Monday, December 26, 2016


In years past while working at Sarabeth's Kitchen and in Chelsea Market I would finally relax on Xmas eve and actually start to enjoy myself for the holidays (even though the holidays started at Thanksgiving I was usually so busy I had no time to enjoy myself).

Every year I look forward to making a couple of my favorite things and to eating others. One thing I look forward to every year after Christmas dinner is my Aunt Amy's Chocolate Roulade For me it's just perfect! She and my Uncle Walter always cook Christmas dinner for the family (anywhere from 12 and up). Some years guests also bring side dishes but whatever is made is always delicious, be it a roasted ham or a turkey. Last year they also made Jerusalem Artichokes instead of roasted potatoes, what a wonderful change! This year instead of a Ham, Amy made a Stuffed Pork Loin with roasted brussel sprouts, it doesn't get any better! Did I say Yummy!

As always my favorite thing to make for the holidays are Russian Tea Cakes.  When I started making them I had no idea they were a traditional Christmas cookie. They're so easy to make and freeze well, they can be formed in advance and baked as needed. I've seen some variations in the recipe but my favorite is made with ground pecans (although walnuts are traditional ground blanched almonds work too) and confectioners sugar (in a pinch you can use granulated white sugar- they will just be more crunchy, I'd recommend putting the measured granulated sugar into the blender or food processor for a couple minutes to create a finer grind~ the cookies will be equally tasty). Traditionally they're gently tossed in confectioners sugar twice. The first time is when they're hot out of the oven and then again when they cool. The first dipping forms a layer as the sugar gently melts in a way that sticks to the cookie. The second dip is because the first dip is a little sticky and the second dip keeps them looking like Snowballs which are made with walnuts. I like to use pecans and cool the cookies a little longer until they're barely slightly warm and give them only one dip in the confectionery sugar. This way they're not too sweet because they're so easy to eat they melt in your mouth (my brother calls them crack cookies and can't control his feeding frenzy!). I also prefer them a little less sweet so i can enjoy them with Hot Chocolate!

Okay now onto Brunch!!! Last year I decided to invite several friends over for a sort of open house. That way no one had to feel any pressure to leave the coziness of their PJ's but could also stop by if they felt like getting out. Only one person was coming for sure, then 3 people confirmed the night before and that morning and 2 others called 30 minutes before they came over. So it was very relaxed! How do I stay relaxed like that you ask? I know everyone wants to stop by and I usually make poached eggs to order served with a salad. The eggs will keep and I'll eat the salad all week if necessary. The pastries you ask? Well, I can always bring them into work as a treat, no one will mind, and it makes me happy to do it!

A couple days in advance I start a batch of sourdough bread, then freeze the dough for cherry lemon scones, made the dry mix for Buttermilk Biscuits, in my spare time I made the Russian Tea Cake cookie dough then formed & froze the balls, then while watching the New Years Eve festivities on TV, I finish the Schnecken Dough for my Cinnamon Buns which need to rise slowly to develop more flavor, and last but not least make my chocolate truffles.

Schnecken dough is a fabulous thing, so versatile you can make sticky buns, cinnamon buns, danish etc. I really liked this recipe because it doesn't taste dry like some dough texture can be even freshly made. A couple of times I opted for doughnut holes instead of cinnamon buns!

My favorite Chocolate Truffle recipe is by Pierre Herme. The one from the Green and Black website is similar. You can choose from many chocolate truffle recipes. Here is another, they must contain butter! But the real key to deliciousness is the chocolate you use. For the filling my favorite chocolate has been from Madagascar and the Dominican Republic or a combination of the two. I prefer my chocolate with a tangy taste. The addition of a little butter gives that velvety feel in your mouth everything else just enhances your taste bud experience. For the coating on the outside Valhrona Cocoa powder is great. If you're going to dip them in chocolate use at least a 65% I prefer a 72%. Green & Black, Callebaut, Valhrona, Scarfenberger, any high quality chocolate will do. Just use caution when melting the chocolate be gentle. The key is not to get the chocolate too warm so it will solidify again without coming out of temper.

