Monday, December 30, 2013

Get Well Chicken Soup

You're under the weather...
Make chicken soup!

Jewish law mandates that chicken soup is the cure-all for cold and flu season afflictions.  My mother always passionately advises, "It's a natural antibiotic!"  Whether its medicinal effects are psychosomatic or scientifically proven, this soup has healing properties. If you're feeling perfectly fine, it's also just a great dish on a cold winter day.

When I was growing up,  every Friday night my mom made her hearty chicken noodle soup.  On every Jewish holiday, my grandmother made her elegant and crystal clear chicken broth with large floating matzoh balls, garnished with fresh dill. My soup is influenced by both of their recipes, but just as they deviated from each other, I too have come up with my own methodology. You can make chicken soup a thousand different ways, and this is my simple, hard-to-mess-up recipe.

Get Well Chicken Soup
Serves 4-6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large carrot, medium dice
1 large yellow onion, medium dice
2 medium celery stalks, medium dice
2 large cloves of garlic, finely minced
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 large organic chicken, cut up into parts (I actually used one large breast (BONE-IN), a leg, and two thighs... you could even use a whole chicken, just add more of the other stuff)
2 quarts water
1 bouillon cube (optional)
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped (imperative)
Juice of one lemon (crucial)
1 box quinoa shells (or use regular pasta shells, or any shape you fancy)

Prepare all of your ingredients for the soup.  Dice the vegetables, and season the raw chicken with 2 teaspoons of salt, and 2 teaspoons of pepper.

On medium heat, add the olive oil to a large pot or Dutch oven.  Add the diced carrot, onion and celery to the pot, and allow the vegetables to sweat and soften, about 10 minutes.  Add the minced garlic to the vegetables and cook the mixture for 2 more minutes.  Add 1 teaspoon of salt, freshly ground black pepper, bay leaf, and fresh thyme to the softened vegetables.

Add the seasoned chicken parts to the pot.  Add 2 quarts of water, or add enough water to cover the chicken and vegetables by 2 inches.

Bring the soup to a low boil, turn down the heat and simmer the soup for 1 hour or until the chicken is thoroughly cooked through and the flavors have melded together. While the soup is simmering, check on it every so often and skim the top of extra fat with a spoon.  You can add a bouillon cube while the soup simmers if you want more chicken and spice flavor, but this is very optional.  If you do add a bouillon cube, just make sure not to add too much salt.

While the soup is cooking, prepare the pasta in a separate pot according to the instructions on the box.  I like to keep my shells separate from the soup so that they don't get mushy.

Taste the soup, and add salt and pepper as needed.  Once the soup is cooked and seasoned to your liking, turn off the heat.  Using tongs or a slotted spoon, remove the cooked chicken from the pot and transfer to a cutting board.  Remove the meat from the bone, and cut the meat into bite-sized cubes. Add the cubed chicken, the freshly chopped dill and parsley, and the juice of one lemon to the pot. The fresh herbs and lemon add brightness and flavor to the dish. If the soup has cooled too much, bring it back to a low simmer.

To serve, add  the cooked shells to a large soup bowl.  Ladle the piping hot soup onto the shells, sprinkle with any extra dill or parsley, and serve!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Butternut Squash and Caramelized Leek Galette

A few months ago, my sister in law challenged me to make a dish with squash and leeks. The second part of the challenge: it needed to be dairy free.  Immediately, making a galette came to mind.

Galette's are incredibly versatile. They can be sweet, savory, and topped with just about anything.  They are like the pizza of the pastry world.  Once you get crust-making down (and I know that can be justifiably intimidating for some), you can improvise like crazy with different fillings. If really hate making crust just buy a pre-made one.

This dish is a perfect side dish for a dinner party:
1) It can be served at room temperature, and thusly made in advance
2) It looks fancy and appetizing
3) It is a great complement to meat, poultry or tofu
4) All of the ingredients can be prepped the day/night before
5) It could be the main course, especially if you are having people over for brunch or lunch. Just serve it with a nice salad.

This recipe was adapted from Gourmet Magazine .  If you don't care whether it has dairy, I would replace the Earth Balance and Shortening with 100% butter as indicated in the original recipe, and I'd also add some kind of delicious cheese to the filling before it bakes.

Serves 4 as a main dish, 6-8 as a side

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons Earth Balance vegan butter (cold), cut into small cubes
4 tablespoons organic vegetable shortening (cold), cut into small cubes
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon white vinegar or lemon juice
1/4 cup ice water
1 large egg, lightly beaten

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 medium (2 lb.) butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed into 1/2-inch pieces
2 teaspoons roughly chopped fresh rosemary
2 medium sized leeks (white and pale green parts only), thinly sliced
1 small sweet onion, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
freshly ground pepper
3 sprigs thyme, leaves removed from the stem

In a food processor, pulse the flour, Earth Balance, shortening, and salt until the mixture becomes a coarse meal.  Drizzle ice water over the mixture and pulse until it just forms a ball.  Be careful not to over mix your dough.  If the dough is too crumbly, add slightly more ice water.  Remove the dough from the processor and press the ball into a round disc. Wrap the disc in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.   The dough can be made up to a day ahead.

