Archive for the ‘Holiday Cooking’ Category

Hannukah is upon us. We can tell because when we walk into our kitchen the smell of potatoes being cooked in hot oil is heavy in the air. The latke-making has begun!!! We made 300 last week for our Latke To-Go orders. Turns out the only thing people love more than these little fried potato treats is not having to make them in their own kitchen!

sweetpot latkes

I am far from a purist when it comes to classic dishes. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m genetically incapable of following a recipe exactly as written — I’m always adding a bit more of this or that. But when it comes to latkes, there is nothing I love more than a simple, crispy fritter made from four humble ingredients: potato, onion, flour and egg. I don’t even need applesauce on top. Just a sprinkle of salt and I’m good.

However, because I just can’t help myself, I decided to try to make a sweet potato version just for fun. I thought it would be nice to offer variety at one of our holiday parties — something a little sweeter and with some brighter flavors. I added some orange zest to the sweet potato and topped them with a quick scallion relish and tangy creme fraiche — they were a hit!! So in the interest of changing up holiday traditions, here is our recipe for a different kind of latke. Everyone is sure to love them but you’d better make some traditional latke, too, just in case 🙂

Sweet Potato Latkes with Scallion Relish and Creme Fraiche

makes about 30 pieces

3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and grated

1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 eggs, lightly beaten

3 tablespoons flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 teaspoon orange zest

1 teaspoon salt

canola oil, for frying

for the topping:

3/4 cup finely sliced scallions, whites & greens

1/2 teaspoon orange zest

1 tablepsoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon honey

1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes

1 cup creme fraiche

Place the potatoes in a thick paper towel (or clean kitchen towel) and squeeze out any excess liquid. Place in a large bowl and add the sugar, eggs, flour, baking powder, orange zest and salt. Toss until well combined. Pour about 1/2-inch of oil into a large skillet and place over medium-high heat. To test if the oil is hot enough, drop a tiny bit of the potato mixture into the middle of the pan. If it sizzles, you are ready to go!

Place spoonfuls of the mixture into the hot oil and flatten slightly with a spatula. Cook until golden on the bottom and carefully flip (I like to use tongs for this.). Cook until browned on the second side and remove onto a paper towel. Continue to cook in batches until all the batter is cooked. Place the latkes in a 350 degree oven to heat back up if needed.

In a small bowl, combine the scallions, orange zest, lemon juice, honey and chili flakes. Season with a pinch of salt.

To serve, top the latkes with a dollop of creme fraiche and a bit of the relish. Serve immediately.

Happy Hannukah!!


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There are few things I love more than gingerbread. Since I’m not much of a “dessert person,” the savory part of me loves the rebellious combination of spicy ginger and black pepper with sugar and molasses. For me, this is dessert, perfected, and I was thrilled to see it come up as this week’s TWD baking assignment.


There are about a million different ways to make gingerbread, each with varying degrees and combination of spice. This recipe was very straight-forward, focusing on the simple ginger flavor, using ground and fresh ginger and a bit of black pepper to boost the heat. Then there were two unexpected additions: instant espresso and cocoa powder. I was surprised to be including these ingredients, but each provided a pleasant bitterness and grounded what could have been a too-sweet recipe. (check out the full recipe here)

I love how easy this batter comes together — a quick mix of wet and dry ingredients and you are on your way to the oven. Don’t worry if your batter is lumpy — that’s normal and lends to an airy cake in the end.  I decided to make mine into one 9-inch cake but if I were serving it at a party, I would do mini cakes for sure so that every got an equal amount of crispy-cake-edge and moist-sticky-cake-inside.  Either way, this is such a simple cake and should definitely be your dessert staple this holiday season. It’s full of winter spices, makes your house smell amazing and tastes perfect paired with a mug of hot apple cider (with or without a splash of bourbon).

gingerbread - batter

In the end this cake had a lovely sharp bite — the combination of the spicy and bitter ingredients made for a very “grown-up” gingerbread. Perhaps a challenge for someone expecting a very sweet and only slightly gingery cake, but I loved it. Next time I would add a bit of cinnamon, a pinch of nutmeg and a pinch of cardamom to give a bit more depth to the spicy flavor….but mostly because I look for any excuse to add cinnamon and cardamom to desserts.

While the cake is delicious on it’s own, it begs for a bit of something creamy on top to cut through the spice. My favorite choice: some Greek yogurt flavored with a bit of honey and lemon zest. Gingerbread AND Greek yogurt — now I’ve got two of my favorite things on one plate. Life is good 🙂

Happy Holidays!



