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Hagarita -  the love of cooking and sharing food

Vegan Gratin, purple potato,

Two years ago I published a recipe for a Jerusalem and chestnut gratin, it is one of my favorite recipes and a go to whenever Jerusalem artichokes are in season. This year I had a new challenge, as my friend became vegan I decided to make a different version of this fabulous gratin.I used purple potatoes, for their beautiful color, Jerusalem artichokes (also known as Sunchokes), shallots and pre cooked and packaged chestnuts. To replace the milk, cream and cream fraiche I used my new favorite creamer: Cashews! For the best cashew cream I soak them over night in water, and then puree to a smooth "milk", but if you are pressed for time place a handful (about 1/2 a cup) of raw cashews in a bowl of hot water, replace the water as they cool down, or keep on a low simmer for an hour - two. The nuts are ready when they are soft and juicy, then you can puree them in a blender. start with a little water and add more if needed, you want it to be thick, not runny.

ingredients:potatoes, Jerusalem artichoke, chestnuts (cooked and peeled), shallots, thyme, cashew cream, paprika, salt, pepper, juice of half a lemon and bread crumbs 

 

pre heat the oven to 375 start by slicing all vegetable as thin as you can, then mix all ingredients but bread crumbs  in a large bowl.adjust seasoning and layer in the dish you intend on using for baking.  if you want to make distinct layers, you can mix the cashew cream in as you layer the vegetable, make sure it gets all the way in between the pieces and layers.sprinkle crumbs on top, cover and bake for 35 min, remove cover and bake about 15 min more or until golden in color.let the gratin cool down a little before digging in. 

enjoy!

 

 

Ramps and kumquats

Its Spring (!!!) and with it comes a lovely selection of fresh fruit, vegetable and herbs. Just like these beautiful ramps. Ramps are wild leeks, they look a lot like a scallion with a strong garlic flavor and have a very short season, about 3-4 weeks a year. I had to get some, not really knowing what to make with it. kumquats are delicious tiny citrus, that has a tangy and sweet flavor. I have just bought both, without a plan on how to use them, along with a beautiful rack of lamb... Perhaps a chimichurri style sauce to accompany the lamb?

I Started by coring the Kumquats and dicing them small, then chopping up the ramps the same way, including the white bottoms.

Add garlic, lemon and orange zest and a little of their juice, salt, pepper, chilli flakes and olive oil.

I then made a critical mistake, trying to get the mixture to be finely chopped, I put it in the blender, that wouldn't be so bad if I was holding back on the olive oil but I didn't, and once I turned on the blender the oil emulsified, resulting in a creamy sauce rather than a chimichurri... it was still delicious, but had a completely different look and texture from what I was going for.

It looked a lot like Guacamole.. but had a wonderful taste of a the green garlicky ramps, with a nice side kick from the kumquats.

Beef and Beans

Last week I was requested to make a Cholent at work, a Cholent (if you are not familiar with the term) is a slowly cooked mixture of beans, potatoes, meat, barley and sometimes whole eggs. The beans need to be soaked in water for a few hours prior to cooking, and so the first thing I did that morning, was to soak 1lb of mixed beans. 6 hours later, just as I was about to start cooking the Cholent, a man walked into the kitchen, carrying two large aluminum pans with, guess what?, Cholent.Now I have a pound of soaked beans, and clearly no need for Cholent...

I called South Africa immediately and I asked my second dad for his famous bean soup recipe, growing up I remember this soup as a special treat, it's perfect for cold weather, to eat while snuggling next to the fire watching the winter out of the window. Funny how subjective life is, today I know that those cold winters back home, weren't really cold, and that 40 degrees is a nice day if you are wintering in NYC...

Back to the soup now: 500 gr of pre soaked beans (preferably over night) 250 gr of beef or lamb meat, cubed 120 gr of tomato paste 350 gr fresh peeled tomatoes, cubed 15 garlic cloves, sliced 2 tbsp sweet paprika 1 tsp hot paprika 1/2 tsp nutmeg 1/2 tsp tumric 8 tbsp olive oil 2 tbsp salt 1.5 liter water

If you have a pressure cooker now will be the time to pull it out and use it, I don't have one, which is why this soup was cooking for about a week (at least that's what it felt like, in real life it was about 8 hours).