While the dough is chilling, you can prepare your filling. Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Place the cubed butternut squash on a lined sheet pan (you can use parchment paper or foil).  Sprinkle the squash with freshly chopped rosemary, 1/2 a teaspoon kosher salt, and freshly ground pepper.  Generously drizzle the squash with olive oil (about 2 tablespoons), and toss the squash  with your hands so that each piece gets evenly coated with the oil, herbs and seasonings.  Put the squash in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the squash becomes tender and starts to become golden brown.  Stir halfway through to ensure that the squash browns evenly.  Once the squash is cooked, remove it from the oven and lower the temperature to 375°F.

While the squash is roasting, prepare your leeks.  Slice the leeks in half lengthwise and run them under cold water.  Make sure you remove any grit that may be caught in the leaves.  Thinly slice the leeks once they are washed and cleaned.  Thinly slice a small sweet onion.  Place a large saucepan or cast iron skillet on medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the pan.  Once the pan and the oil are hot, add the onions and leeks.  Sprinkle 1/2 a teaspoon of kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, maple syrup and fresh thyme to the leeks and onion.  Cook the mixture, stirring occasionally, for 10-15 minutes or until the leeks and onions become soft and golden brown.

Assemble the Galette
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the chilled dough into a 13-inch round.  Carefully transfer the round onto a parchment lined baking sheet.  Arrange the caramelized leeks and onions into the center of the dough, leaving a 2-3 inch boarder.  Top the leeks with an even layer of squash.  Fold the dough in on itself, covering the rim of the filling.  You can make this as decorative or as rustic as you would like. Brush the pastry with the beaten egg.  Bake the galette for 35-45 at 375°F, or until the pastry is golden brown.  Remove and cool on a rack for 10 minutes before serving, or serve it at room temperature.

Monday, November 25, 2013


Thanksgiving is so close! Are you hosting? Are you excited? Do you still not know your menu? Are you just going to put something in the F@*%ing oven and call it a day?

From experience, my Thanksgivings have benefited from some dorky planning. This is the time to embrace your inner nerd and make a list, schedule, or go crazy with an excel spreadsheet.

If you are still trying to set your menu now, The New York Times has this helpful interactive guide and recipes for menu planning. They boil it down to this:

turkey + gravy + cranberry sauce + stuffing + something orange + green & snappy vegetables + pies =THANKSGIVING

And in case you need some more ideas (Lauren, I'm looking at you),  here are some favorite recipes I have made/found/altered in the past:

As for the schedule, these are the things I usually ask myself:
  • How long will things take to prep?
  • How long will things take to cook?
  • How many things can fit in the oven with the bird?
  • At what temperature do those things need to cook?
  • What can be made on the stove-top instead of the oven? (r.e. You can make mashed potatoes, and then keep them warm with a double boiler)
  • Hot dishes should be ready at the same time
  • What dishes can I make that can be room-temp?
  • The bird will need to rest for at least 30 minutes
  • While the bird is resting, the oven is totally free... is there a casserole or gratin I want to make ahead and heat up while the bird is resting, or do I want to roast some veggies instead?

Evidence - Former Thanksgiving cooking and prep schedule:

Whatever you do, Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Fancy Egg Salad

You have a lot of eggs to use up...
Make egg salad!

Last year, I had the great opportunity of working as a recipe tester on The Lemonade Cookbook. Lemonade is an awesome chain of restaurants in Los Angeles. The cookbook is full of delicious recipes for salads, sandwiches, braises, desserts, and lemonades.

I learned a lot of interesting tricks and ideas while testing the recipes for the book.  One thing that I have permanently adopted is Lemonade's technique for making egg salad. For their egg salad, you separate the yolks from the whites, make a sauce with the yolks, chop up the whites, and fold the whites into the sauce.  Making it this way makes the salad a beautiful yellow golden color. The texture is also smoother, and less clumpy than regular egg salad.

This recipe uses their technique, with slightly different ingredients. I love lemon, but if you don't like lemon, omit it (Lemonade adds pickle juice instead).  The yellow mustard enhances the yellow color of the dish, but if you don't like the flavor of mustard just skip it.  If you omit lemon or mustard, add more mayo.  This egg salad can be made a 100 different ways.

Fancy Egg Salad
Serves 4

6 large eggs
3 tablespoons yellow mustard
1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
1/3 cup mayo (Best Foods/Hellmann's)
1 tablespoon capers, drained and chopped
1/2 a small shallot, minced fine 
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped fine (you could use chives or green onions here instead)
Pinch of salt 
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Put your eggs in a medium sized pot, and fill the pot with enough water to just cover the tops of the eggs.  Bring the water to a boil.  Turn the heat off and cover the pot with a lid.  Leave the eggs in the hot water for 15 minutes.  While the eggs are cooking, prepare an ice bath in a large bowl (ice + water). After 15 minutes, place the eggs into the ice bath.  This will stop the eggs from cooking longer, and it will make them easier to peel.  

While the eggs are cooling, prepare the ingredients for the salad.  Mince the shallot, parsley, and capers and reserve.  

Once the eggs have cooled a bit, peel them.  Carefully, cut the eggs in half.  Remove the egg yolks and place them in a bowl.  Roughly chop the egg whites and reserve.

To the egg yolks add the mustards, mayo, capers, shallot, lemon juice, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste.  Using a fork or a whisk, mix all of the ingredients until they are combined and fairly smooth. If you're super fancy, use a food processor. By hand, my yolk mixture wasn't perfectly smooth, but that didn't matter much to me.
With a spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the yolk mixture.  

