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