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It’s 80 degrees out and Thanksgiving is next week. No matter how many years I live in Los Angeles (13 so far), I will never get used to a warm weather turkey-day. It just doesn’t make sense to eat things like mashed potatoes, gravy, creamy vegetable gratins and pumpkin pie while wearing a tank top and flip-flops. But the holiday stops for no (wo)man so like it or not, it’s time to talk turkey.

Every year around this time the panicked emails start. Is it necessary to brine the bird? What do you do if your turkey is still frozen Thanksgiving morning? How big of a turkey do I need to buy? How can you tell when the turkey is done? Never has a humble bird caused so much culinary stress. But no need to worry! If you’re not among the lucky few coming to our Thanksgiving 101 class, we have decided to share our list of important turkey facts here. Most importantly, remember that this is a holiday about sharing food with the people you love and being taking a moment to be grateful — no one will really care if the turkey is a little dry. The real secret? Always make lots of extra gravy — it can cover up any Thanksgiving meal mistake.


• Get fresh! Frozen birds tend to dry out quicker during cooking. Organic, Free-Range and Kosher
turkeys are all great – but the most important thing is that it’s fresh.
• If you do get frozen, defrost for 4 days in the refrigerator OR submerge in a sink of cold water
(never warm or hot!) and let soak for about 12 hours, changing the water every hour.
• When buying a turkey, plan for 1 pound per person – this leaves ample leftovers.
• Don’t cook a bird over 18 pounds – it takes too long! If you need more turkey for a larger crowd,
buy an additional turkey breast (or two) and a couple turkey legs. These will roast in about 1-2
hours and can be done the day before – roast them and let rest and cool; then refrigerate until the
next day. Let them come back to room temperature and then carve the breast and place in a pan
with a little bit of turkey stock and cover with foil. Reheat at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes.
• The ONLY way to tell for sure if your turkey is done is to use a meat thermometer – don’t trust the
red “pop-up” buttons! Remove your turkey from the oven when the white meat is at 165 degrees
and the dark meat is at 170 degrees.
• Approximate roasting times for un-stuffed turkeys at 325 degrees:
o 10 – 12 lbs – 3 hours
o 12 – 14 lbs – 3 – 3 ½ hours
o 14 – 18 lbs – 3 ½ – 4 ½ hours
o 18 – 20 lbs – 4 ½ – 4 ¾ hours
• ALWAYS let your turkey rest, tented with foil, for at least 20 minutes before carving – this will
help the juices stay inside the meat and make for easier carving.
• Carving 101 – step by step, here’s how it’s done:
o First remove the twine and ties and stuffing (if you used).
o Bend the leg back at the joint and cut to remove. Repeat for the other leg.
o Make a large cut at the base of the breast, parallel to the table.
o Make thin slices down the breast, working from the outside towards the bone. Repeat for
the other breast.
o Bend the thigh back, revealing the joint and cut to remove. Repeat for the other thigh.
Then cut off dark meat and add to the platter.
o Cut off wings.
o Save the carcass for the best turkey soup!
Happy Thanksgiving!!

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When I first read Nancy Silverton’s Sticky Bun recipe, this week’s baking assignment from Tuesdays with Dorrie, it was the middle of a busy work week and I was skeptical. Were these sticky, calorie-laden guys going to be worth the two days and one-plus pound of butter it would take to make them? I decided to set down the recipe and come back to it on my day off, and boy am I glad I did. These buns are hot-out-of-the-oven proof that good things take time, patience….oh, and butter.

The recipe is actually two recipes in one (for complete details, go to one of this week’s hosts: Cookies on Friday and Eat Drink Man Woman Dogs Cat). First, there’s the dough. This was my first time making a brioche dough and I was delighted how tasty and tender it turned out. I found making the dough quite easy — as long as you have a standing mixer and a little patience.

The second part of the recipe is the filling and forming of the buns…and here is where the butter gets a little crazy. I should say up front that I love butter. While I use olive oil for most of my cooking (and even some of my baking) I think there is an important time and place for butter. These sticky buns are absolutely that time and place. That being said, even I was a little alarmed when I was dotting the dough with 1 1/2 sticks of butter (this, after 1 1/2 sticks had already been incorporated into the dough). BUT who am I to argue with baking legend Nancy Silverton. So I took a deep, buttery, breath and continued dotting.

After the dough was enriched with additional butter and rested in the fridge for 30 minutes, I filled it will cinnamon sugar and pecans. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to work with this dough — it was supple and tender and rolled out beautifully. After freezing the logs, slicing the individual buns and nestling them in MORE butter and sugar, I covered with a towel and let them rise a final time. And here is where the magic happened. What was supposed to be a 2 hour rise turned into a 4 hour rise on my counter thanks to some errands that took longer to run that I thought. And boy am I glad they did! When I finally went to put the buns in the oven, they had plumped up and risen all the way to the edge of the pan……and when they came out of the oven and I popped them out of the pan they were amazingly light and fluffy thanks to that long rise. And when I finally bit into one, I immediately forgot the two long days of laboring involved. They were the most flaky and tender rolls I’ve ever tasted….and with that extra punch of cinnamon I added there were full of spicy goodness.

