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pilaf

 

How is it the end of January already?? I’ve hardly had time to declare my New Year’s Resolutions, let alone live up to them, and the first month of the year is already over. How did January fly by so fast? Maybe it’s the three (THREE!!) sports teams we’re catering for now (LA Galaxy, LA Kings and the regional NFL Combine)….that probably has a little something to do with what’s kept us so busy 🙂 All I know is that at the end of each day I’ve found myself standing in front of my fridge, holding the door open and staring blankly inside willing dinner to magically appear. While there hasn’t been any time for meal planning, I did manage to set one New Year’s Resolution that’s kept dinner on the table this whole month. My goal was to use up as many things as possible from my freezer and pantry — a kind of clean sweep for the new year. This has actually been a life-saver throughout this busy month. Less trips to the store and less meals out has kept me focused on fast and creative dishes at home. And I’ve been eating pretty well, too! There were those lovely rib-eye steaks I pulled from the freezer and grilled with a spice-rub made from the odds and ends of my spice cabinet (it may not be Summer, be we’re still grilling in the Southland!). There was that pint of chili from last Fall that went from freezer to table alongside some millet muffins one night. There was a toss of  artichoke raviolis, sun-dried tomato chicken sausage and toasted pinenuts, all rescued from the freezer.

While it’s been fun to clean out my freezer (turns out I had a lot of good stuff in there!!), I really needed to weed out my pantry. So I’ve baked some bread to use up a multitudes of flours and made many versions of hummus using up canned beans (turns out a mix of cannelini and pinto beans made a great dip!!). This weekend I’ll be making a rainbow-of-colors-lentil-soup thanks to the five different kinds of lentils I have (why did I save only 1/4 cup of lentils in each bag?? we’ll never know…).

My best a-ha moment came when faced with three tiny bags — one with a small handful of quick-cooking bulghur, one with orzo and one with quinoa. Frustrated and unsure what to make with such small quantities, I decided to throw caution to the wind, cook them all together and make a pilaf. And guess what? It worked!! Not only did the grains all cook in the same time, but the side dish I threw together was delicious. With the help of a little caramelized onions, toasted almonds and fresh parsley, this pilaf couldn’t have been better if I planned it. Here’s what I did:

Pantry Pilaf

makes about 4 servings

1 tbl butter

olive oil

1/2 large onion, diced small (I used a red onion but any onion or shallot or even scallions would work)

1 tsp ground corriander

1/3 cup slivered almonds (or your favorite nut)

1/2 cup orzo

1/2 cup quick-cooking bulghur (Trader Joes has this now….or look for “fine bulghur” in other grocery stores)

1/4 cup quinoa, rinsed

1/3 cup chopped parsley

salt and pepper

In a large skillet over medium heat, add the butter and a small drizzle of olive oil. Add the onions and cook until they soften and just begin to turn golden. Add the nuts and corriander. Cook for 3-4 more minutes until almonds are fragrant. Remove from heat and set aside.

Meanwhile, bring a 4-quart pot of water to a rolling boil. Add a small handful of salt. Add the orzo, quinoa and bulghur. Stir and simmer for 10-12 minutes until all of the grains are soft. Drain, shake dry and dump all of the cooked grains into the skillet. Place the skillet back over medium-low heat and cook, stirring, until grains are all coated with onion mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the parsley. Serve warm.

Have fun raiding your pantry!

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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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This week’s baking assignment from Tuesdays with Dorrie was naan – that lovely leavened bread that’s best used to sop up a creamy chicken korma from the local Indian restaurant. As I was reading through the recipe for the first time, I realized it’s very similar to the pizza dough we make all the time for our caterings and cooking parties. (Check out the naan recipe at this week’s host blogs: Always Add More Butter and Of Cabbage & King Cakes.) They both have flour, yeast and water..how different could they be? Well, it turns out there are a couple of key differences in cooking technique that resulted in a clear verdict: we prefer the pizza dough. Here’s how it went down in the kitchen:

The naan dough was easy enough to make. We did the overnight-rise-in-the-fridge option and that resulted in a supple dough. Our toppings were some caraway seeds and sliced scallion. The recipe suggested having a large quarry tile or pizza stone in the oven — we didn’t have either so we used the second option, the back of a baking sheet, as a cooking surface. Here’s where we ran into trouble. Even at 500 degrees, the oven just wasn’t hot enough to cook the naan quickly and encourage any browning. And since there was no oil on or in the dough, the end result, while tasty, was a very pale dough without the color and texture we expected from naan. In the end we were left sheepishly muttering that the Trader Joe’s frozen naan was so much better…why even go through this effort (gasp!). But it’s no wonder! Traditional naan is made in a firey-hot tandoori oven and the dough it slapped against the side of the oven wall, creating a blackened, blistered bread that is crunchy in some parts and soft in others and full of flavor. So this naan, while somewhat pleasant and chewy, left a lot to be desired.