Voila! You have super yummy, beautiful-looking egg salad. Put it on a sandwich, serve it with good crackers (I love Mary's), or just eat it as is!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Just put the f*@&ing turkey in the oven

You're hosting Thanksgiving and you're nervous about the turkey...
Watch this video!

This is my favorite instructional video of all time, and Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year.

Like Aunt Marie, I don't do brines, or dry rubs, or any of that stuff. Unlike Marie, I don't use butter (although butter is great, go ahead). Instead, I salt the turkey inside and out, and then I stuff it with a bunch of herbs, onions, garlic, apples, and lemon. I scatter those same aromatics around the bird. I rub the outside of the turkey with olive oil. I add some white wine to the pan. I cover the whole pan in foil. For two thirds of the cooking time, I keep it wrapped in foil.  I un-foil the turkey for the last third of the cooking time in order to let the skin brown. The turkey comes out perfectly moist every time, even the breast! It won't be as brown as if you have it uncovered the entire time, but it also won't end up dry and gross.

Roasting Turkey is super easy. Don't sweat it. Just put it in the f*cking oven.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Savory Cheese and Herb Bread

You want to bake bread without the hassle of yeast...
Make a savory cheese quick bread!

This recipe comes from Dorie Greenspan's incredible cookbook,  Around My French Table.  If you're into French food, and you do not want super complicated obnoxious recipes, Dorie's book is a must-have.  As a bonus, it's exceptionally beautiful to look at.  My father gave it to me as a gift when it first came out in 2010, and since then I have made recipes from the book many many times.  When I first read the book, I was working as a personal chef.  I ended up making a version of her mushroom soup at work, and it quickly became one of the family's favorite dishes.

Until recently, I had never tried this savory cheese and chive bread.  I love making quick breads: pumpkin, apple, pear and chocolate chunk, banana, zucchini, and on and on.  If there is a thing you can put into a batter made of eggs, flour and oil, and then if that batter can be put into a loaf pan, I'll make it. The recipes are so easy, and they are so delicious, that I always feel like I am cheating on "real" baking.  
You can really taste the egg in this bread, and next time I might add more variety of herbs and a different combination of cheeses, but all in all it is a fun recipe to have on hand.  Guests are always impressed with homemade bread, and you do not have to tell anyone how simple it is to make this recipe.*

*I have only made slight alterations to the original recipe

Savory Cheese and Chive Bread
Makes 1 loaf

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
3 large eggs, at room temp
1/3 cup whole milk, at room temp
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil or vegetable oil
1 generous cup coarsely grated Cheddar (you can use Gruyere, Comte, Swiss, or anything you fancy...I used extra sharp white cheddar)
2 ounces cheese cut into very small cubes - use any of the cheeses listed above
1/2 cup minced fresh chives or other herbs (or thinly sliced scallions if you want onion flavor)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, rough chop

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F or 175 degrees C.  Generously butter a loaf pan (8 x 4 x 2 3/4)

Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper together in a large bowl.

Put the eggs in a medium bowl and whisk for 1 minute, until they are foamy and blended.

Whisk in the milk and olive oil.

Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and, using a sturdy rubber spatula or a wooden spoon, gently mix until the dough comes together.  Be careful not to over-mix the dough, or it will become tough.  Also, do not worry if the dough is not mixed thoroughly, just mix it enough that the dry ingredients are moistened by the wet ingredients.  Stir in the cheese, both grated and cubed, and the herbs.  Pour the dough into a buttered pan, and you can even the top with the back of your spoon or spatula.

Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until the bread is golden and a knife or wooden skewer comes out clean when you stick it into the center.  Place the pan on a cooling rack for 3 minutes, then run a knife around the edges of the pan.  Turn the loaf over onto the rack, invert and cool right side up.

Slice and serve!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Fanny Cradock Cooks

How great is this set? The pace of the show? The lack of editing? The food styling?

Fanny Cradock is quite a culinary character.  She may have sabotaged her career in what is referred to as the Gwen Troak scandal.  Short story: Fanny misadvised Gwen (a contestant winner) on the menu that she was serving to a bunch of British VIPS. She insisted that Gwen change her dessert, and Fanny's dessert ended up being a failure.  In the televised event, Fanny grimaced and made nauseated faces upon hearing Gwen's ideas for her menu (you can see for yourself here at 51 seconds in). The public was very displeased with Fanny's bad behavior.  If the same thing had happened today, I'm sure the incident would have significantly advanced Fanny's career as a celebrity chef guest judge on any number of shows.

Anyhow... I love cooking shows, and I love sassy ladies.  I love that Fanny wears a ball gown when she cooks. I love how she bosses her assistant around and calls her "my darling." I love how clumsily she assembles her dishes. I love her kooky eyebrows, and I love that the name Fanny Cradock sounds absurd, and it wasn't even the woman's real name.

I love the way that food has changed, too. What would adventurous cooking look like today, and how silly will it seem in 50 years?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Roasted Carrots with Dates and Ginger

You have carrots just lying around in your vegetable bin...
Roast them with dates!

A couple of my friends have gotten into the Paleo diet in the last few years.  I have never tried it, but I appreciate that these friends have found the diet to be an effective way to lose weight/eat less processed food/feel better/learn to cook.  As an observer, while skeptical of most diets, I like that Paleo inspires new recipes and ways of eating (especially the plant-based recipes!).