Heat the oil in the pot you are intending on using for the soup, add the meat and sear it, add all ingredients BUT the beans along with 2 cups of water and stir well. Add beans and remaining of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, if using a pressure cooker you will have your soup ready in an hour. if not... oh well, good things are worth waiting for.

Served best with fresh bread.

Tahini and Silan cookies

It's been months that I have been planing on making these cookies. It all started after I had Thini cookies at Sugar-Daddy in Tel Aviv earlier this year. I was talking about making these cookies for so long that it seemed like it wasn't going to happen.After looking up recipes online and in my cookbook collection and not coming up with anything that seemed promising, I tried to improvise... The first batch of cookies was too hard, so I added some butter and replaced a 1/3 of the spelt flour with almond meal. And here you go, a winner recipe, the cookies came out tasty and crumbly, perfect served with tea or on their own. So good! Thini is basically ground up sesame seeds and Silan is a date syrup, the combination of these two flavors is unreal. First thing is making sure you are using high quality Thini paste, I prefer Thini that comes from the middle east, it just seems to be better than any local brand I tried. The Silan should be as natural as possible, and without preservatives. 1/2 cup raw Thini paste 1/2 cup date syrup 8 tablespoon of butter (1 stick) 1 1/2 cup flour, I used spelt and almond meal, 1 cup spelt and 1/2 almond. 1/4 cup chopped pistachio cinnamon, cardamon, vanilla and a pinch of salt

Pre-heat the oven to 355 (180 Celsius) Start by placing the thini and butter in a sauce pan over low heat, mix until well combined. In a large bowl mix the thini-butter paste with the silan, chopped pistachios, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, a few drops of vanilla extract, 1/2-1 teaspoon of ground cardamon and the salt. Slowly add the flour and mix by hand until a soft dough is formed. Using your hands, form small balls and place on a baking pan, since the dough is soft the cookies will spread, so make sure they are spread out.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, just until slightly brown and take out. Let cool before trying to move the cookies or they will fall apart. The cookies are extremely soft at first but they will harden as they cool down.

Cooking with my father - part two

Its bone marrow time!About a year and a half ago, just a few days before I started working at The Breslin, I had dinner there with my father. Both of us ordered the bone marrow onion soup. neither of us was overly impressed and then he made a promise, that in due time he will teach me how to make what he was calling "real bone marrow". The time has finally arrived, and for my farewell meal he shared with me his bone marrow roasting recipe. Bone marrow is something I was avoiding for years, for obvious reasons, I like to Believe. It's fatty content always seemed unappealing to me. Then when I finally had some, I wished I have done so years earlier. When roasted correctly, bone marrow is the perfect companion for a nice slice of bread, scooped out and spread on a toast. finger licking worthy.

Starting by pre-heating your oven to a medium-high heat, place the bones in a baking dish, marrow part up, and sprinkle some sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and paprika.

place them in the oven for about 20 minutes, watching closely to ensure they aren't going over and melting into oil. You know they are ready when the bone is nicely colored and the marrow looks like it starting to char.

Cooking with my father

My father is an amazing cook, he's been a culinary inspiration to me for years. His cooking skills always amazed me, he taught me some tricks that are the direct result of him being an inventor and is the only person who I allow alluring me into eating foods I wouldn't dare considering.One of my favorite food games is asking him for one of his recipes. The ritual, is, with slight circumstantial changes, the same every time. It usually takes place over the dinner table, as I am wolfing on one of his delicious creations, I then, with a mouth full of food, ask him for the ingredients and he refuses to tell me what it is that was happening in his pots. then I ask again, and he, once more, says no. Then I give it a few minutes, just staring at him with anticipation. I can tell I'm getting close to breaking him down and so I ask once more. Usually that's where he tells me what he did and how, unfortunately I can rarely duplicate it. Last weekend was a whole different story though. I came home to spend the weekend with my family and had the extreme pleasure of watching him in action. We are so far away from each other, that those moments are truly rare and fill me up with joy. He was slicing beef fillet to about a 1/4 inch thick slices, then in a mortar he made a paste from Rosemary, sea salt, pepper and olive oil. The meat was then rubbed with the paste and set aside.

