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Archive for the ‘Fall’ Category

One of our favorite vegetables for Fall and Winter is fennel. It’s subtle anise flavor, lends a  certain sweetness that complements this season’s cooking perfectly. The best part about this root vegetable is it’s versatility. It can be eaten roasted, sautéed, braised or raw. While the white bulb is the most used part of this vegetable, don’t throw away the stems — they can be used to subtly flavor soups and stocks. The feathery fronds that sprout from the tops can be used as a finishing herb or added to salads and sauces. When it comes to flavor and bang for your buck, fennel is definitely the seasonal produce that packs a punch! Here are some of our favorite ways to use this Fall gem:

KEEP IT RAW
One of our go-to salads this time of year is an explosion of flavors and textures and it all starts with thinly shaved fennel (to shave it thinly, we recommend a hand-held slicer like the Kyocera ones – great tool to have in your kitchen). Then we have halved grapes, thinly shaved apples and leaves of watercress. We toss the whole thing lightly in a maple vinaigrette (maple, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, salt, pepper and olive oil). This is a salad that makes you want to eat salads.

SWAP IT OUT
A great way to start using fennel is to swap it out for onions. Any time a recipe starts with some sautéed onions and garlic try using some fennel and garlic instead – you’ll notice it’s sweet, rich flavor in the background of dish. For instance, try caramelizing it in some butter and thyme in place of caramelized onions…..you’ll be eating this sweet concoction right out of the pan!

BRAISED & BROWNED
Leave it to the French to figure out the most luscious way to prepare fennel: braised in buttery stock and finish in the oven with cheese. To do this, cut the stalks off the fennel and then cut the bulb in quarters. Place in a pot with a couple pats of butter and enough stock to just barely cover the fennel. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes or until very tender. Strain out the soft fennel and place in a shallow baking dish. Top with a sprinkle of parmesan or Gruyère cheese and some salt and pepper. Bake at 450 until golden and melted. A vegetable has never tasted so good!

Join us for our popular Global Comfort Food class to learn an amazing Fennel, Bread and Tomato Soup recipe that is perfect for cold Winter nights. If you already have Thanksgiving on the brain, we have you covered with our annual Thanksgiving 101 class, where we’ll demonstrate how to create a Brioche Dressing with Caramelized Fennel, Fuji Apples and Pancetta that is sure to become a family favorite!!

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I was making our famous beer braised short ribs the other night for a catering job and wanted to make an interesting side dish that would (A) help soak up all that great braising liquid and (B) add a nice color to the plate. I love a basic mashed potato as much as the next person, but white and brown just seems so sad sometimes. So I decided to do a potato-squash puree. It has the best of both worlds. Its thicker than a squash puree because of the addition of some potatoes and it has the sweetness of the squash.

I started with a mix of butternut squash and yukon gold potatoes (although you can use any combination of potatoes and Winter squash) and a few bay leaves. I always add a few bay leaves into the cooking water for my mashed potatoes — they impart a nice layer of earthy flavor. And because all purees need a good bit of butter to make them luscious and rich, I added browned butter and chopped sage. The result was a gorgeous orange puree that was the perfect place to nestle a pile of lovely braised short ribs. And if cutting up butternut squash is the reason you don’t cook with it, check out our video on Cooking with Winter Squash for a demo on how to easily manage this winter beast.

By the way — if you have any leftovers (which I doubt), you can easily reheat this puree and thin it out a bit with some chicken or vegetable stock and you’ve got a lovely creamy soup.

Fall Puree with Sage Browned Butter

serves about 6

6 cups cubed butternut squash

3 cups cubed yukon gold potatoes (peeled first)

3 bay leaves

6 tablespoons butter

2 tbl chopped fresh sage

salt and pepper

pinch freshly ground nutmeg

Combine the squash, potato and bay leaves in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until fork-tender. Drain (don’t rinse!). Discard bay leaves.

Meanwhile, in a small pan, melt the butter over medium heat and continue to cook until the butter browns. Add the sage and cook for 30 seconds. Remove from heat.

In a food processor, combine the cooked veggies, browned butter mixture, some salt, pepper and nutmeg. Blend until smooth. Taste and season with more salt and pepper as needed.