A while back, one of these friends mentioned that he had tried and loved a Paleo recipe for roasted carrots and dates.  This friend has excellent taste in food, so I knew that his rave was meant to be taken seriously.  I made a mental note of the roasted carrot and date idea, and forgot about it for a few months.

The other day, I was at Cookbook in Echo Park, and I saw these beautiful dates:
They're from Bautista Family Organic Date Ranch, and after trying them, I can humbly suggest that they might be the Porsches of the date world.  They have a buttery, sweet, molasses-like taste with a perfectly creamy texture.  

So I had these dates... then I realized I had a ton of carrots in my vegetable drawer. I really don't eat carrots that often. Also, I'm generally not a huge fan of roasted carrot or glazed carrot dishes.  But the stars aligned ingredient-wise, and I was tempted to finally try the recipe.

I looked online, but I couldn't find the recipe my friend had described to me. I could've just asked him for it, but it's always more fun to try to figure something out on your own, right?

I'm pretty happy with the results. I think I'll be cleaning out my veggie drawer carrot surplus more often. 

Roasted Carrots with Dates, Ginger and Cumin
Serves 4

2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
6-7 or 5 cups medium sized carrots, chopped into 1-inch wide chunks cut on the diagnol
5-6 medium sized dates, pitted and roughly chopped
1 inch ginger root, finely diced (use a teaspoon of ginger powder if you don't have fresh ginger)
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon cardamom (I'm obsessed, this is optional)
salt and pepper to taste
chopped cilantro or flat leaf parsley to garnish (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit/ 205 degrees Celsius (hey South African friends!)

In  a small pot or sauce pan, melt the coconut oil. Allow the oil to cool slightly

In a medium bowl, add the carrots, chopped date, and finely diced ginger root. Make sure your carrots are all chopped into roughly the same size so that they cook evenly. Pour the melted and cooled coconut oil over the carrot mixture and toss until everything is thoroughly coated (if your carrots are cold, the oil will solidify, but that's not a big deal).  Sprinkle the cumin, cardamom, salt, and pepper over the mix.  Toss the carrots and dates one more time.

On a lined baking sheet, spread out the carrot mixture.  Make sure the carrots are evenly spread out so that they brown on the tray, if they're all huddled together they'll steam. Bake in the oven for 7-8 minutes, take them out and stir the carrots about, and then place them back in the oven for 7-8 more minutes or until the carrots are nicely browned (browning times will depend on your carrots and your oven... just check on them every 6 minutes or so).

Garnish with chopped cilantro if you feel like a strong herby flavor to cut through the roasted sweetness. Flat leaf parsley is milder. You can skip both entirely if you're not down with fresh herbs.


This is for T.  I knew it was possible, but never accepted the possibility. 
We are bad dancers with no regrets. Love you, and miss you so much already.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Tim's Kitchen Tips

You need a good laugh...
Watch the best cooking show ever!

This is a long story mostly un-related to food or cooking, so if you want to skip it, the short story is that I am obsessed with Tim and Eric's cooking web series. I've seen it dozens of times and it still cracks me up. I aspire to make a show of this caliber one day. Enjoy!

My dear friend Lauren (co-founder of the internationally acclaimed Sober and Lonely Institute of Contemporary Arts) turned me on to Tim and Eric.  Lauren is a self-described Tim and Eric superfan. Lauren was born and raised in South Africa, and currently resides in Johannesburg.    She has spent the majority of her twenties traveling around the world attending various artist residencies.  Since the spring of 2012, Lauren has visited Los Angeles 3 times. Once, she came here on a special "birthright Los Angeles" trip organized by an artist, who also happens to be one of my best-friends.  The second two times, she came here as part of two different highly prestigious artist residencies.  The girl is a baller!

Jon (the aforementioned artist who organized Lauren's first trip to the States) decided to surprise Lauren one evening by having me take her to a movie screening where he knew that Eric, of Tim and Eric, would be giving an introduction to the film.  Ok, before we go on let me just say this about Jon: Jon loves to orchestrate crazy plans and surprises, those plans are often complicated and irritating, but once enacted they end up proving to be vaguely magical (for lack of a better word).

Jon couldn't make it to the screening for whatever reason, so as to ensure that Lauren would receive his surprise, he guilt-tripped me into taking her to see the obscure artist documentary.  Neither of us were in the mood to see a movie that night, but Jon had convinced Lauren to go, and I knew that seeing Eric would make Lauren's year.

We arrived at the Downtown Independent theater, picked up our tickets, and took our seats.  Lauren had no idea who she was about to see. When Eric came out on stage to introduce the film, the look on Lauren's face was priceless.  I would have gone to the screening every week for a year just to see someone that happy.  I'm pretty sure she simultaneously squealed and gasped. She was ecstatic!

The movie is called Convento, and it was directed by Jarred Alterman.  The movie was super good and totally fascinating.  After the screening, Eric introduced Jarred onto the stage for a Q&A.  As Jarred took the stage, I sat there thinking: "I know this guy from somewhere." I couldn't pay attention to what was being said, as I kept trying to figure out where I knew Jarred from.  Was he an actor? Had I read about him somewhere? Did I meet him through a friend? After about 5 minutes, it hit me.