A heavy grilling pan was then wrapped in foil to avoid a ridiculously dirty stove top and the searing began. The meat goes in for a quick minute or two, on both sides and then comes out. Once all the meat is done he starts the sauce.

Now you might ask yourself why am I about to give out a recipe of a man who so strictly protects them, here's why: 3 months ago, just as I returned home, my father made this very same dish, he asked that I'll go get Moscato, and I did, only I got the bubbly version... He made it anyways, using the bubbly wine instead and that would have been it if it wasn't for the next time he decided to make it, this time using the wine he initially planned on using, the sauce came out different, something was missing, those bubbles did something to the flavor that didn't come through using the flat wine. Ha, what an incredible turn out to my little mistake! And so now I claim this recipe to be partially mine, and therefor can share it with the world. (also, i asked and he said it's fine...)

Back to the sauce now, on the same cast iron pan he used to sear the meat he now pours the wine, let it release all the flavors and adds butter, cream and lots of black pepper, if salt is needed it will be added a well. The meat goes back in for a quick second and then served.

Say Cheese

Its Shavuot, the holiday that commemorates God giving the Torah to the Israelites, and we celebrate it by wearing all white and eating dairy. That might seem odd, but somewhere, someone, had an argument good enough to make others agree, and therefore I wear white (actually I wore purple) and eat cheese. And I can't complain, as I LOVE dairy in most of its edible forms. Earlier this week I visited Liat and was handed a bag full of passion-fruit, different from most fruit, the best passion-fruit are the dark and wrinkly looking ones. I love Passion fruit, and it's Shavuot, what else was I to do? Short side story, while visiting Hawaii last year I was introduced to the local version of Passion-fruit, Jamaican Lilikoi, a yellow-orange colored fruit, that looks very much like the familiar passion-fruit, but is much sweeter. During that trip I became slightly obsessed with the idea of topping a cheese cake with this wonderful, delicious, tropical fruit, but that never happened. With the combination of the fruit in my bag and the arriving holiday the outcome was inevitable.

Passion-Cheese cake it is.

The recipe is easy as can be, but it is made with an Israeli soft cheese that doesn't have an American equivalent... You can buy it in Israeli/Jewish supermarkets if you really wanna give it a go or use kwark or fromage blanc instead.

For the dough base: 1/2 cup (100g) sugar 2 cups (280g) AP flour 3 egg yolks 200g cold butter, diced

mix all ingredients together until a uniform dough is formed, placed in a buttered baking dish and shape to make an even base.

Bake on medium heat (180°c, 350°f) for 30 minutes. once the dough is baked scrape it with a fork to make crumbs, cool down and place in an air-tight box.

For the cheese cake, mix 500 ml heavy cream and 1/3 cup (70g) sugar whip to form a thick cream, then mix in 500g white cheese (Israeli soft, white cheese, should be drained in a cheese cloth over a bowl, in the fridge, for at least two hours prior to mixing in the cake), and some lemon zest.

once the base is completely cool, pour the cheese mixture over the dough and place in the fridge for at least 4 hours to set.

Before serving let stand in room temp for 15 minutes, then, either sprinkle with the crumbs or top with passion fruit, or berries.

8 balls for our independence

Tuesday was Israel's independence day, a day of joy and celebrations, one that comes immediately after the saddest day of the year, memorial day.
Independence day was always close to my heart, as a child it involved putting flags up on our house and car, performing on the main stage, watching the fireworks, folk dancing and partying into the night. it is also THE day for BBQ, every corner, every tiny piece of grass turns into a spot to place your burning coals and barbecue. it's a huge meat-fest, all over the place. Since I am not much of a steak eater I made a quick stop in Yafo the day before and bought some veggies, walking through the small market I spotted these beauties. Score!!

To fill the need for some meat on this glorious day of beef eating I stuffed them with rice and beef, some pine nuts and parsley, and spices (salt, pepper, paprika, cumin, cinnamon). To avoid undercooked rice make sure you cook it beforehand. the ratio of meat and rice depends on your liking, I used 1lb of ground meat to about 2 cups of cooked rice, 1/2 cup of toasted pine nuts, fried onion and garlic.

Empty the inside of the zucchini with a small sharp knife and a teaspoon, make sure not to cut too deep into the skin, try to leave at least 1/4 - 1/2 an inch of meat on the inside, then stuff them but don't press it in too much, so it remains airy.

