Posts Tagged ‘holiday’

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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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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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).

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.


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Thanksgiving is around the corner and one of the most important parts of the meal is the gravy. If you’re like me, it ends up covering everything on the plate! But how many times have you been standing over the stove 10 minutes before dinner is meant to be served, whisking like mad over a hot pan trying to get your gravy lump-free and perfect? No more! Here’s everything you need to know about to make the perfect gravy. This is a step-by-step tutorial followed by our Life Changing Cooking Tip video — it’s meant to be a base point recipe that you can adapt and modify with your favorite flavors. Enjoy!


The Master Recipe –

This makes 1 cup so for Thanksgiving you’ll want to make this at least 4x. But once you know this master ratio, you can make a small batch or a huge batch of gravy and it will be perfect every time.

1 tablespoon butter (or fat from your roasting pan)

1 tablespoon flour

1 cup liquid (any mixture of wine, stock, juices from your roasting pan, heavy cream, fruit juices)

chopped herbs (like tarragon, thyme, rosemary) or sauteed vegetables (like onions, mushrooms) or meat (crumbled sausage or bacon or pancetta)- optional


The Rules –

1. Use a skillet, not a saucepan. This will make whisking easier and will allow the gravy to cook and thicken faster.

2. Start with the butter and flour in the pan and cook, whisking constantly for 1-2 minutes — this helps begin to cook out the flour flavor.

3. Make sure any liquid you’re using is room temperature — if it’s cold it will be more likely to make the gravy lumpy. Add the liquid slowly, whisking as you go. Once you’ve gotten enough liquid in the pan to thin out the flour mixture, add the rest.

4. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer for 10 minutes. This is step most often missed. By cooking for 10-15 minutes, the flour flavor will cook out, the flavors will meld and the gravy will reduce and thicken a bit more.

5. If you’re adding herbs or veggies, add them once the liquid is added.

6. Be sure to taste and season with salt and pepper at the end. Depending on what liquid you use, it may already have salt from the stock or pan juices.

7. A note on thickness: Gravy should be glossy and the thickness of maple syrup — not gloppy and thickness of pudding. Gravy will thicken as it cools. Once it’s cooked for 10-15 minutes, remove from the heat and just allow to sit in the pan for another 10 minuets to cool slightly, whisking often so a skin doesn’t appear. Then your gravy should be the perfect thickness. IF you need your gravy to be thicker at the end of cooking, you have two options: (1) whisk together 1 teaspoon cornstarch with 1 tbl cold water and whisk into boiling gravy – cook for 1 minute OR (2) mash together 1 tablespoon flour with 1 tablespoon butter and whisk it into the bubbling gravy a little at a time – cook for 5 minutes once it’s all been added.

I hope this roadmap leads to a lump-free gravy on your Thanksgiving table this year. We encourage you to get creative with this basic recipe! Our favorite version from our Thanksgiving cooking class this year is flavored with some sauteed pancetta, shallots, marsala wine and a splash of heavy cream. Delicious! Check out our video tutorial and share with us your gravy tips, disasters and flavoring ideas.



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