to use in place of banana leaves which are typical in recipes for pasteles)
• 4 tbsp – Olive oil
• ½ lb. – Ground beef
• Salt and pepper to taste
• ½ – Onion
• ½ – Jalapeno (deseeded and deveined)
• 5 – Garlic cloves
• ½ – Carrot
• ½ – Celery stalk
• 1 tbsp – Cumin
• 1 tbsp – Paprika
• 1 tsp – Coriander
• 1 tsp – Oregano
• 2 tbsp – Fresh culantro, chopped
• 3 tbsp – Tomato paste
• 3 tbsp – Apple cider vinegar
• 2 cups – Water
• 1 tsp – Sugar
• 2 tbsp – Olives stuffed with pimento, chopped
• 4 – Plantains

Method:

Filling
1. Soak corn husks in water for a few hours or overnight, if possible
2. In a blender or food processor, pulse the onions, carrots, celery, garlic and jalapeno until minced but not pureed/liquefied
3. Add 1 tbsp of the oil to a large skillet over medium-high heat
4. Add the ground beef and a pinch of salt – cook until browned and then move the cooked meat onto a plate and set aside
5. Add another 1 tbsp of the oil to the skillet over medium-high heat
6. Add the minced vegetables with a dash of salt and pepper and the cumin, oregano, paprika, coriander and culantro – cook until softened and beginning to brown
7. Add tomato paste and sugar, mix it well into the mixture and cook it through until you see more browning and then immediately add apple cider vinegar and scrape the bottom of the pan to release any caramelized bits
8. Once the majority of the vinegar has evaporated, add the water
9. Reintroduce the cooked meat to the pan along with the olives
10.Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer – cook until most of the liquid evaporates and the sauce has thickened
11.Adjust seasoning to taste

Plantains
1. Chop peeled plantains into one inch rounds and add to a pot of cold water seasoned with a generous amount of salt and pepper (you can also feel free to add additional flavoring ingredients such as garlic, onions, bay leaves)
2. Bring the water to a boil and cook plantains until they are soft and an inserted knife meets no resistance
3. Strain the plantains and place them in a mortar and pestle (or use a regular bowl and the head of a rolling pin)
4. Add one tbsp of the oil and mash the plantains until they are a paste; once they are mashed, add a second tbsp. of oil and mix in with a spoon to make them easier to work with

Pasteles
1. Lay out 12 pieces of aluminum foil (measuring approximately 8 ½ x 11)
2. Place a corn husk on each piece of foil
3. Using a standard-size spoon, place one spoon of the plantain mash in the center of each husk – use your fingers to flatten it
4. Place a spoon of the meat on top of each mound of plantain mash
5. Cover the meat sauce with one more spoon of the plantain mash – again, use your fingers to flatten and enclose the meat
6. Fold the husks over to create a small package
7. Enclose each package in the foil and seal by crimping
8. These can be frozen or stored in the refrigerator for one day.
9. When ready to serve, add packages to a boiling pot of water for 40 minutes. Serve by either placing package on a plate and allowing guests to open themselves or by removing it from the package and placing it on a plate with garnish

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When Lox & Bagels Won’t Cut It…

KugelWith the Jewish High Holidays beginning tomorrow evening, there’s going to be a lot of reflecting and repenting going on. And while hopefully meaningful and freeing, it sure is exhausting!

When it comes to a close on Yom Kippur, don’t you need something a little more filling and comforting than lox and bagels!?! I definitely do.

Well here’s my answer: a Mushroom and Brie Kugel – a savory and hearty alternative to your typical kugel and a truly welcome addition to your break fast meal.

The technique couldn’t be easier and will allow you to create a whole new repertoire of holiday favorites. Simply combine your cooked and cooled noodles with eggs and any tasty ingredients of your choosing and bake until golden brown and delicious!

MAKE YOUR OWN RECIPE

Using this technique and the recipe below as background, how might you make your own recipe?

How about you:

Vary your noodles?

  • I love egg noodles but how about using regular semolina, whole wheat, spinach or any gluten-free option (brown rice, quinoa, etc…).

Add ingredients?

  • Any flavor combinations you like will work well, including other vegetables or even meats (assuming you’re not kosher…). Just make sure to cook and cool your ingredients before combining them with the noodles and eggs.

Change up your cheese?

  • If you’re using spinach, feta is a natural match. If you’re using tomatoes, try mozzarella. Pick your favorite cheese- anything goes as long as you enjoy the taste of your combination of ingredients. And, of course, if you prefer you can always omit the cheese altogether.

Wishing those who celebrate a meaningful holiday. Now, go make your own recipes!

Mushroom & Brie Kugel

Ingredients:

  • 3 tbsp –  Olive oil
  • 1 – Onion, diced
  • 12 oz. – Mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 lb. – Brie, rind removed and sliced into small pieces (freezing just before cutting helps)
  • 1 tbsp – Fresh thyme, leaves removed from stems and chopped
  • 12 oz. – Egg noodles, cooked according to package directions
  • 4 – Eggs, beaten
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Method:

1.    Preheat oven to 375 degrees

2.    Lightly grease an 8”X8” baking dish

3.    Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat

4.    Add the onion, mushrooms and thyme, with a generous pinch of salt and pepper, and cook for approximately 7 minutes, until the mushrooms have released most of their moisture and darkened in color

5.    Remove from the heat, drain the excess liquid and set aside

6.    Whisk the eggs with the remaining olive oil and a generous pinch of salt and pepper (this will be your seasoning for the kugel)

7.    Combine the cooked and cooled noodles with the cooled mushrooms/onions and brie

8.    Add the egg mixture and stir to ensure the cheese is evenly distributed throughout

9.    Place in the prepared baking dish

10. Bake for approximately 45 minutes, until the top is crispy and brown

11. Let rest for 15 minutes and serve warm or let rest further and serve at room temperature

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Baby Chef-in-Training

24 cropped

Photo credit: Roxanne Lilibean photography

Miss me? I missed you!

But I’ve been busy cooking up my most delicious creation yet… my sweet son – my Baby Chef-in-Training :-)

As Mommy and Baby get used to our new schedule, we’ll go back to spending more time in the kitchen.

In the meantime, enjoy my Marzipan & Chocolate Chip Cookies. These babies got me through my pregnancy-induced sweet tooth.

I know – they look like plain old Chocolate Chip Cookies…

But oh no! These are Marzipan Cookiesoutrageously flavorful marzipan bombs.  Sure, there’s a touch of chocolate chip to create contrast with the intensely almond flavor, but it’s all about the marzipan.

Marzipan & Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 2 – Tubes almond paste (7-ounces each)
  • 1 cup – Granulated sugar
  • 2 – Egg whites
  • 1 cup (or more, if desired) – Chocolate chips

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350*
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper
  3. Process almond paste in a food processor until it looks like sand
  4. Add sugar and continue processing
  5. With the food processor running, stream in the egg whites and mix until you have a smooth dough
  6. Fold in the chocolate chips with a spatula
  7. Wet your hands with water and form the dough into 2-tablespoon-sized balls, place on baking sheet and flatten with the palm of your hand
  8. Bake until lightly golden – 13 to 15 minutes
  9. Let cool on your baking sheet and then transfer the cookies to cooling racks to cool completely
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