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First, a confession: chili is one of my all-time favorite foods. For me, it’s all the spices and texture and rich flavor I love in one bowl. Better yet, it’s one of those modern “mother” recipes from which you can make a million different versions. Some of you have watched us make this is one of our cooking classes. But I thought it high-time I share my basic chili recipe broken down so you can see how easy and versatile it really is. Along the way, I’ll share some of my secrets and tips to what I humbly consider the “Best Ever Chili.”

BEST EVER CHILI

makes about 2 1/2 quarts

FIRST – the vegetables

To me, chili is not chili unless you have some actual fresh chilies as the base. However, I know many people do like the heat of chilies or the tang of peppers, so you certainly can leave them out. But you absolutely must have plenty of onion and garlic. If you’re making this into a vegetarian chili OR just want to get a few more servings of vegetables in your day, you can add a cup of finely diced carrots or 2 cups of chopped mushrooms to this list.

2 cups diced onion

1 tbl chopped garlic

1 cup diced red or yellow bell pepper (or poblano chili)

1 finely diced jalapeno or Fresno chili (if you like it hot, add more chili or 1-2 canned chipotle chilies)

Heat a large pot over medium-high heat. Add a small drizzle of olive oil and all of the vegetables. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper and cook for 10 minutes, stirring often, until all of the vegetables are beginning to soften.

SECOND – the meat and spices

I have my favorite combination of four spices I always use for chili — this is one area I don’t mess with. And when it comes to spices, I love to get mine at Penzy‘s — they have a fantastic selection and everything is ground recently so the dried spices are so flavorful. However, when it comes to the meat, this is where you can really start to make this chili your own. If I’m in the mood for something rich and meaty, I like to use ground buffalo – it tastes like beef but it’s leaner and a better “eco” choice. If I want something lighter, I’ll use ground white-meat turkey or chicken. And if I’m having a vegetarian day, I’ll skip the meat and add more beans in the next step (OR add some crumbled tempeh in this step for some meat-like texture.). The key to this step of the recipe is to allow the meat to brown and then add all the spices and cook for another 5-10 minutes so the spices brown a bit and their flavor really begins to release.

2 lbs ground meat (or 8 oz crumbled tempeh)

1/4 cup ancho chili powder

2 tbl ground cumin

1 tbl ground coriander

1 tbl smoked Spanish paprika

2 tsp salt

1 tsp ground black pepper

Add the ground meat or tempeh to the vegetables and cook for about 15 minutes, breaking it apart as it cooks, until it’s nicely browned.

Add the spices, stir and cook for another 5-10 minuets until the spices are very fragrant.

THIRD – the “bulk” ingredients (and a secret ingredient)

Next up are all the ingredients the create the real bulk of the chili. Canned tomatoes are a must, but here, again, you have choices. My favorite are San Marzano whole plum tomatoes. They are tart and sweet and perfect. I like using whole tomatoes and just squeezing them apart with my hands on their way into the pot. Maybe because that’s the way I think my grandmother would have done it. Or maybe because I like to get messy with my food. Actually, it’s at least in part because I like the ragged texture of the tomatoes when treated that way. Your other options are to add diced tomatoes (if you like big chunks of tomatoes in your chili) or crushed tomatoes (if you want a more “saucy” chili). And then there are the beans. This is where chili purists will look down their nose and insist that real chili never has beans. But I’ve never been a purist, especially when it comes to cooking and making food your own. So my rule of thumb is to add at least two kinds of beans….possibly 3-4 different kinds if this is a vegetarian chili. The more color (and the more fiber!), the better. Lastly, I make one final addition that is my “secret” weapon: cornmeal. I add it at the end to thicken the liquid slightly and create a thick and hearty consistency.

1 15-oz can beans (any kind — my favorite are black and kidney)

1 28-oz can whole tomatoes, with their juices (OR diced OR crushed tomatoes)

4 cups beef stock (OR chicken OR vegetarian OR water)

1/4 cup cornmeal

Rinse the beans very well and drain. Then add them to the pot. Add the whole tomatoes to the pot, squeezing and crushing them as you go (OR you can use a more civilized approach and chop them with a large knife or pulse them in a food processor). Add the stock and stir to combine. There should be about 1-inch of liquid above all of the solids — add water as needed to achieve this. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Slowly sprinkle in the cornmeal, stir and cook for another 15 minutes. Remove from heat, taste, and season with salt as needed.