I may need to hang this picture in my office. These are truly the most beautiful baked-good I’ve ever made….and possibly the tastiest. While I may not make these buttery little devils very often, at least I know now that they are worth every dot of butter and every minute spent waiting for them to rise. I think they next time these will make an appearance is on Christmas….perhaps with a little orange zest and nutmeg in the mix….

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Every now and then a recipe surprises me and this week’s Tuesdays with Dorrie assignment was one of those times. On first glance, this Hungarian Shortbread seemed pretty run-of-the-mill. Sugar, flour, jam, butter…..wait a minute, is that A WHOLE POUND of butter? OK, maybe this is going to be more exciting than I thought!

This recipe is essentially a shortbread dough stuffed with your choice of jam — the homemade rhubarb in the recipe looked delicious but that just wasn’t going to happen this week, so I turned to my pantry and used a mix of raspberry and apricot jams. What makes this recipe so interesting (and ultimately so delicious), is the technique of grating the cold dough to make the top layer of dough. I was concerned that this was going to be difficult (I had visions of sticky dough melting in my hands while I was trying to grate it on a box grater), but it was a breeze! So easy, in fact, that I think this recipe would be a great option for our cooking parties for young kids. I did decided to leave the dough overnight in the fridge and the next morning it was solid as…..a pound of cold butter…and that sure made it easy to grate. It ended up looking like lovely strands of fontina cheese on a pool of jam.

I used an 8×8 pan so that I would have a thicker end product and I used 2 cups of jam instead of the required 1 cup. Did I mention how much I love jam? I kind of saw this recipe as a vehicle for my favorite condiment until I tasted it at the end. It was moist and flavorful and the crumble topping was an amazing, light texture. And that final (heavy) dusting of powdered sugar really put it over the top.

Full recipe can be found at this week’s host: One Small Kitchen and The Not So Exciting Adventures of a Dabbler. We’ve been having so much fun cooking along with the Tuesdays with Dorrie gang…it’s been like a at-home course in baking and every couple weeks we learn something new. Next up: Pecan Sticky Buns…..can’t wait to get my hands on that yeast dough!

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In our recent French Baking 101 cooking class, we made these delicious cookies and wanted to share the recipe with you. They are flour-free which makes them perfect for Passover. And best of all, they are one of easiest cookies to make with some of the most luscious results.

I’ve made many macaroon recipes over the years, with varying success, until I found this one in Alice Medrich’s latest book. She is a true master baker and her recipe is fool-proof and delicious. The trick is letting all of the ingredients “cook” together in a double boiler first — this dissolves the sugar, thickens the egg whites slightly and makes for a kind of “creamy” consistency in the center of the cookies. She calls for flaked coconut, but we used shredded — it’s a personal choice as either one works fine. Definitely try to use unsweetened coconut. Otherwise your cookies will get too sweet.

I love these kind of “master” recipes where endless variations are possible. Over the holidays we did a version with some cinnamon and grated nutmeg….I love the idea of some lemon zest with the coconut….and, of course, there’s the option to dip the bottom in chocolate once they’ve cooled. So many great options!! Regardless of the version you make, I recommend making at least a double batch…they will go quickly and they store beautifully.

Once you’ve given these a try and you want to amp up your baking game, join us on April 21st for a French Macaron class and learn the secrets to making those delicate and delicious sandwich cookies.


makes about 18 2-inch cookies

4 egg whites

3 1/2 cups unsweetened flake or shredded coconut

3/4 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract or paste

pinch salt

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and set over a pot of simmering water (don’t let the bowl touch the water). Cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes, until the sugar is melted and the mixture has thickened slightly and become more opaque. Remove from the heat.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

If you’re using flake coconut, let the mixture sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes so the coconut can soak up more of the egg mixture. If you’re using shredded coconut, you can proceed immediately.

Spoon about 2-tablespoons of the batter onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving about 2-inch of space between each cookie. Bake for 5 minutes. Lower the oven to 325 and bake for another 10 minutes until the outside are an even, deep golden. Remove and let cool completely before serving.


