Gingersnap White Chocolate Granola with Chia and Dates (Nut-Free)

So, I am not really known for my self control around baked goods.  I can usually hold it together and only eat 1 or 2 servings of whatever I have made, occasionally sneaking a third in my closet, if it is really good.  However, I do have a weak spot for granola, and this white chocolate granola totally owned me.  Like, to the point that I had to promise myself that I would never make it again.  It was that good.

I am not going to pretend that granola is health food, like so many bloggers before me.  Yes, it has oats, dried fruit, seeds, etc…  It is very energy dense, which is great if you are a marathoner, or hiking or weightlifting a lot.  For the rest of us, let’s just say that it is delicious and leave it at that…

This actually was intended to be a teacher’s gift for Appreciation Week at our school.  Let’s just say that some of it actually made it to the teachers, and that it was difficult for me to part ways with it.  It would make a fantastic holiday teacher gift or brunch treat with some good yogurt.  You could even give it as a housewarming or hostess gift.  Pretty much anyone would be happy with it, I think.  Here’s how I threw it together with random stuff I had in my pantry:

First I mixed together the oats, sunflower seeds, chia, crushed gingersnaps, salt, spices, and chopped medjool dates (you could add the dates after the baking, if you want them to remain super moist).

white chocolate granola ingredients

Next, in a measuring cup, combine 1/3 cup oil, 1/3 cup maple syrup and/ or honey (I used about 1/2 and 1/2 of both), vanilla extract, and a heaping 1/4 cup of brown sugar.  I microwaved the whole shebang in a few 30 second increments, stirring in between until the sugar was dissolved.

white chocolate granola syrup

Pour the the wet mixture over the dry and mix well, until everything is coated.

white chocolate granola mixed

Pour this all out onto a parchment or non-stick foil lined baking sheet.

white chocolate granola on baking sheet

Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, stir, and return to oven for 10 minutes.  Stir again, and bake in 5 minute increments, repeating if necessary, until the mixture is golden brown but still a bit moist.  Be careful not to burn it, and do not wait until mixture is completely dry.  This will crisp up after cooling.

white chocolate granola after baking
After baking.

See, it will crisp and clump when it is cool, and only then…

white chocolate granola complete

When it is completely cool, add white chocolate chips, and if you chose to wait to add the dates, add those as well.  If you want, dried cherries are delicious in here, as would be toasted nuts (if you are not allergic).  I wanted to keep this free of nuts for my family, but feel free to customize it with whatever you like.  I ended up adding some minced crystallized ginger, as well.  Place in a ziplock bag or in pretty treat bags, tied with ribbons and enjoy!

white chocolate granola with toppings

P.s. I highly recommend this white chocolate granola served atop tart cherry or pumpkin Noosa yogurt or Stonyfield “Oh My Yog” in gingered pear or apple-cinnamon.

p.p.s.  Feel free to leave out the chia, the dates, or the crystallized ginger.   I would highly recommend that you leave at least some white chocolate in there, because as we discussed before, this is not a health food anyway….live a little!

p.p.p.s.  If you leave out the gingersnaps (or use gluten free ones), this would be gluten free.  This is assuming you used gluten free oats and all of your other ingredients were gluten free, of course.

Gingersnap White Chocolate Granola

  • 3 cups old fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds (or could sub pepitas)
  • 1/4 cups chia seeds
  • 3/4 cup Gingersnap cookies, crushed (optional, but highly recommended)
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice blend
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup medjool dates, roughly chopped
  • 1/3 cup oil (I used canola, but vegetable or melted coconut oil would work)
  • 1/3 cup honey or maple syrup (or a combo of both works well)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar (light or dark, your choice)
  • 3/4 cup white chocolate chips (give or take, depending on what you like)
  • 2 tablespoons crystallized ginger, minced (optional)
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (I used 325 convection).  In a large bowl, mix oats, all seeds, Gingersnaps, spices, salt, and dates.