Then place them all in a pot with tomato sauce, start with garlic and onions, add tomatoes, a bay leaf or two, salt, pepper, paprika, cumin, spicy paprika, tomato juice and a little parsley. bring to a boil, them simmer for about an hour and a half, I sometimes finish it all in the oven for an hour.

Served with some sour cream, Israeli style, thick and full of flavor, and some tasty bread.

There is nothing I like cooking better than stuffed 8 balls. Nothing. Enjoy.

oh my god, these are the yummiest little things!!!

Amy B was here this weekend for a very short minute, and that was a great reason to cook and celebrate. On Sunday as a part of our way to convince Roi to come and help us with an ongoing bathroom renovation, and since Amy was in town, I cooked an elaborate brunch featuring these little cheesy puffs, called gougères, savory cheesy pastry puffs. oh my, they are so delicious.Being the gruyere lover that I am its sorta hard to be objective about any food that has this fantastic swiss work of art in it, but pairing these little yummies with some poached eggs was simply delightful, and it didn't require too much work either (it is rare for me to go for recipes that do...). It doesn't require using a mixer, nor it won't break your hand mixing it.

makes 8-10 servings

1/3 cup (3 oz/90 g) unsalted butter 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper pinch of cayenne pepper 1 cup (5 oz/155 g) all-purpose flour 4 large eggs 3 + 1 for brushing 1 1/2 cups (6 oz/185 g) shredded Gruyere cheese

pre-heat oven to 425°F (220° C), line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. in a saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the butter, salt, white pepper, cayenne, and 1 cup (8 fl oz/250 ml) water and bring to a boil. cook, stirring, until the butter melts, 3-4 minutes. Add the flour and, using a wooden spoon, mix vigorously until a thick paste forms and pulls away from the sides of the pan, about 3 minutes. remove from heat. break 1 egg into the pan, using the wooden spoon, beat it into the batter until combined. repeat with additional 2 eggs. whisk in 1 cup (4 oz/125 g) of the cheese.

dip a teaspoon into a glass of cold water, then scoop up a generous teaspoonful of the batter and push it onto the prepares baking sheet with a fingertip. repeat with the remaining batter, spacing them 2 inches (5 cm) apart and dipping the spoon each time to prevent sticking. brush the tops off with an egg and sprinkle with the remaining of the cheese.

bake for 10 minutes, reduce oven temp to 350°F (180° C) and bake until golden and crisp, about 15 minutes. remove from the oven, pierce each one with a wooden skewer, and then return to the oven. turn off oven and leave the gougères in the oven for 10 minutes. serve at room temperature

Bon Appetit!

french cherry clafoutis.

A few days ago as we were eating some cherry pie, Tacuma asked: "when are you gonna make some cherry pie?"when cherries are in season, I said, thinking it won't be before summer, two days later while walking through Chinatown I saw a women selling cherries, and though I usually prefer using produce in its peak season I couldn't resist and bought 2lbs of tart cherries.

Looking for a good cherry pie recipe I learned about Clafoutis. Clafoutis is a custard that is made from cream, flour, eggs, spices and cherries. Being the custard lover that I am and with Nitzan alongside me salivating over the pictures in the book, we decided to go for it. since I had already thawed some crust dough I had saved from my last pie, I decided to add it to the mix. Could have done just fine without it, and most likely will next time, but it was still delicious. You start with pitting the cherries, a task that is a bit tedious, but in my opinion has to be done. According to this french cook book, traditionally you leave the pits in, that's fine as long as you make sure you warn your guests before they start eating. Since we ate many of them in the process of cleaning we ended up with one pound of  pitted cherries. Just enough. place the cherries in a baking dish, including any juice that is left after cleaning them. pre-heat oven to 375°F (180°C) In a bowl whisk together 2 eggs and 2 egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar until well mixed and slightly stiff. add 3.5 oz (100 gr) of almond meal, 2 tablespoons of AP flour, 2 cups of cream or half and half, cinnamon and vanilla extract to taste and mix well. Pour mixture over the cherries,  and into the oven it goes...

After about 40-45 minutes poke the center and check if the custard is set, continue cooking until nicely golden on top, if the center is still a little soft don't worry, it will set as it cools down.