Jarred had worked on a documentary project with my brother when my brother was in grad school, and I was still in college.  Jarred and my brother travelled around the country interviewing alumni from their university. Their project took them to Seattle, where I was home visiting my mother.  My brother and Jarred ended up crashing at my mom's house one night, and we all hung out and got along like gangbusters.

After the screening, I went up to Jarred and said, "I know this is weird, and you probably don't remember, but I'm Yuli's sister, and I think you stayed at my mom's place many years ago."  At first Jarred looked baffled, and in an instant, the memory of that experience hit him. Loudly, he said: "WE ATE SALMON PIZZA!!" That was true.  Everyone around us laughed because salmon pizza is funny and kind of gross sounding, and it's even funnier when someone is yelling about it animatedly. The coincidence of seeing each other again at his screening felt meaningful at the time.

After the Q&A, folks were mingling around the bar. Lauren and I got a drink, and soon we found Eric standing beside us.  Despite her shy nature, Lauren manned up and introduced herself to Eric. Eric had been friends with Jarred since high school, which is why he was the MC of the event.  We talked about our connections to Jarred, and about Lauren and South Africa.  Eric was totally nice and gracious. Photos were taken.

These are all small things, but the night still looms large in our personal history.

Because of Lauren, I've become a big fan of Tim and Eric... but I hope you don't try the recipe above, unless you are trying it to make those awesome gloppy sound effects.

    Eric Wareheim with Lauren! 7/27/2012

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Chai Spiced Cookies

You want to make an easy to bake and festive cookie...
Make chai spiced cookies!

Cookies can get complicated.  Sometimes they involve multiple steps involving ingredients of varying temperatures, resting/cooling periods, dough rolling out, decorating, and so on.  That is all well and good, but sometimes you just want to make a cookie that feels fun and different, but that does not require the skills of a master pastry chef.

These cookies are awesome! They are super easy to make, and they are the perfect texture - soft on the inside, crispy on the outside.  They have the subtle flavors of chai tea, but the classic appeal of a traditional sugar cookie. You will probably want to double the recipe, because these guys will go quickly.

I have only made a few changes to Jamie's solid recipe (mostly I just upped the spice content). You could also probably cut out a 1/4 cup of sugar if you do not like things to be too sweet.  If you do not have all of these spices on hand, I would say that cinnamon and cardamom are the most important flavors in these cookies.  You can skip the others, but don't skip those.


Chai Spiced Cookies
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups white sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground clove 
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature and softened
1 egg, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.
2. In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
3. In a medium bowl combine sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, cloves, allspice and black pepper. Remove 1/4 cup of the sugar-spice mixture, set aside to reserve for rolling the cookies.
4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar-spice mixture until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. This step is crucial. Make sure your butter is room temperature (leave out your butter the night before, or first thing in the morning), and allow the mixture to really get fluffy and light. If I'm feeling impatient, I like to set a timer to ensure that I don't rush the process.
5. Beat in egg and vanilla extract, combine until fully incorporated. Once you add the egg don't overmix the batter, beat it until incorporated.  
6. Slowly blend in dry ingredients mixing until just combined.
7. Using a small ice cream scoop (2 teaspoons) or a spoon, scoop out the batter and roll the dough into balls.  Then roll the balls into the reserved sugar-spice mixture. Place dough balls on a lined baking sheet about 1 1/2 inches apart (I prefer parchment paper). I pressed the center of the balls down just ever so slightly, because I prefer a flatter cookie.
7. Bake in preheated oven for 8 to 10 minutes. Always err on the side of under-baking when you're making cookies.
8. Let stand on baking sheet two minutes before removing to cool on wire racks.
*I ended up icing these cookies.  They are already plenty sweet, but a drizzle of icing over the top made these cookies look a little fancier, and it also added a nice textural element.  You can make your own icing (1 cup powdered sugar, 1-2 tablespoons milk of water depending on the thickness you desire), or you can pick up something like this:

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Butternut Squash and Tahini Spread

You want to make a dip for a party...
Make butternut squash and tahini Spread!

Yotam Ottolenghi is a highly regarded chef, restaurant owner, and cookbook author.  I might argue that he is one of the most important cookbook writers in recent history.  Straight up, the man wrote a cookbook (Plenty) JUST about vegetables and it was a critically acclaimed, award winning, international best seller.  His recipes work AND they're delicious.

His follow-up to Plenty is a cookbook called Jerusalem, which he wrote with his business partner Sami Tamimi.  The New Yorker did a great profile on Ottolenghi discussing his background and the making of Jerusalem.  In short, Ottolenghi is Israeli-born of German and Italian descent, while Tamimi is Palestinian. They were both born and raised in Jerusalem, and they independently moved to London as adults, where they met and opened the first Ottolenghi restaurant.  The book showcases recipes that come from Arab and Jewish culinary traditions that relate specifically to Jerusalem.

With regards to Jerusalem's cultural and political complexity, they have eloquently written:
Alas, although Jerusalemites have so much in common, food, at the moment, seems to be the only unifying force in this highly fractured place.  The dialogue between Jews and Arabs, and often among Jews themselves, is almost nonexistent.  It is sad to note how little daily interaction there is between communities, with people sticking together in closed, homogenous groups.  Food, however, seems to break down those boundaries on occasion. You can see people shop together in food markets, or eat in one another's restaurants.  On rare occasions, they work together in partnership in food establishments.  It takes a giant leap of faith, but we are happy to take it - what have we got to lose? - to imagine that hummus will eventually bring Jerusalemites together, if nothing else will.  