In a large measuring cup, combine oil, honey and/or maple syrup, vanilla, and brown sugar.  Whisk together.  Microwave by 30 second intervals, watching carefully.  When mixture bubbles at edges and sugar is melted, pour over dry ingredients.  Mix thoroughly to coat.

On a large, parchment-lined baking sheet, spread granola out into a thin, even layer.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Stir mixture and return to oven for 10 minutes.  Stir again.  Return to oven for 5 minute intervals, stirring in between, until mixture is golden brown, but still a bit moist in the center.  Cool completely.

Break up any large clumps into a zip top bag.  Add white chocolate, minced ginger, and cherries, if desired.  Serve or store in a air-tight container or bag.  Great as a cereal, ice cream or yogurt topping, gifting, or for snacking.

*Mine only lasted 2 days, but I would imagine it would keep for a week or more.  Good luck with it not disappearing sooner, though.

4 ingredient Quickie- Smoked Maple Butter Microwave Popcorn

There has been a lot of press lately about the dangers of store-bought microwave popcorn.  It contains about 20 different chemicals, including ink, glue and Diacetyl.  Diacetyl becomes toxic when inhaled, but is added to popcorn to enhance the buttery flavor.  Yum….Not!

Popcorn has become a favorite snack for my kids after school.  They love being able to make it themselves, but we needed to find an easy alternative, sans chemicals.  My friend, Kim, told me that she had been microwaving it herself in a paper bag, so I thought I would give it a go….and voila!  You can change the toppings up or just eat it plain, of course.  I highly suggest this version, though….

Homemade microwave popcorn ingredients
This is all you need! Popcorn kernels, a paper bag, maple syrup, butter, and smoked maldon sea salt.

First, measure out 2 tablespoons popcorn kernels.  Feel free to use any kind you like.

homemade microwave popcorn kernels

Pour the kernels into a paper lunch bag.

pouring the homemade microwave popcorn kernels into the bag

Fold about 1/2 inch at the top of the bag and crease well.  Fold two more times, reinforcing the crease when you are done.

homemade microwave popcorn bag

Microwave on high until you hear the popping slow a bit.  Mine took between 1 minute,15 seconds and 1 minute, 20 seconds.  Just like other microwave popcorns, it will burn if cooked too long.

Now, you have perfect, chemical-free air popped microwave popcorn.  You can eat it just as is, but what is the fun in that?

I suggest the following topping:  Combine 2 teaspoons butter and 2 teaspoons maple syrup in a small bowl.  Microwave for 20-30 seconds.

homemade microwave popcorn toppings

Pour microwave popcorn into a bowl, toss with melted maple butter, sprinkle with a bit of the smoked Maldon sea salt (regular kosher salt will also do) and serve!  Hope you enjoy this as much as I did.  Let me know what variations you try.  I am pretty sure it would be fabulous with cinnamon, cayenne, chili powder, or even double the maple butter; )

homemade microwave popcorn finished

What a Foodie Does On Whole 30

For some reason, I eat better when I have rules.  I am just that type of person.  When there are no rules, I have been known to eat, say, 4 cinnamon rolls in a row.  This is purely hypothetical, of course. (and also something that happened last week)  This followed a day of baking and eating those chocolate Hamantaschen I blogged last….

So, the rules don’t really matter.  It could be low-carb, calorie tracking, or no sugar, but I need some guidelines.  In my next life, I plan on coming back as someone who can eat everything in sight and remain a size 2.  For those of you that don’t know me in real life, I have actually lost 22 pounds over the past 8 months.  I have been working with a trainer, going to the gym religiously in between training sessions, and generally rotating between eating whole foods and low carb bursts here and there.

Then the holidays hit, followed by never ending snow days.  I don’t know about you, but there is nothing I want to do on a snow day other than bake and eat the pastries of my labor.  Anyhow, I was suddenly up 3 pounds, which might not sound like a lot, but it is a slippery slope…and I know this slope like the back of my chubby hand.