FOURTH – the garnish

Perhaps  I love  chili the most for all it’s potential garnishes. I’m always the one adding the extra sauces and salsas to my plate when given the chance and chili is no exception. While all of these garnishes are optional, I really must insist on, at the very least, a dollop of yogurt or sour cream (I use Greek yogurt these days exclusively in place of sour cream, but either works) and some chopped cilantro.

sour cream OR Greek yogurt, for garnish

chopped cilantro, for garnish

chopped tomato, for garnish

chopped green or red onion, for garnish

shredded cheddar cheese, for garnish

Fill bowls with steaming chili and top with any combination of the above garnishes. Enjoy!!


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I recently got home from a long weekend vacation. It was late enough in the evening that I didn’t want to go to the store and early enough that I was still hungry for dinner. After traveling all day, I just wanted something comforting, easy and tasty. After a quick survey of the fridge, I realized I had a bunch of chard hanging out in the bottom bin that still had some life to it and a little Fresno chili that looked good. A stop at the pantry revealed some good quality short cut pasta and a can of white beans. A little protein, a little vegetable and a little carbs — dinner was born.

I love mixing beans and pasta together. It may seem a bit unusual, but it’s a great way to reduce the amount of pasta I’m eating and sneak in some fiber and protein. Plus the creaminess of the white beans really adds a nice texture contrast to a simple pasta dish. Here’s what I did:

Chard & White Bean Pasta

serves 2

1 1/2 cups short cut pasta (penne works great here)

olive oil

2 tbl sliced garlic

1 Fresno chili, sliced (take the seeds out if you don’t like the heat)

1 tbl pinenuts

1 15 oz can white beans

4-6 cups chopped chard (discard the bottom woody part of the stems and use the rest)

2 oz crumbled feta

Bring a  pot of water to a rolling boil. Add a small handful of salt. Add the pasta, stir, and cook accordingly to the package instructions — cook until al dente.

Meanwhile, heat a skillet over medium-high heat and add a drizzle of olive oil.

Add the garlic, chili and pinenuts. Cook for a 3-4 minutes until beginning to brown slightly. Add the beans. Cook over high heat, tossing a few times, until the beans become crispy in some places.

Add the chard and cook for 2-3 minutes just until the chard wilts. Remove from heat.

When the pasta is done, scoop from the pot directly into the pan along with about 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water. Toss together.

Serve hot, topped with crumbled feta and plenty of black pepper.

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Winter squash is so easy to cook and can be such a hearty and delicious addition to your Fall or Winter table. Here are our tips on cooking with some of our favorite winter squash.

 

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Every Jewish family has their version of matzo ball soup. Probably something that was passed down from a grandmother. Just like every Italian family has their version of “gravy” (red sauce for any non-Italians out there) and every Mexican family has their version of pasole. But with Passover coming we were inspired to play around with a basic matzo ball soup recipe and see if we could improve it. We’ve had many a bland, lack-luster matzo ball soup and knew we could do better. The goals were (#1) a light ball that still had that crackery matzo taste, and (#2) a “quick” stock that didn’t take all day. We hit the jack pot on both counts.

For the stock we thought we knew we couldn’t just use store-bought — it just doesn’t have the nuance of a homemade stock. But we thought we could use the store-bought as a base and add flavor by cooking it with some chicken thighs. The result was a full-flavored broth specked with just enough chicken fat to make it feel homemade. Cooked with a little carrot, celery and parsley and we had one fine quick soup base.

For the balls we used Ina Garten’s suggestion of putting some chicken fat into the balls — genius! This is probably something Jewish grandmas have been doing forever but it’s new to us. And after trying everything from baking soda to seltzer water, we found that simply separating the eggs and beating the whites made for the best texture — light enough to float but dense enough to still have some flavor.

After perfecting this recipe, we did it in on of our private cooking parties as part of an “Updated Passover” menu and it was a huge hit!!

Here’s what we did:

MATZO BALL SOUP

serves about 6 people (makes 14 balls)

for the soup:

2 chicken thighs (skin on!)

8 cups chicken stock (low-sodium, organic if possible)

2 cups small diced carrots

1 cup small diced celery

1/4 cup finely chopped parsley stems

for the balls:

4 egg yolks

1/2 cup chicken stock

3 tbl rendered chicken fat (melted and cooled slightly)

1/2 cup chopped parsley

1 1/2 tsp kosher salt

1 cup matzo meal

4 egg whites

Place the chicken thighs in a cold pan, skin-side down, over medium heat. Allow to cook for about 15 minutes until the fat has rendered and browned. Remove from the pan, leaving the fat behind. Combine the stock and browned thighs in a soup pot over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer. Cook gently for 30 minutes. Remove the thighs. Add the carrots, celery and parsley stems. Cook for 5 minutes and turn off the heat.