I've been wanting to make this butternut squash and tahini spread since I first saw it in their cookbook. It sounded kind of weird, and I wasn't sure if it would taste good to me. I'm a big fan of squash, and I always have a jar of tahini on hand.  I've even tried tahini sauce on squash in the past, and I loved it. Still, I was suspect of making a hummus-type dip combining both ingredients. I'm also a little sick of everything becoming a hummus (e.g. beet hummus and avocado hummus). I think hummus has been dominating the dip world, and not always in a good way.

Curiosity won and I made the recipe. My verdict: this dip is delicious  It is more savory than sweet, its texture is smooth and pleasing, and its flavor is "different" in a good way.  Having said that, my brother was not a fan.  He wanted something that was either more hummus-y or more squash flavored - this dip blurred those lines. My sister in law really liked it, as did some other folks that tried it.  All I know is that I have none left, and I made at least four cups of the stuff only three days ago.  I guess the verdict is still out.

If anything, your friends will be impressed by the look and uniqueness of this spread.  I like to serve it with pita chips or some other kind of crunchy plain-tasting cracker that won't compete with the flavors in the dip.

Here is their recipe with a few minor additions and changes...

Butternut Squash & Tahini Spread

1 large butternut squash (about 2.5-3 lbs.), cut in half
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cardamom (optional)
5 tbsp tahini paste
3/4 cup Greek yogurt
2 small garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 tsp mixed black and white sesame seeds (or just white, if you don't have black)
pomegranate molasses (can substitute with date syrup, maple syrup, or leave it out entirely)
cilantro, chopped (optional)
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit

Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds.  Place the squash on a lined baking sheet, and drizzle it with the olive oil,  then sprinkle the cinnamon, cardamom, salt and pepper on top.  Cover the baking sheet tightly with aluminum foil, and roast in the oven for 70 minutes, or until the squash is fully cooked.  Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

Once the squash has cooled, scoop the insides of the squash (including the oil) into a food processor (you can also do this in a bowl with an immersion blender, fork, or potato masher).  Add the pressed/minced garlic, tahini, and yogurt.  Roughly pulse the mixture so that everything is combined into a coarse paste, without the spread becoming too smooth.

Plate the spread, drizzle with pomegranate molasses, sesame seeds, and finish with chopped cilantro.

*I also think this might be nice with some freshly squeezed lime or lemon on top.  I chose pomegranate molasses because while it adds sweetness, it also adds a nice tangyness. In L.A., you can find pomegranate molasses at Jon's for cheap, or at Whole Foods for not so cheap

**Tonight, I was at Cookbook in Echo Park and I saw this spread in their fridge!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Cooking Club Recap

Last night was another installment of cooking club! One Sunday a month, a group of awesome ladies gather to eat and drink delicious things in a relaxed atmosphere.  One of the things I love most about our cooking club is how diverse our members' backgrounds are.  We come from different fields ranging from medicine, to entertainment, to politics, to education, to architecture, and more. Of course, we all share a love of food.

As you can see in the video that Courtney made, last night we were testing Thanksgiving recipes. Courtney is a producer at Tastemade, a food and lifestyle network on Youtube.  Tastemade does amazing things for food on the internet. One of the coolest things they've done is to create an app that was used to make the video above. The app blew my mind! Courtney took a few 10-15 second videos with sound, she shot some close-ups of the food and the apartment, and then the app helped her easily edit the clips into a professional-looking final product.  There are even filters you can apply, and each one is named after a different kind of spice.  The app is called Tastemade, it's free, and I can't wait to start using it.

Back to the recap... there was so much great food, and Liz was an incredible hostess.  You'll see glimpses of her beautiful apartment both in the video and some of the photos below.

Olives, marcona almonds, and fruit

Lamp covered in colorful plastic monkeys 

Pumpkin packed with bread and cheese, based on this this recipe by Dorie Greenspan 

Leek Bread Pudding, based on this recipe from Ad Hoc at Home

Winter slaw adapted from the recipe in Ottolenghi's Plenty (a must-have cookbook)

Beautiful looking and tasting apple Tarte Tatin

The spread

I'm already excited for our next meeting!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Brown Butter, Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies

You are going to your bff's house for dinner...
Make brown butter chocolate chip cookies (and buy some salted caramel ice cream, too)!

(Skip to the bottom if you want to get straight to the recipe)

I have been on a quest for the "perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe"  for over a decade.  I have made countless batches of cookies, and I'm still not 100% satisfied with the numerous recipes I have tried. I have experimented by making the cookies with melted the butter, with room temperature butter, with light brown sugar, with dark brown sugar, by only mixing the ingredients with a wooden spoon, by using my Kitchenaid stand mixer, and so on and so on. I have heard that baking them on a baking stone makes all the difference, but I do not currently own a baking stone.

Recently, I cleaned out my cupboards and noticed that I have an excessive amount of good quality chocolate chips. Obviously, this is a HIGH class problem.  I made a mental note that I need an excuse to make more chocolate chip cookies. These excuses are pretty easy to come by, and a few days later I found a good one: my friend invited me over to dinner and mentioned that he had gotten everything except dessert.  Few things are as comforting and friendly as home-baked cookies.  They travel well, and you can leave the extras with your friend as a gift for the meal they prepared for you.