So, after some research, I decided to try a Whole 30 challenge.  I dove right in the next day.  If you are not familiar with this way of eating, your diet consists of whole foods, unprocessed as much as possible, and foods that do NOT contain dairy, gluten or grains of any kind, soy products, legumes (including peanuts), preservatives, nitrates, or sugar (even natural sugars like honey, agave, maple syrup, etc…).  You may eat meats, fish, vegetables, healthy fats (avocado, olive oil, coconut oil/milk, ghee), fruits, and nuts/seeds.  *You are not supposed to get creative and make baked goods out of all of these ingredients mashed together (like those paleo banana pancakes circulating on Pinterest).  You are also supposed to stick to meals and not be super snacky, which I am having trouble with a bit.  One thing that initially had me concerned was the nut/coconut allergy in my house really limiting my options.  What to put in the morning coffee that is non-negotiable?

I decided to include coconut milk, but keep it very carefully stored in a jar with a cap in the basement fridge and treat it like a Hazmat.  I blended in some dates for sweetness, just for my coffee…Though it has found it’s way on some tropical fruit salad over the past day or two.  A slippery slope….

The ingredients for my Whole  30 meail

This is a photo of the prep work I did the night before I started- Coconut milk with dates-blended well.  Homemade sunbutter with sunflower seeds, dates, and olive oil in the food processor until a paste forms (It is delicious!), and a blend of sunflowers and dates that I set aside to use as a “breading” on some chicken (amazing, by the way), a fresh pineapple, and some sliced banana to stash in the freezer.

*Disclaimer- I did make homemade nut-free larabars with dried date, raisins, sunflower seeds, a few sesame seeds, and a scant dab of applesauce.  I placed them in muffin liners and am storing them in the fridge for pre/post workout fuel when needed.  I don’t consider this cheating, because they do say that larabars are okay…

Here is what I have eaten so far, in case you are curious:

Whole 30 Day 1:

B- 2 olive oil fried eggs, coffee with coconut cream and dates,
S- pineapple, L- salad with tuna, olives, artichokes, sunflower seeds, lemon juice, olive oil. S- blended frozen banana with cloves and nutmeg, bare apple chips, raw veggies with guacamole, D: sautéed bok choy and shiitake mushrooms with seared salmon, spinach salad with mandarin oranges and orange vinaigrette, pineapple. Dessert: Apple cooked with a tiny bit of ghee and cinnamon, tea with coconut milk.

p.s. Even if you are not on a whole 30, olive oil fried eggs are the BEST.  Just get a healthy amount of olive oil very hot in a pan.  Drop in your eggs, and stand back- They will spit and splatter a bit.  Fry them on that side until very brown and crisp at the edges (just the opposite of what we were always taught about frying eggs).  The edges are so lacey and crispy, it is amazing!

Whole 30 olive oil eggs

Whole 30 Day 2:

Breakfast: hash with sweet potatoes and butternut squash, 2 eggs, small amount of mandarin oranges leftover from yesterday, Workout- Lunch: banana and apple pie larabar, 4 breakfast sausages (oops!), 4 dried apricots D: salad with chicken fingers breaded in sunflower/date mixture, blood orange vinaigrette, 1/2 avocado, pineapple. Sashimi with jalapeno and cilantro.

Whole 30 Day 3:

2 olive oil fried eggs, banana sliced with sunbutter, homemade larabar, workout, Applegate turkey wrapped with 1/2 avocado, tomato, arugula, homemade mayo, black olives. Fruit salad with coconut milk. Mama chia blackberry bliss. Moroccan beef stew with dates, raisins, and carrots, sweet potatoes. Tea with coconut milk. 4 dates with sunbutter inside. Unsweetened applesauce cup with cinnamon.

Moroccan Beef Stew (vague recipe without measurements follows, because I just threw stuff in the pot without measuring!)

Whole 30 Mongolian Beef Stew

Whole 30 Day 4:

B: 2 eggs in olive oil, fruit salad with coconut milk, coffee with coconut milk, snack- banana-date-coconut smoothie and homemade larabar, Lunch- tuna salad with homemade mayo, artichokes, and olives, arugula. More fruit salad with coconut milk, Dinner: loaded plantain nachos with seasoned beef, olives, jalapeno, avocado, tomato, cilantro, scallions.