Dust with some powdered sugar before serving. Enjoy !

almond cardamon pancake in bluberry goodness

In the middle of making breakfast this morning we realized we only have enough pancake mix for 3 small pancakes, really small pancakes. oops. that wouldn't be a problem if it wasn't for the fact Roi and Nitzan were on their way. now what?In the pantry I got flour, almond meal, corn starch and condense milk... hmm.. that doesn't sound promising. let's mix some flour and almond flour, cinnamon, cardamon, lemon zest, sugar, vanilla and almond extracts, an egg, some almond milk and see what happens..

1 cup AP 1 cup almond flour 1 egg 1/3 cup sugar 2 tablespoon ground cinnamon 2 tablespoon ground cardamon 2 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 teaspoon almond extract pinch of salt zest of 1 lemon 1/2-1 cup almond milk (or regular milk)

mix all dry ingredients together, add milk and start whisking, add as much as you need to make the mixture liquid but not runny. make one small pancake and taste. personally I prefer using little sugar in the batter and more maple syrup on top, but that is up to you.

To top those lovely pancakes off I use 1 cup of frozen blueberries with 1/2 cup maple syrup in a pan over medium heat for about 5-10 minutes.

blueberry french toast

I learned this one from Jules, shortly after he had learned it from Matt and Kayla. This delicious variation of a french toast is simple and doesn't require frying, it's perfect if you are having some friends over for brunch.

You will need: 1 loaf of challah bread, sliced the night before and left out or lightly toasted in the oven - this step is important to help the bread soak up as much liquid as possible. 4-5 eggs, scrambled 2-3 cups of milk 1 pint of blueberries 2 Tbsp cinnamon 1 Tbsp cardamon 1 teaspoon vanilla extract pinch of salt powdered sugar for dusting maple syrup

baking dish, buttered

pre-heat oven to 400° in a bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and spices, cut the bread into pieces and soak in liquid, mix it with your hands to insure the bread is completely soaked. Mix in the blueberries, I like to use a lot of berries, about 3/4 of a pint. transfer the mixture into a baking dish, fluff it with your fingers and sprinkle a few more berries on top. place in the oven for about 30 minutes, covered, then remove cover and bake for 10 minutes more or until lightly golden in color. finish with some powdered sugar.

serve warm with pure maple syrup.

Brussels love

Last week while making brussel sprouts I was wondering how come I never tried to recreate my favorite brussel sprouts dish yet, that one I have every time I go to Alta, charred sprouts served with apples, pistachios and creme fraiche.Well, luckily It's still the season for brussel sprouts!

You will need about a pound of brussel sprouts, an apple (I like to use Fuji), 1/4 cup of apple cider, 1-2 tablespoon creme fraiche and a 1/4 cup pistachios, I used almond since I didn't have any pistachios. pre heat oven to 425°F Cleaning them is simple, if you cut the bottom part of the leg and therefor the bottom of the top few leaves they will come off easily. Then, cut them in half, length wise and add to a very hot cast iron with about 1 tablespoon of oil, a little salt and pepper, toss them around and place in the oven. I like to burn them a little, I find that it adds sweetness and a much-needed crispiness to this veggie. In the mean time, over a medium heat in a small sauce pan, reduce 1/4 cup of apple cider to about 2 tablespoon worth, slice half an apple to thin slices and cut to desire size and chop a hand-full of almonds.

Once the brussel sprouts are out of the oven arrange them in a serving dish, sprinkle the almonds/ pistachio over, mix in the apples and drizzle the apple cider reduction. top it off with some creme fraiche and that's it! enjoy this delicious treat.

french lentils soup

I promised Debbie about a month ago that I will make some lentil soup and put the recipe up, but this entire time I just wasn't inspired to cook any lentils, then I saw these green french lentils at the coop and knew that today is the day.

