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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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I’m always looking for new and interesting side dishes for the holiday table. There are so many food traditions this time of year, so many family culinary “rules” we are required to follow. Like how to perfectly roast a turkey (is basting really necessary?) or what size marshmallows go on top of the sweet potatoes (how about zero?). With all these traditions to keep, I think the one dish on the table that’s open to yearly interpretation is the vegetable dish. For many, it’s an unimportant side that’s just there to make us feel better about all the white food we’re eating. But for me, it’s a place of endless opportunity and inspiration. My tactic: make it as beautiful as possible so it steals the show from the entrée. This year’s contender: slices of orange squash lacquered with a ruby glaze, topped with a vibrant pesto and a sprinkle of pomegranate jewels.

This dish is not just nice to look at. It’s a delicious blend of sweet, tangy and salty flavors. First, I make a glaze of pomegranate juice, honey and orange. Then I use this glaze to brush onto the acorn squash slices while roasting. Meanwhile, I blanch kale and use it to make a pesto along with fresh mint, salty Parmesan and fruity olive oil. Finally, it all comes together topped with crunchy pomegranate seeds. The best part about it is it’s good hot or room temperature and can be prepped out ahead of time. Another plus: it’s a hearty dish that will delight any vegetarian guests you may have around your holiday table this year.

Note that you can change this recipe around in many ways. Use a different winter squash (butternut or kabocha would be excellent). Use a different green or herb for the pesto (arugula and basil is a fantastic mix of sweet and spicy).

POMEGRANATE LACQUERED SQUASH with KALE PESTO
serves 4-6

for the squash:

1 cup 100% pomegranate juice
1/3 cup honey
1 tbl orange zest
1 garlic clove, (peeled & left whole)
3 tbl butter, cold
4 lbs acorn squash, (2 small-medium)
salt and pepper, as needed
olive oil, as needed

for the pesto:

2 cups roughly chopped kale
1/4 cup mint leaves
1/4 cup walnuts
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup grated parmesan
olive oil

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a small pot, combine the pomegranate juice, honey, orange zest, garlic and a pinch of salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Boil about 5 minutes or until reduced by a little more than half (it should just coat the back of a spoon). Remove from heat and whisk in the cold butter. Season with a bit more salt and pepper. Use a large knife to cut the squash open. (NOTE: If this is too hard to do, you can soften the squash slightly by microwaving for 1 minute OR by dropping into boiling water for 1-2 minutes.) Scoop out the insides and cut the squash into 1-inch thick wedges. Toss with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Brush with the glaze and roast for 10 minutes. Brush with more glaze and continue roasting for 10 more minutes or until tender. Remove from the oven and brush with more glaze. Let cool about 2 minutes before removing from pan and tossing with the rest of the glaze.

Bring a small pot of water to a boil and get a bowl of ice water ready. Drop the kale into the water and cook for just 30 seconds or until bright green. Remove and plunge into the ice bath. Once cold, remove the kale from the bath and pat dry. Place in a food processor with the mint, garlic, walnut and parmesan. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. Blend until chunky before beginning to drizzle in olive oil. Add oil until mixture is a thin pesto. Taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed. Serve the squash hot or room temperature topped with the pesto.

Enjoy!!

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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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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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The chill in the air conjures up images of creamy pot-pies, hearty braised meats and oozing mac-and-cheese. The devil on my shoulder told me to start making a bechamel sauce in preparation for the cheesiest mac-n-cheese ever. The angel on my other shoulder gasped in horror and suggested a vegetable stew in stead. In the end, the angel won mostly because I realized I didn’t have any cheese in the house. It all started with cauliflower and a can of coconut milk. Then I decided to head in a meat-free direction partly to satisfy my effort to eat vegetarian a few times a week and partly because I didn’t want to go to the store. Then I remembered that a few days earlier I had given my spice cabinet a yearly cleaning and made a little spice mixture with the bottom dregs of a few savory spices. From all of these elements some kind of Indian-influenced one-pot curry dish started to take form. After digging up some cashews from the freezer, I was on my way. Twenty-five minutes later I was sitting down to dinner. It was comforting, creamy and delicious……everything I needed.

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Cauliflower Coconut-Cashew Curry

serves about 4

1 cup cashew pieces

1 tbl coconut oil (olive oil is also fine!)

1 cup finely diced onion

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1-inch piece of fresh ginger, finely chopped

1 head cauliflower, cut into florets

4 roma tomatoes, roughly chopped

1 tsp tumeric

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp corriander

1/2 tsp cayenne

1 tsp salt

1 15 oz can coconut milk

1 cup frozen peas

Heat a small soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the cashews and stir until toasted. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add the oil and the onions, garlic, ginger and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often, until tender.

Add the cauliflower, tomatoes, all the spices and the salt. Toss to coat. Add the coconut milk and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes until mixture has thickened slightly and cauliflower is soft.

Remove from heat, stir in cashews and peas.

Serve with some store-bought naan or rice.

 

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The weather is cold, it’s getting dark in the late afternoon. That means Winter is here and soup season has officially begun. A couple nights ago I had a hankering for a big, steamy bowl of comfort and got to thinking about combining two of my Mexican favorites: Tortilla Soup and Pasole.

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What I love about Tortilla Soup is the smokey broth and all those great garnishes — the crunchy tortilla chips, the cool sour cream, the flavors of the cilantro and radish. Then there’s Pasole, that rich and smokey pork stew with hominy. Hominy is one of those under-used items on the canned vegetable aisle that is so delicious and full of chewy corn flavor. So I decided to mix my favorite elements of the two together to make one delicious pot of soup. Turned out amazing! This one is a keeper. Here’s what I did:

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Chicken Tortilla Pasole Soup

serves about 6

1 white onion, diced

1 poblano chili, seeded and diced

4 cloves garlic, chopped

2 stalked celery, chopped

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ancho chili powder

1 tbl dried oregano

6 cups chicken broth

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 28-oz can hominy, rinsed very well

juice of 2 limes

sour cream, chopped cilantro and chopped radish for garnish

tortilla chips for garnish

Heat a soup pot over medium heat and add a drizzle of olive oil. Add the onions, poblano, garlic and celery and sautee until very soft. Add the cumin, chili powder and oregano and cook for a few seconds until fragrant. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Add the chicken breast and reduce heat to a simmer (NOTE: it’s important to reduce the heat so that the chicken is NOT boiling — it should be just barely simmering so the chicken poaches and doesn’t dry out). Cook for 10 minutes and remove the chicken from the pot.

Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes before chopping into small pieces and adding back into the pot. Add the hominy and let cook for 5 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Add the lime juice and remove from the heat.

To serve, top with a dollop of sour cream, a crumbled handful of tortilla chips and some cilantro and radishes.

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