This year I'm going to do a New Years Day Supper! It will give everyone time to recuperate and for those who didn't go out for New Years Eve it's a wonderful way to welcome in the New Year without the same level of pressure. I've never fancied going out for New Years Eve but I love to entertain and to celebrate with friends. January 1st seems ideal to me. I can stay in the night before, make phone calls all night and keep busy preparing just so I can stay up until midnight! Sounds kooky but it's really fun for me. Sometimes someone drops by to help out and that's even better (I don't have to clean up all by myself!). This year it will be at another friends house. I'm keeping it simple so I can just heat and serve everything without going crazy! What's on the menu you ask?

To Start:
Assorted Cheese & Crackers etc.
Goat Cheese filled Gougeres
Fennel, kale, Haricot Verts & Red Cabbage Salad with Asian Vinaigrette
Grilled Salmon with Fresh Thyme & Lemon
To Finish:
Russian Tea Cakes (Of Course!)
Rustic Apple Tart

Hopefully I don't misplace my phone and forget to document and take pictures as I go along so I can show you all how things turn out!

Stay Healthy, Have Fun & Enjoy!

Simply Apple Sauce

There's so many ways to make apple sauce. It can be cooked for hours to make Apple Butter.
If you're making your own which is always best to serve with Potato Latkes I suggest buying your favorite apples and mixing them all together.

I recently used 3 gala, 1 braeburn, 1 granny smith, and 2 red delicious because that's what I had on hand. Occasionally I add butter and sugar if I want to make a compote to spread under an apple tart.

Moving along.... you can use any number of combinations Honey Crisps are great because they tend to be very sweet. If you have a food mill you don't have to peel of core your apples, just keep in mind the seeds add pectin and your sauce can have a gelatinous texture if you cook them too long.

So I peeled and cored my apples and cut them into random shapes.
Placed them all in a sauce pan with a couple of used vanilla beans (ones I squeezed the seeds out of previously - though fresh ones will yield a stronger vanilla flavor) and put about 1/2 inch of water in the bottom. (don't worry if you've added too much water as I did recently, it will eventually cook off)
Use a medium heat. It's unnecessary to cover the pot.
Just watch it and break up the pieces that hold their shape as it cooks. It should take about 20-30 minutes for all the apples to break down depending on the types you use, and for all the water to evaporate. Here's another recipe for Apple Sauce Courtesy of Serious Eats!

Potato Latkes

serves 4-6

1 large potato per person is a good measure 

4 large to 6 medium russet potatoes 
2 medium sweet or vidalia onion

4 egg whites lightly beaten (whole eggs work too but use 3 whole eggs)
4-6 Tablespoon flour or matzo meal 
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Potatoes can be scrubbed clean. It's not necessary to peel them. But it works either way.
Grate on box grater. Wrap in a kitchen towel and squeeze out liquid, its not necessary to kill yourself while squeezing.
Grate or dice the onion and add to the potatoes.

Mix in the remaining ingredients by hand adjusting the salt and pepper.
If you don't have matzo or matzo meal use flour. Start with 2 tablespoons and add a little more as you like. I've made them with a bit of extra flour and although the mixture looked gummy they tasted great and did not exhibit any gumminess when eating the cooked latka!

Drop fork full of the potato mix into the sizzling fat and cook 2 minutes until golden brown and crisp.
I prefer a fork because they're easier to spread a bit if you like the stringy arms crispy as I do.

Fry them in a combination of butter and oil. It's best to clarify the butter first so it doesn't burn. A simple way is to melt the butter and cook it a bit until the liquid boils off. Or you can skim off the foam on top and pour the fat off the liquid remaining on the bottom of the pan.

Serve with Sour cream, creme fraiche and or fresh apple sauce!

*note the onion gives wonderful flavor and squeezing out the water helps them to be more crispy.

Also I’ve tried leaving in the water and they’re fine but appear to be more cake and soggy rather than crispy.

What makes a Latke a Latke by Serious Eats

Easy Clarified Butter in the microwave courtesy of Epicurious

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Heirloom Beans

My basic philosophy on cooking beans

beans beans the musical fruit
the more you eat the more you toot
the more you  toot the happier you feel
beans beans they're good for your heart
so eat your beans at every meal

Beans are amazing. Dry, they store for years, add water they expand, cook them and if they’re an heirloom variety you’re in for a treat. Cayuga Farms, in upstate NY grows several varieties but my favorite is their black beans. They’re the most flavorful black beans I’ve ever eaten. Something about them tastes like they’ve been grown with a ham hock ~ great if you’re a vegetarian who craves the flavor of pork. My next favorite is from a company called Rancho Gordo. Located in Napa, Rancho Gordo works with 4 farms in Northern California and one in Fresno. Every year the crop is different. You might not be able to buy the same beans year after year but there’s always something new and amazing to try. One of my favorites is Yellow Indian Woman. Unfortunately last years’ crop failed so I had to try some new varieties, like the dense rich creamy Borloti or the amazing Runner Cannellini ~ like no white bean you’ve ever had!