Like other legumes, lentils are low in fat and high in protein and fiber, but they have the added advantage of cooking quickly and they don't require any soaking. Green lentils are usually the ones I go for, the french ones are more delicate and take longer to cook. all lentils should be rinsed and picked through for stones before cooking. Oh, and by the way, they will take longer to cook if they are combined with salt or acidic ingredients, so add these last.

for the soup you will need: 1 medium onion, diced 5-6 cloves of garlic 1 medium carrot, sliced 1 stick of celery 1 small turnip 1 large potato 1 1/2 cup of lentils, picked and rinsed 5-6 cups of chicken stock or water 1 tomato, chopped 2 tablespoon cumin 2 tablespoon paprika 1 bay leaf salt and pepper 1-2 tablespoons of lemon juice chopped parsley for garnish

start by sweating the onion, carrot, celery and turnip in 2 tablespoons of oil, add black pepper and a pinch of salt just to get some liquid out of the veggies, add garlic, potato and lentils. Add liquid, cumin, paprika and a bay leaf. bring to a boil and lower to simmer. cook for 40 minutes to an hour, depending on the lentils you are using. Keep checking that there is enough liquid in the pot,  the lentils soak up a lot of liquid as they cook and the soup will slowly turn thicker, its up to you to decide how thick you want it to be. Taste a few lentils after the first 40 minutes and see if they are completely cooked and soft, make any adjusting to the flavor if needed, if the lentils are ready add the lemon juice, salt and the chopped tomato, cook for 5-10 more minutes discard the bay leaf and serve, garnished with chopped parsley.

Bourekas

Bourekas are little pockets of goodness, made from puff pastry and filled with mushrooms, potatoes, cheese or really whatever you want to fill them with.For dinner last night we decided to go light, we had a bag of mushrooms that needed attention, left over from NYE when we never got to cook them, and two frozen sheets of puff pastry. Bourekas can be served in different ways, I like serving them with a hard boiled egg, pureed tomato and some Labane with za'atar.

Potato, mushroom and onion Bourekas: makes 18 pieces

you will need 1 potato, 1 onion, about 15 mushrooms of your liking, thyme, parsley, 1,4 cup white wine, 1/8 cup half and half,  butter, oil, salt and pepper and egg wash. I also like to sprinkle some sesame seeds on top.

Start by cooking the potato and then mashing it add some butter (1 tablespoon) and set aside. Take the dough out of the freezer and set your oven to 400. Slice the onion and saute in a pan until starting to color, add slices mushrooms and 1 tablespoon of butter, add thyme, salt and pepper, cook for a few minutes and add wine. cook the alcohol off and add cream, cook together, adjusting taste, for a few minutes until most of the liquid is gone. mix together the potato with the mushrooms and add about 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley, taste and adjust.

If the dough is still frozen let it sit until completely thawed, then sprinkle with some flour, and cut into 9 squares, try to keep the at the same size. Place about 1 tablespoon of filling on one side of the square, away from the edges, brush edge with egg wash, fold over and press sealed, first with your fingertips and then with a fork. once all the bourekas are ready, place on a baking sheet and brush tops with egg wash, sprinkle with sesame seeds and place in the oven for 15-17 minutes. keep an eye on them as baking time may vary, once the are puffed and golden in color take them out and let cool.

eat your sprouts

As a kid, just like many, I didn't eat brussels sprouts, I'm not sure if it was the smell, the look or simply the name that made me abstain from it, either way it wasn't until recent years when I started eating it. One of the first times I truly felt like we might have a future was at Alta restaurant in NYC a few years ago, they were roasted and served with apples, pistachios and creme fraiche, as I'm writing these words I am wondering "how could it be that I have never tried to duplicate that dish?" Brussels sprouts get a delicious sweet flavor when caramelized and even slightly burnt, I like starting them in a hot pan and then finishing it in the oven.

There are many ways to roast these little green beauties, some include the addition of bacon, pancetta, chorizo or other cured pork products, it sure does add some fatty goodness to the dish and if you chooses to use any of the above, start by rendering the meat for a few minutes to get some of the fat melted in the pan, then add to the same pan your cleaned and washed sprouts, cut in halves or quarters. If you chooses a vegetarian dish, heat up some oil and/or butter and throw them in on a medium-high heat, then add salt and pepper and cook for a 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Place pan in a pre-heated over, at 375° F, for about 10-15 minutes, or until brussels sprouts are soft and nicely roasted. you can add some roasted nuts once out of the oven, my favorite are sliced almonds but if I don't have any I'll use pine nuts instead. This simple dish can be easily adjusted to your liking, you can spice it up with some chili or serve with fresh granny-smith apple slices and some lite drizzle of honey or reduced apple cider.