Meanwhile, whisk together the egg yolks, chicken stock, chicken fat (from the pan with the thighs), parsley and salt. Stir in the matzo meal. In another bowl, whisk the whites until they form stiff peaks. Add half of the whites into the matzo mixture and stir (the mixture will be quite stiff). Then gently fold in the remaining egg whites. Cover and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Use a 1/4-cup scoop to form the balls and drop gently into the water — adjust the heat so the water is barely simmering and cook for 15 minutes. Remove the balls with a slotted spoon and place into the soup. Heat gently for 15 minutes before serving.

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The first day of Spring just passed and with it came….more rain. As a Southern California girl, the only way I usually know a season is changing is by what’s new at the Farmer’s Markets — as my East Coast relatives often tell me, we don’t get “real weather” here. But this past winter it’s been different. There’s been rain, cold and even snow in LA. And while I’ve been enjoying all the Fall fashion (coats, hats, boots and scarves that are usually tucked away in the closet for most of the year) I think the passing of the first day of Spring officially kicked me into Spring fever. I’m ready for sunshine, outdoor walks and beach days— this is California after all! But apparently, Mother Nature is not ready to acquiesce quite yet. So, as another rainy day set in, I decided to make myself feel better with a one-pot, comfort food dinner and chase the blues away. A kind of “good-bye Winter” meal that would be closure to a wet season and make way for some sunshine.  After a quick look in the fridge, I realized I had everything I needed to make one of my favorites, a quick version of Shepherd’s Pie.

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This dish is one of those makes-everyone-happy dinners — equal parts meat, potatoes and warm-belly happiness. Stewed meat and vegetables topped with creamy mashed potatoes — what could be better? When I have an afternoon to cook, I like making it with cubes of lamb braised in wine. But since it was a weeknight I opted for the ground meat version and within 45 minutes I was curled up on my couch, a steamy bowl of meat and potatoes in hand, saying “good-bye” to the rain and searching the horizon for some blue sky. And since it’s so family-friendly, I think I’ll add this recipe to the menu one of our kids cooking classes or camps.

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QUICK SHEPHERD’S PIE 

This dish is a great way to use up leftover mashed potatoes but I was starting with a pile of baby creamer potatoes I had on hand. You can certainly make this dish in a casserole dish or individual oven-safe bowls, but I like to make it in a cast iron skillet that can go from stove-top to oven. Easy and one less dish to clean.

serves about 6

1 tbl olive oil

8 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced

1/2 cup chopped onion or shallots

1 tsp chopped rosemary

1 lb small creamer potatoes or yukon golds

1 lb organic ground beef (or ground lamb or turkey)

1 1/2 cups diced carrots

1 tbl tomato paste

1 tbl flour

1/2 cup chicken or beef stock (or water)

1/2 cup frozen peas

salt and pepper

2 tbl butter

1/4 cup Greek yogurt

splash milk, as needed

Heat a cast iron skillet (or any oven-safe skillet approx 9-inch round) over high heat. Add the olive oil. Add the mushrooms and cook over high heat until browned (5 minutes). Add the onions and rosemary and reduce the heat slightly. Cook until onions are softened.

Meanwhile, cut the potatoes into like-size pieces, place in a pot, cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook until very tender.

Add the ground meat to the pan and cook, using a wooden spoon to crumble, until the meat is mostly browned and cooked. Add the diced carrots, tomato paste and flour. Cook for a minute, stirring until everything is coated evenly by the flour. Add the stock. Once bubbling, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes until carrots are tender. Remove from heat and add the peas. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Preheat the broiler on your oven.

Once the potatoes are tender, drain and place back into the hot pot. Add the butter, yogurt and milk as needed while mashing. Season with salt and pepper. (NOTE: Don’t make the potatoes too smooth or thin — you want thick, chunky mashed potatoes for this dish.) Spoon the potatoes on top of the meat mixture and spread out to the edges of the pan.

Place the pan into the oven under the broiler until the top is golden (I like to leave it until some of the potatoes peaks are charred and crispy!).

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