Then we made our favorite pizza dough just to see what the difference in flavor and texture would be in a side-by-side tasting (and because we are always looking for an excuse to make pizza). The pizza won hands-down. First, there’s the addition of olive oil in the dough and on the outside of the dough — that helps with the texture and taste. The dough takes on some of that grassy olive oil flavor throughout. And when it’s baked in the same 500 degree oven it gets browned thanks to the olive oil. Of course, once we had pizza dough made, we couldn’t help but start topping it with all kinds of goodies….mozzarella, tomatoes, ricotta, figs….

In the end, despite our distractions with pizza toppings, we decided that we preferred the taste and texture of the pizza dough. So the next time we want some naan to eat alongside an Indian-inspired meal, we’ll use this dough recipe, brush it with some olive oil, sprinkle with the caraway seeds and a bit of onion and bake until crispy. Although chances are pretty good we’ll get distracted with toppings again……

Basic Pizza Dough

makes about 1 1/2 pounds (NOTE: This dough is easily doubled or tripled and can be used to make pizzas OR pressed into a baking sheet, topped with caramelized onions and baked up as the most delicious focaccia bread.)

3 tsp dry yeast

1 1/2 cups warm water (just warm to the touch)

2 tbl honey

5 1/4 cups flour

1 1/2 tbl salt

3 tbl olive oil

Combine the yeast, water and honey in the bowl of a standing mixer. Stir and let sit for 5 minutes.

Add the flour, salt and oil and stir. Beat with a dough-hook attachment for 10 minutes on medium, adding a bit more flour as needed, until elastic and smooth and not sticking to the sides of the bowl.

Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with a clean towel and let sit in a warm spot for 1 hour to rise (it will at least double in size).

Now the dough is ready to use. If making pizza, cut the dough in half or thirds and press gently into a circle/oblong shape — then place on a baking sheet or onto a pizza peel. Top with your favorite toppings and slide into a 500 degree oven to bake for 10-12 minutes. If making focaccia bread, dump the dough onto an oiled 11×17-inch baking sheet and press to fill the pan. Let rise for another 45 minutes (it will fill out the pan as it rises). Top with caramelized onions (or your favorite toppings) and bake in a 375 degree oven for 25 minutes or until golden.

OR, wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for 2 days or freeze for up to a month. Be sure to let come to room temperature for 1-2 hours before using.

 

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These little fritters are always a hit at our catered event…there’s something about a crispy vegetable that is so appealing! We make many variations on this recipe, substituting the zucchini with shredded raw butternut squash, carrots, sweet potato, yellow squash. But these are my personal favorite — they are light and delicate on the inside and crispy on the outside, topped with a creamy dollop of ricotta. Just be sure to squeeze the shredded raw vegetables very dry before moving on with the recipe…otherwise you’ll have soggy fritters. Also, don’t skip topping the ricotta with plenty of cracked black pepper just before serving (or red chili flakes if you like some heat) — it’s that tasty final touch that puts these over the edge.

Zucchini Fritters with Ricotta & Mint

makes about 25 fritters

4 medium zucchini, coarsely grated (makes about 6-7 cups)

2 tbl finely chopped scallions

2 tbl finely chopped dil

1/2 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup crumbled feta

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

vegetable oil, for frying

1 cup ricotta cheese

1/4 cup chopped mint

Place the shredded zucchini in a colander and sprinkle with about 1 tablespoon of salt. Toss and let stand for 5-10 minutes. Rinse lightly and squeeze as much of the liquid out as possible and transfer to a bowl.
Add the scallions, dill, flour, baking soda, feta, egg, salt and pepper. Stir to combine.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add about 1/2-inch of vegetable oil to a wide pan. Add heaping tablespoons of the batter to the pan and cook until golden. Flip and cook until golden and cooked through on the second side. Remove and place on a paper-towel-lined pan to remove excess oil. Sprinkle lightly with salt as soon as they come out of the oil.
Whisk the ricotta and add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve the fritters hot topped with ricotta and some fresh mint and final sprinkle of cracked black pepper.

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We’re back with another Tuesdays with Dorrie  baking post from Baking with Julia. (Sadly, today is Wednesday and this post is a day late due to some technical difficulties, but better late than never!) This time, in honor of St. Patty’s Day, we made a simple, humble Irish Soda Bread. This is one of those basic recipes that every home cook can master. With only four ingredients that you’re likely to have on hand and no equipment beyond a wooden spoon, Irish Soda Bread is perfect for putting the “wow” factor in a simple weeknight dinner of soup and salad.