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We were recently asked to make latkes for a catered event and we were thrilled!  We made over 160 latkes for this all-appetizer party for 50 people, along with 5 other menu items and the latkes were the first thing to go — they were a smash hit. And no wonder — who doesn’t love a crispy pile of potatoes after all? Latkes are one of those foods that, for many, represent family tradition and holiday celebration — and that means that for every family there is a grandmother-approved way of making them and eating them. For some it’s extra crispy, for some it’s soft in the middle, for some it’s smoked salmon, for some it’s applesauce. While we don’t want to step on grandma’s toes, we decided it would be fun to mix it up and offer a variety of toppings for this particular party. So we did latkes with creamy horseradish sauce, watercress sauce and smoked salmon, creme fraiche and caviar, apple-thyme compote and pomegranate-orange relish. The smoked salmon one went first, but I like the apple-thyme compote the best. At the risk of ruffling the feathers of tradition, here are our tips for making the perfect latke, along with a recipe for the watercress sauce that was such a hit. We did one batch with just potatoes and onions and one with some added carrot. In the end, they all tasted the same and you couldn’t really see the orange of the carrot. I’ve done a version with all butternut squash before that were pretty and delicious — a nice alternative to the original.

1. SHRED WITH SPEED – While there’s nothing wrong with using a traditional box grater, there is nothing like hand grating 10 pounds of potatoes to make you never want to cook again. And we are against anything that makes cooking harder than it needs to be. So may we suggest pulling out those grating disks that came with your Cuisinart (or other food processor) that are on a bottom shelf somewhere collecting dust. This is their time to shine. Remove the standard blade from your food processor and replace with the largest grating blade and the whole grating part of this recipe will take under 5 minutes.

2. MOISTURE IS THE ENEMY – Whenever the goal is making something golden brown, moisture is not your friend. This poses a problem when working with vegetables that have a lot of natural water in them, like potatoes. The key to the perfect latke is drying your potatoes before you continue with the recipe. To do this, we like to use a clean, dust-free kitchen towel. Simply dump the freshly grated potatoes in the towel, bundle together and squeeze over the sink. You’ll be surprised to see about a cup of liquid come out. Do this in batches until all of the potatoes are dry before mixing in the other ingredients.

3. DON’T SKIMP ON THE OIL – Sorry, folks, but this is not a low-fat recipe. It’s fried. That’s what makes it delicious. So don’t try to get away with a few squirts from an olive oil spray bottle. You’ll need a solid 1/4-inch of oil on the bottom of the pan to get these to golden perfection.

4. BE CAREFUL. THIS IS HOT OIL WE’RE TALKING ABOUT – May seem obvious but it just takes one burn from a splatter of hot oil to ruin your day. Our advice is to use tongs to gently turn over the latkes – they allow you much more control than a spatula.

4. SEASON TWICE – If there was one single tip we could give you that could turn your home-cooked food from just OK to fantastic, it’s to learn to season correctly. This means using salt and pepper at multiple times during a recipe. For this one, you’ll add salt into the mix AND sprinkle some salt and pepper on the latkes when they come out of the pan. This ensures the flavors are all balanced. There’s nothing worse than a bland latke.


makes about 2 dozen

4 large russet potatoes, peeled

1 onion, peeled

1 cup flour

2 eggs

1 tablespoon salt

vegetable oil for cooking

Grate the potatoes and onions using the largest grating blade in your food processor. Use a clean kitchen towel to squeeze the vegetables dry in batches. Dump all of the dry veggies into a large bowl and add the flour, eggs and salt. Use your hands to mix together until well combined.

Add about 1/4-inch of vegetable oil to a large skillet and place over medium-high heat. To see if the oil is hot enough, drop a couple strands of potato into the oil – if it sizzles immediately, you’re ready to go.

Drop about 2 tablespoons of the mixture at a time into the oil creating little piles (don’t spread the piles too thin or they will fall apart when you try to turn them). Once golden on the first side (about 3 minutes), use tongs to gently turn over and cook until golden on the other side.

Remove and place on a paper-towel-lined baking sheet and immediately sprinkle with salt and pepper. Serve immediately with your favorite topping.

NOTE: Latkes do not hold well overnight. If you want to make them before serving, your best bet is to make them same day and let them sit at room temperature. Before serving, place them in a single layer on a baking sheet in a 400 degree oven and cook for 5 minutes until sizzling hot. If you have extra cooked latkes, they freeze nicely. Place them on a baking sheet in the freezer. Once frozen, combine them in a Ziploc bag and keep in the freezer for up to a couple months. To reheat, place directly from freezer on a baking sheet in a 375 degree oven and cook for about 15 minutes or until sizzling hot.


makes 1 1/2 cups

1 cup watercress leaves

1 clove garlic

1/4 cup fresh dill

zest and juice of 1 lemon

1 cup sour cream

1/3 cup mayonnaise

salt and pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Serve latkes with a dollop of this sauce and a small piece of smoked salmon.

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