In addition to the cookies, I decided I'd also pick up some ice cream (or gelato, technically).  Have you ever had this?
You haven't?  You MUST.  You have? HOW GOOD IS THIS GELATO? Even the cashier at Gelson's made a point of telling me that she was crazy about the stuff.  It is especially good served with chocolate chip cookies.  It is doubly especially good if those cookies are made with brown butter, which echoes the rich caramel flavor of gelato.

This recipe is a variation of Nigella Lawson's from her excellent cookbook, Nigella Kitchen. She does not brown her butter, she uses zero salt (always bake with salt! it brings out the flavor in anything), she uses light instead of dark brown sugar, and she uses milk chocolate chips.  I have tried the recipe exactly as written in her book, and the cookies were good.

What am I looking for in my chocolate chip cookie?  I want a crispy exterior and a soft interior.  I thought this desire is universal.  Nope! Many of my friends made it clear to me that they prefer a "well done" cookie as opposed to the soft and chewy cookie that I prefer.  For instance, my Swiss neighbors informed me that soft cookies are considered inferior in Switzerland, because they are typically cookies that are left out in the air for days, and sold in mediocre markets.

The recipe below makes a fairly firm cookie.  It is just slightly firmer than I would like, but still a little soft in the center.  I was happy enough with the results, and the Swiss neighbor approved. Maybe this is the type of cookie that will bring the cookie divide closer together?  Also, I tried baking them in two different sizes, but that did not make much of a difference in terms of the textural outcome. This recipe still needs tweaking, but I am being picky. These cookies are damn good.

Brown Butter, Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 14 largish cookies, or 24 small cookies

1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter (10 tablespoons)
2/3 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1/2 cup superfine sugar (you can use regular sugar in a pinch)
2 teaspoons (good) vanilla extract
1 egg, refrigerator cold
1 egg yolk, refrigerator cold
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 x 11.5 ounce bag bittersweet or dark chocolate chips or chunks
Flake sea salt, for finishing

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a saucepan on medium high heat, melt the butter and whisk it as it melts and browns.  Once the butter is evenly browned and nutty, turn the heat off and allow it to cool slightly.  Put the brown and white sugars into a large mixing bowl, pour the slightly cooled browned butter over the sugar.  Beat the sugars and the butter together. I use a stand mixer for this, but you could do this with a handheld mixer, a whisk, or even a wooden spoon.

Beat in the vanilla, the cold egg, and the cold egg yolk, until the mixture is light and creamy. Don't rush this process, really let the mixture get light and creamy.

Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt into a bowl.  Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients until they are fully incorporated.  Fold in the chocolate chips. Allow the batter to chill for 30 minutes. If you are really impatient, 15 minutes will suffice.

Scoop the cookie dough into a quarter-cup measure or a 1/4 cup ice-cream scoop.  1/4 cup makes a large cookie, I also made these in 2-teaspoon sized scoops using a small ice-cream scoop.  Choose your fancy...  Plop the cookies down about 3 inches apart.  Press them down just slightly, and lightly sprinkle flake sea salt or gray salt over the top.  Keep the bowl of cookie dough in the refrigerator between batches.

Bake for 15 minutes if your cookies are a 1/4-cup sized.  Bake for 10 minutes if they are 2-teaspoon sized.  Let the cookies cool in the pan for 3-5 minutes before transferring them onto a wire rack.  If you just keep them cooling on the pan they will continue to cook... no bueno.

Serve the cookies with salted caramel ice cream. Heaven.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Golden Beet Salad with Orange Blossom Vinaigrette (Happy Halloween!)

You want to bring a salad to a potluck...
Make golden beet salad with an orange blossom vinaigrette!

A few weeks ago, my brother got married at the Olympic Sculpture Garden in Seattle.  For the rehearsal dinner, he and my sister-in-law rented out a small restaurant called Belle Clementine.  The meal was memorable both for its company and its food.

Belle Clementine is located in Ballard - a fun, vibrant, and historically Scandinavian-filled part of Seattle. The space itself is beautiful.  The decor is modern, minimalist and warm.  The staff is friendly, knowledgeable and passionate.  For me, the open and homey kitchen is the highlight of the restaurant. It bears no resemblance to the standard stainless steel-heavy and utilitarian kitchens that most restaurants have. Wood is prevalent, cookbooks are displayed, and the lighting is not fluorescent. When you dine in the restaurant you get the impression that you are in someone's home watching your meal be made by friends.

Chef David Sanford and his team executed an incredibly thoughtful and thoroughly delicious meal.
In each course they added subtle homages to our combined family's varied ethnic backgrounds: Russian, Turkish, and Jewish.  You can see for yourself:

BC marinated olives, hard cheese, quince paste aka "membrillo"

Yogurt flatbreads with muhammara (roasted pepper and walnut spread) - taking advantage of last of season peppers, first of season walnuts

Salad of roasted golden beets, ricotta salata, and peppercress - orange blossom vinaigrette

Pan roasted Black Cod 
Alvarez farm chickpeas, garlic, carrot, celeriac and turkish oregano
Italian chard aka "Bietole", with sumac and shoestring leeks

Poached pear, pineau de cherentes, mascarpone, mint

The fish was ethereal, the pears were outstanding, but the golden beet salad really stood out in my mind.  I knew I would want to try to riff on the dish when I got back to L.A.