I prefer dense, creamy beans that hold their shape as opposed to starchy beans that have a texture similar to potatoes. But whatever your preference, find a cooking method that works best for you. There are several different cooking methods, one calls for cooking in the soaking liquid some call for long and slow etc., etc.  I’m only going to talk about my method because it always works and as Rancho Gordo's Heirloom Bean cookbook says (in so many words), if your cooking method works, stick with it!

Since the heirloom beans I buy come in pound bags, I tend to either soak ½ a bag of beans or the full pound. The directions below are for either amount.

  1. Soak fresh beans in cold water (filtered, if possible) for at least 8 hours or overnight in a bowl that holds 4 times the volume of the beans.

Older beans may need to soak for up to 24 hours. One easy way to tell if they’re not quite ready, the skins will look all wrinkled and crinkly which means the inside hasn’t swelled enough to fill its skin.

If your beans are very dusty and dirty, rinse them thoroughly before soaking and pick through for any little stones. Be especially careful if you're cooking black beans or very small beans, as it is harder to see the stones.

  1. After soaking ~ I always rinse and drain the beans (discarding the soaking liquid) through a strainer using cold water. Soaking not only drastically reduces the cooking time but helps to remove the indigestible complex sugars (oligosaccharides) from the outer coating of the beans as well as removing tannins, phytic acid and tryspin inhibitors. It’s those pesky oligosaccharides that cause abdominal issues…

Soaking beans overnight also begins the germination process which promotes enzyme release which helps to breaks down those pesky sugars. 

  1. Next, put the beans into a deep, heavy-bottomed pot with a lid. I use Le Creusetcast iron is great as is any deep heavy pot which heats slowly and evenly. Your pot should hold two and a half times the amount of beans.
  1.  Cover with an inch of cold water.
  1. Bring to a Boil.
    I use a variation of the “Shock Method” to cook my beans. There are several different variations on cooking beans and depending on the hardness and age of the bean I may vary my method. For the fresher Heirloom beans I prefer  the following method.

  1. Remove from heat, drain in a colander and rinse in cold water (this process of boiling and then quickly stopping the cooking process is called “Shocking”)

    Older beans and some very hard or dense beans like aduki beans may need to be shocked a second or third time, especially if they yield a lot of surface scum.

  1. Return beans to the pot, cover a second time with an inch of cold water.
    Add an approximately 1” x 2” piece of Kombu (Kombu expands to at least double when soaked with water. I use the same amount of Kombu for anywhere from 1 cup to 1 pound of beans. I suppose if I were making 5# I’d add a 1x 3 inch piece.) I believe adding the Kombu also helps to reduce gas (though this isn’t documented, it adds minerals and Umami as well).

Kombu is a type of seaweed widely used in Japanese cooking (a variety of Kombu can also be found on the Atlantic coast). It is used in the making of dashi and other Japanese broths similar to the way we use chicken stock. I don’t know where I learned this but kombu not only adds what the Japanese call umami (the other taste after sweet, salty, sour and bitter), it adds minerals that you might feel you’ve washed away by soaking or shocking. In addition it adds flavor and I also believe aids in digestion thereby once again helping to eliminate any abdominal issues. Since adopting this method of adding kombu after shocking, I’ve never had gas and none of my guests has ever complained (of intestinal distress); in fact, some have actually commented on the lack thereof.  One very important reason I stick with my tried and true method!

  1. Bring beans and Kombu to a boil, cover leaving lid slightly ajar so it doesn’t boil over and reduce cooking to a slow simmer.
    You might need to add a cup or two of cold water during the cooking so keep an eye on your beans. If you notice too much scum forming, skim it off and add a little extra water if necessary.  Occasionally I’ve cooked the liquid down to almost nothing… I add an additional cup of water and continue to simmer the beans with any additional ingredients I choose to add, this will reconstitute all that thick delicious bean goo, aka “liquid gold”. You can always reduce the liquid again if you’ve added too much, so don’t worry.