This recipe is really a kind of “mother” recipe – a base set of ingredients and instructions that you can modify and change with endless interpretation. (Our official TWD hosts this week are My Culinary Mission and Chocolate Moosey – check them out for the full recipe.) At its heart, this recipe is a kind of over-grown biscuit, leavened with baking soda alone. The difference is that there is very little fat in it, which makes it delicious straight out of the oven but NOT the next morning – by then it may as well be a door-stopper. Because of the small about of fat, many people make a savory version stirring in a bit of cheese – maybe some really good Irish cheddar to stick with tradition? For my version, I decided to keep it sweet and added 3 tablespoons of honey, 1/2 cup of dried blueberries and 1 tablespoon of lemon zest to the recipe. The result was a lovely, berry-flecked bread perfumed with lemon. Slathered with butter, it was the perfect breakfast for. St. Paddy’s Day.

The two tips I can offer to make a stellar soda bread is (A) don’t over-mix — just fold the ingredients together and dump onto a pan. And (B) don’t over-bake. Error on the side of under-baked and pull from the oven when it’s JUST baked through. This bread can easily go from lovely to dense but these two tips will help prevent that. Also, try changing up the flour. I did a mix of oat flour (rolled oats pulsed in my food processor until finely ground) and unbleached all-purpose flour – the taste and texture was chewy, complex and wonderful.

We make a version of this bread in our Kids’ Cooking Classes and Camps — it’s such a simple one that even the little ones can help. And what a sense of accomplishment making homemade bread at age 7!! Hope you (and yours) try this one at home. Happy baking!

 

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It’s that time of year when eating well is on everyone’s mind. For many that means cutting things out of our diets: calories, fat, sugar, carbs. I not only find all of that deprivation depressing, but also ultimately leading to disappointment. Certainly cutting back on excessive calories and fat makes sense after a holiday season that is packed with both and that can be a great way to jump-start the year. But in the interest of sticking to your resolutions past February, I like to focus on what I should be eating MORE of, not less of. This means focusing on nutritionally dense food. So often we look at food as the bad guy, the temptation, the thing that makes us lose our willpower and self-respect at the same time. Yikes! That’s a lot of power to give to a fried potato. What about looking at food as a way of getting all the nutrition we need to be healthy and happy? Looking at various food items not only in terms of taste, but also in terms of all the good stuff they hold is a great step toward letting food back into your life as a friend, not an enemy.

In practical terms, this means looking at a scoop of peanut butter not only as a delicious snack but also as brain-food that’s full of protein. An orange is not only sweet and full of flavor but also supplies a decent portion of your daily dose of vitamin C. With this in mind, I’ve put together a salad that is chock full of protein, vitamins and nutrients…AND it tastes amazing! If you’re someone who thinks salads are boring, this is the salad for you! It’s tangy, spicy, crunchy and satisfying. It’s also full of protein and fiber from the black beans and peanuts, vitamin C from the bell pepper, folate from the cabbage, lycopene from the tomatoes – it’s a super-food power punch. Best of all, it’s easy to make and actually gets better as it sits in the fridge overnight. It will last up to 4-5 days in the fridge, but it never seems to last that long in my house. Maybe this salad will even make you forget about the French fry you “can’t” have.

We’ll be making a lot of this salad over the next few months as part of our cooking demonstrations with Vitality City. We’re also kicking off the new year with a series of Healthy Living Cooking Classes with Health Coach Eugenie Mason on topics that range from detoxing to gluten-free comfort foods to healthy food your kids will love.

Peanut & Black Bean Salad with Spicy Cilantro-Lime Dressing

serves 6 as a side dish

2 15-oz cans black beans, rinsed very well and drained

1/2 cup unsalted, roasted peanuts

2 cups halved baby tomatoes

1/4 cup finely diced red onion

1 red, yellow or orange bell pepper, seeded and finely diced

3 cups finely shredded cabbage

1 jalapeno

1/2 cup cilantro leaves

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

1/4 cup fresh orange juice

2 tablespoons olive oil

salt and pepper

In a large bowl, toss together the beans, peanuts, tomatoes, bell pepper, onion and cabbage.

Cut the jalapeno in half and scrape out the seeds (OR leave them in if you like it spicy!). Cut the jalapeno into small pieces and place into a blender. Add the cilantro, lime juice, orange juice, a pinch of salt and the olive oil. Blend until smooth. Toss the salad with the dressing. Taste and add more salt and pepper as needed.

Enjoy immediately OR refrigerate for up to 5 days (it gets better as it sits!).

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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.

TRADITIONAL LATKES

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.

WATERCRESS SAUCE 

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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