Then, I was invited to a Halloween potluck party and thought about orange-colored foods.  This salad is good any time of year, but its bright orange color is perfect for a sophisticated and exotic holiday dish.

This is my version of David's salad. Thank you for that incredible meal. If you're in Seattle, I highly recommend you check out his place.

Golden Beet, Watercress, Hazelnut Salad - Orange Blossom Vinaigrette.
Serves 6-8
Makes 1 cup dressing

6-7 medium sized golden beets
1 bunch of watercress (about 5 cups chopped)
2 cups arugula
1/3 cup toasted hazelnuts, chopped
1 watermelon radish (optional)

1-2 teaspoons orange blossom water (this is perfumey strong-tasting stuff... you can always add more)
1 teaspoon agave nectar or honey
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar (I like Bragg's)
3/4 cup olive oil, or grapeseed oil
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Line a 9x13 baking dish with foil.  Rinse the beets to remove any dirt.  Place the beets (peels on) into the dish.  Cover the dish with foil; this will allow the beets to steam inside the dish.  Roast for one hour or until the beets are fork tender. Once the beets are fully cooked and cooled you can easily remove their peels.

Slice the beets. I like to cut them in half, and then again into thin half-moons.  You can cut them up however you fancy.  Place the sliced beets into a mixing bowl and set aside.

Add all of the salad dressing ingredients into a jar and shake vigorously until the vinaigrette is emulsified. Pour the vinaigrette over the beets until they are just covered with the dressing. You will have extra dressing, which you can reserve and serve on the side.  Place the beets into the fridge and allow them to marinate for at least one hour (you can keep them marinating all day).

While the beets are marinating, toast your hazelnuts. Place the nuts on a small tray and roast them at 325 degrees in a toaster oven for about 5-7 minutes, or until golden brown (you can  toast them in a regular oven, too).  Keep an eye on them as they roast; they can burn easily.  Once the hazelnuts are toasted and cooled you can rub off their skins, which can be bitter if you leave them on. Roughly chop up the hazelnuts.

To assemble the salad, add the watercress and arugula to the bottom of your serving dish.  Cut up a watermelon radish into thin slices and add them to the greens (radish is optional).  Pour the marinated beets and their juices over the greens. Sprinkle the toasted hazelnuts over the top of the salad.

Serve and enjoy!

Oh, and this guy was the real star of the party (he's named Little Dog)... HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Witches' Fingers Almond Cookies

You want to bake something that looks creepy but tastes delicious...
Make cookies that look like fingers and taste like almonds!

Usually, I'm sort of a grinch about Halloween.  Horror movies terrify me, I'm not the greatest at planning costumes, and I don't really care about orange-colored sweets.  This year everything changed. The Halloween spirit took over me. I have parties to go to, a costume all set, candy to hand out to kids, and a planned menu.

A friend asked me to co-host a party with him. He's curating the entertainment: magicians, psychics, storytellers, arial acrobats, and a punk band.  You know, the usual.  He asked if I could be the headliner of the "food" part of the party.  It's a potluck, but we decided I'll make four dishes in large quantities. I knew I wanted to make something Halloween-y that looked kind of gross, but tasted good.

I researched different kinds of Halloween-themed desserts, and decided against making a cake that looked like kitty litter and cat poop. Instead, I found this recipe by Sandra on Allrecipes (or see below).

I followed the recipe mostly as written, and it works quite well.  I didn't use the wax paper to form the fingers.  You don't need it.  You can simply scoop a teaspoon of chilled batter into your hand and mold it into a finger shape.  I used a knife to make the knuckle lines.

Next time, I might add a little more almond extract to the batter.  I also might substitute half the flour with almond flour.  This cookie has a subtle almond taste, but I think it could use a little more almond flavor. My sister in law suggested adding fennel seed, and that might be delicious as well.  This is a simple sugar cookie recipe, and it's easy to add other flavorings or spices to it.

Whatever you do, don't forget to add the red icing.  Once the cookies cool, the almonds pop off. To glue them back into place you use the icing.  Bonus: the icing looks like blood! Ewwww!

All that said, this recipe makes a perfectly gross-looking, lovely tasting, and holiday appropriate cookie. Boo!

Happy Halloween!

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup whole almonds
1 (.75 ounce) tube red decorating gel
1.Combine the butter, sugar, egg, almond extract, and vanilla extract in a mixing bowl. Beat together with an electric mixer; gradually add the flour, baking powder, and salt, continually beating; refrigerate 20 to 30 minutes.
2.Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Lightly grease baking sheets.
3.Remove dough from refrigerator in small amounts. Scoop 1 heaping teaspoon at a time onto a piece of waxed paper. Use the waxed paper to roll the dough into a thin finger-shaped cookie. Press one almond into one end of each cookie to give the appearance of a long fingernail. Squeeze cookie near the tip and again near the center of each to give the impression of knuckles. You can also cut into the dough with a sharp knife at the same points to help give a more finger-like appearance. Arrange the shaped cookies on the baking sheets.
4.Bake in the preheated oven until the cookies are slightly golden in color, 20 to 25 minutes.
5.Remove the almond from the end of each cookie; squeeze a small amount of red decorating gel into the cavity; replace t