I never cook my beans in anything other than water. I believe all seasoning interferes with the even cooking of the beans and toughens their skin. Fresh beans will yield their own delicious cooking liquor. About 30 minutes into the cooking process, you can add a bay leaf or other herbs if you like, but generally I add these towards the end.

Keep in mind this is just my basic cooking method. By all means experiment and follow different recipes and stick with the ones you like best.

  1. Continue to simmer until almost done to your liking ~ until you think they're almost done about 45 minutes (though it depends on the size and hardness so it’s a general guideline. Don’t worry if your beans take a lot longer to cook.) When the beans are about 15 minutes from being fully cooked, now you can begin to add seasonings: a pinch or 3 of cumin is amazing in all kinds of beans, add some salt—I like KosherCeltic Sea Salt or Fleur de Sel. (Just don’t use an expensive finishing salt!) Start with about 1.5 teaspoons and adjust to your taste, black pepper, chili peppers, cayenne,  sautéed carrots, onions, finely minced garlic, tomato, anything you think will compliment your beans
    (There should still be liquid left in the pot that doesn't necessarily cover the beans and it will thicken as it cools.)
  1. With the addition of seasoning and vegetables continue cooking the beans until they’re tender to your liking…another 15- 25 minutes. I never remove the seaweed (but you can do so at this point if you prefer) with one exception. When I’m cooking white beans I don’t always want to see bits of seaweed floating around. Before I add any seasoning to white beans I remove the seaweed. You have to check it and catch it before it starts to disintegrate. Otherwise I let it disintegrate and incorporate into the dish. It also helps to thicken the sauce.

    If you're going to serve the beans right away adjust the seasonings and add salt, pepper, more garlic, cumin etc. if necessary.

  1. Beans are delicious with meat served on the plate, with chicken or pork roast, with an egg on top, traditionally with rice, my favorite is with short grain brown rice, or just serve them on their own.

  1. If I’m going to freeze the beans and don’t know exactly how or when I want to use them I might freeze them without adding any salt or seasoning at this point. Beans tend to absorb a lot of flavors so even if you freeze when you go to use them you might find they need additional salt or pepper to brighten the flavor.  I never discard the cooking liquid unless I’m using the beans in a salad where I wouldn’t want to incorporate any of this liquid gold.

    Most Rancho Gordo beans cook up within an hour. I’ve navigated better websites but just keep clicking on “Products” until you see a link on the left for Heirloom Beans. It’s worth suffering the frustrating website.

You can also order direct from Cayuga Farms or find them at the Union Square Farmers Market in NYC. Have Fun & Enjoy!

Rancho Gordo
1924 Yajome Street
Napa, CA 94559

Cayuga Pure Organics
18 Banks Road
Brooktondale, NY 14817

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Public for Brunch

Had a fun Brunch at Public located at 210 Elizabeth Street.
The Menu is simple yet interesting, very tasty and the price is right. $22 will get you an entree, a cocktail, and coffee or tea. They don't take reservations; but if you're flexible and relaxed and get there around 11 you'll only wait about 25 minutes! They have a nice seating area where you can wait for your friends, it's very pleasant.

I ordered the Salad of herby (their spelling not mine) lentils, green beans, avocado, toasted pecans and baby gem with pomegranate molasses and avocado oil vinaigrette and poached eggs on top! This dish was fantastic! Next time though if everyone would agree I'd order it for the table without the eggs on top as it's so delicious it's a great starter to share. Then the Quinoa Hash browns are a must and if you're more than 2 people 2 orders are necessary. And purely by accident I found the delicious recipe for their Quinoa Hash browns on Chow!

My companions ordered the Tea-Smoked Salmon which is superb and the aroma makes your mouth water; grilled chorizo (probably skip this, it's ok but nothing spectacular), Grilled Venison Burger (the cassava chips are the perfect vehicle for the accompanying dipping sauces), and the Fry Up When the food came it didn't look like all that much but in the end we were all very satisfied that we actually skipped dessert. The only oddity was that the tea we ordered wasn't all that great so go for the coffee instead. In some areas the space is tight and I've heard dinner isn't as good but I would definitely go back here for Brunch.

Have Fun and Enjoy!

210 Elizabeth Street
New York, NY 10012