Either way its hard to go wrong.

happy holidays, braised fennel

fennel is one of the earliest food i can remember, it seems like it was always on our dinner table, for the most part served chopped, raw in a lemon dressing. i always liked the flavor of fennel and its hairy leafy part as well, it has that anise like flavor, and though i'm not at all into licorice i am very much into fennel.there are many dishes you can make with fennel, i have been dreaming on fennel ice-cream ever since someone at the coop was telling me about her experiments with an ice-cream maker, but on my plate today, something a little less time-consuming: braised fennel. braised fennel is delicious, charring it before you braise it will bring out some hidden sweetness and will take it to a much happier place.

i start by taking the tops off, saving the leafy part for garnish, then slicing it length wise in order to keep the bulb sort of intact, then i gently toss it in olive oil, salt and pepper and place it in a hot cast iron to grill it, flipping about 4 minutes in or when it turned brown, for a total of 8-10 minutes. if you need to work in batches do so, don't over-crowed the pan.

once all pieces are nicely charred place them back in the pan and add about 1/2 cup of white wine, let it boil for a minute or two and add equal amount of chicken or veggie stock, salt, pepper, some chili flakes, a few threads of saffron and the juice of half an orange or 1 meyer lemon. cover and let simmer for about 15 minutes until fennel is soft.

garnish with some beautiful fronds.

mouth watering layers of meat sauce, ricotta and pasta, or as some call it : Lasagna

When it comes to pasta I must admit, I am pretty spoiled. Ever since I got a pasta maker as a birthday gift a few years back I had a really hard time going back to the pre-packaged dry version. Now don't think that every time I want pasta I pull it out and start rolling, but I definitely prefer buying fresh pasta if I'm too lazy to make my own.Lasagna is one of those wonder dishes that allows you to, pretty much, put whatever you want in it, and know that it will come out delicious. Today's Lasagna was constructed from a spicy lamb meat sauce, ricotta bechamel, kale and some Parmesan-Gruyere to top it off.

I use fresh pasta sheets, ground lamb meat, kale and half and half, you can change those basic ingredients and still follow the recipe.

In a sauce pan cook 1 1/2 cups of half and half with 1/2 an onion, 1 bay leaf and 2 cloves, simmer for 15-20 minutes, don't let it boil! While the cream is cooking dice 1 big onion, and 2 chopped cloves of garlic, in a cast iron or your favorite "meat sauce making" pan, sauté the onion and garlic in some oil (I like a combination of high heat oil, like sunflower oil, and some bacon fat) for 2-3 minutes, add 1 T salt, 1/2 T fresh pepper, 2 T paprika, sweet or spicy or both, 2 T dry oregano and a bay leaf or two. Cook for 1-2 minutes then add the meat and break into small chunks with a wooden spoon, cook for a few more minutes. Add 1/3 Cup red wine and cook for 8-10 minutes until the alcohol is cooked off.

Add 1 cup of diced tomatoes, either fresh, blanched and peeled or out of a can, 2 T of tomato paste and a pinch of sugar. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Wash the kale and saute it in a wok for a few minutes until soft.

Remove cream from heat, discard the onion, cloves and bay leaf. In a second sauce pan on low heat melt 1 T butter add 1 T flour and whisk together until well blend, slowly add the cream, whisking constantly until all incorporate, remove from heat. Add 1 cup of ricotta, salt, pepper and a few shaving of fresh nutmeg.

Assemble the lasagna (yum): Pre-heat oven to 400°F. Pick a deep, large baking dish, first layer should be meat sauce, not too much, just a thin layer at the bottom, follow by a layer of pasta, then kale, ricotta sauce, another layer of pasta, some meat sauce, etc. The order is completely optional, just make sure to start with a layer of sauce before the pasta, or else you might have a dry bottom. I never boil my pasta before layering it, not the fresh nor the dry. Top the whole thing with some grated cheese, Parmesan and Guryere are my choices. Stick it in the pre-heated over covered with baking paper and topped with foil for 20-25 minutes if using fresh pasta, 10-15 minutes longer if using dry pasta, then remove the foil and baking paper and cook for 10 more minutes or until the cheese is nicely crisped and golden in color.

Let cool for at least 10-15 minutes, its hard, I know, but you can do it. I find that taking it out of the oven before sitting down and then starting with some soup or salad is usually enough time, but it is most delicious the next day (like I can wait...)

Enjoy with some fresh arugula and red onion salad.

Meyer Lemon and Ricotta Pancakes

Sunday, it's noon and we are hungry. Last night we made Lasagna and I have some ricotta left, Tacuma wants pancakes... mmm... let me think..... I love Ricotta pancakes, and I don't need to be asked twice to make them, I also happened to have 3 Meyer lemons that been waiting to get used. perfect.

Now is the time to admit that I cheated when making the pancakes, I did use Pamela's Baking Mix instead of making the batter from scratch, but to my defense, it is so incredibly good that it just doesn't make sense not to use it. Especially on such a lazy Sunday.

for two people I used 1 cup of baking mix, I separated 2 eggs and added the yolks to the dry mix, then a 1/3 cup milk ( I used almond milk but you can use anything from water to cream), 1/2 cup of ricotta cheese, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, pinch of salt and the zest of 1Meyer lemon. mix well until combined with no lumps, if the batter is too thick or too thin adjust with either more liquid or more dry mix. I don't add sugar to the batter, simply so I can later drown it in maple. whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks and fold into batter. turn your oven on and set to 200°F. on a hot cast iron, oiled or buttered, or both, pour the batter using a spoon or a small ladle. once the pancake seem firm and you can see bubbles appearing throughout, gently lift with a spatula and flip. once golden brown on both sides remove from heat and keep warm in the preheated oven until all pancakes are ready to serve. In a bowl combine 1/2 cup or ricotta, juice of 1/2 a meyer lemon, 1/2 tablespoon of maple syrup, zest of 1 lemon and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. mix well and serve with pancakes.

Best served with.... Bacon!

Roasted Chestnuts Cookies

Another pound of Chestnuts miraculously found its way into my kitchen, it seems like that is all I want to eat this days, chestnuts and soups. There is something so comforting about roasting chestnuts in the winter, and the fact that they are so cheap right only makes it easier for me to buy them.I saw this recipe last week, when browsing through the smitten kitchen, and been dreaming of these cookies since.

I always favored food that requires some sort of getting your hands dirty, some peeling action, breaking and cracking, and chestnuts are exactly that. In the last few weeks, while slowly realizing I'm obsessed with chestnuts, I noticed how easy it is to over roast them, at least two batches were dried out because I left them in the oven too long (thankfully they are only $3 a lb these days), but 20-25 minutes, on 450°F is all it takes, you can also shake them once or twice while roasting, to get an even spread of the heat. A shallow X cut on top helps you to later crack and peel the skin off as it will start rolling back during the roast.

Start with a pound of chestnuts and cut an X on top of each one, with a sharp knife or a bread knife, try not to cut too deep into the "meat" but deep enough that the skin will peel back while roasting. Start with a pound, even though you will need less for the recipe, sometimes the chestnuts end up having rotten middles. After roasting, let them cool and then peel them, chop coarsely and measure one cup, place in a food processor and pulse until very fine, add 2 sticks of soft butter and pulse to combine, add 1/2 cup powdered sugar, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/8 teaspoon salt, a few fresh shavings of nutmeg and 2 cups all-purpose flour. pulse until even dough is formed. If you don't have a food processor chop the chestnuts as fine as you can, whip the butter and sugar in a mixer bowl, add vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, chestnuts and flour and beat to form dough.

Divide the dough and wrap each half in plastic, cool in the fridge for about an hour. Preheat the oven to 350°F . Working with each half of the chilled dough at a time start rolling out balls, about two teaspoons in size and place on a baking sheet, they won't spread so you don't have to leave more than 1/2 inch between the cookies. Bake for about 14 minutes, until just lightly golden in color on top. The cookies will very easily go from buttery and creamy to dry, so be careful not to overbake them. I always like testing out 2 or 3 first, every oven is different and many times I find that I need to adjust the baking time or temperature from the original recipe.

Let the baked cookies cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet and then roll them in 1 cup of powdered sugar mixed with a few pinches of cinnamon, and allow to cool completely. Be aware! These cookies are a buttery creamy goodness and they are addictive (I had 5 while writing this, 3 more when taking pictures and 2 just because).