My loaded plantain nachos:

Whole 30 Plantain Nachos

I have also had to prep homemade mayo, ghee, and an all purpose salad dressing just to have on hand.

I am clearly overeating -still- with too much snacking, but I feel pretty good.  The under eye dark circles I always have are almost gone.  I have loads of energy, and my workouts feel nicely fueled.  My stomach is rebelling a bit, but I am imagining that is due to all of the artificial sweetener withdrawal I am likely experiencing.  Hopefully, this is temporary.  I have been finding it quite easy to stick to the plan, though I do think that is due to good prep work and my love of making things from scratch.  Let me know if you have recently started Whole 30 or if you have any great food finds that are compliant with the plan!

Moroccan-Style Beef Stew

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • approximately 2 lbs beef stew meat or short ribs or chuck roast (would also work with chicken thighs)
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups baby carrots
  • 1 zucchini, diced
  • 8 dates, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup organic raisins
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Chicken stock (organic and whole 30 compliant)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Basically, sear meat on both sides in oil.  Add onions, cook for a minute or two.  Add other veggies, tomato paste, spices, salt and pepper (sparingly- taste later and adjust).  Pour in stock until meat is 3/4 covered but sticks out a bit on top. Cover pot and stash in a 300 degree oven for a LONG time 3-4 hours is great!  I did this a day ahead, removed bones from my meat, stashed in fridge overnight, then reheated the next day with the lid off (on stove), and it actually reduced further and thickened to a perfect consistency.

I served this over some sweet potato slices for me, and noodles for my kids and hubby (who are not doing whole 30).  Enjoy!

Chocolate Covered Cherry Hamantaschen…and Bonus Hot Cocoa Variation

I am pretty much a purist when it comes to Hamantaschen, which are definitely near the top of my list of favorite Jewish holiday treats.  The flavor I crave is very specific- Poppyseed filling (mohn) with a buttery-lemony flavored dough that is both crisp and tender.  However, I am seeing a whole bunch of fancy, non-traditional flavors popping up all over lately.  I started dreaming up ideas, only to discover that they had been done already.  Apple pie…done.  Cheese Danish….done.  The following Chocolate-covered Cherry Hamantaschen was my brain child, and after a pretty thorough search, I don’t think they exist yet: )  Here’s to trying something new!

For those of you new to the world of Hamantaschen, they are triangular shaped cookies traditionally eaten on Purim.  Purim is a fun holiday where Jews dress up in costume and retell the story of Mordechai, Haman, Queen Esther, and King Ahashueros (Ahashveros).  There are good guys, bad guys, a bit of drinking, near death for all, and a happy ending.  It is a great time.  Please look up the holiday for better details, as I didn’t mean to get into that here…  However, the cookies are meant to represent Haman’s (the bad guy’s) hat or more literally and disturbingly…his ears.  Hmmm, yum?  But they are good, really!

First cream the butter, sugar, vanilla, salt, and baking powder together in your mixer.  A hand mixer will work fine, as well.  Add in your egg, and beat until well combined.

Hamantaschen dough

Then add your flour and cocoa powder.  Mix until a thick dough forms.  Do not over mix.

Hamantaschen dough with Cocoa

Form dough into a disk and cover in plastic.  Stash in the fridge for 15 minutes.

Hamantaschen dough in a disk

In the meantime, line your pans with parchment.  I love these new “cookie sheets” by Reynold’s.  So easy!

Raynold's cookie sheets

Get your fillings en place.  Although I am making chocolate covered cherry flavor, I can’t just leave it at one, so I have other accoutrements at the ready.

Hamantaschen filling material

I dust the counters lightly with powdered sugar when making any type of roll out sugar cookie.  I find that it makes re-rolls work out better, and doesn’t add a heavy over-floured feel.

Hamantaschen dough rolled out

Roll out dough to 1/8 inch.

Hamantaschen dough 1/8 inch thick

Cut out circles or fluted circles, approximately 2 1/2″, but can be made smaller or larger as desired.

cutting the Hamantaschen dough

Line up circles on parchment.

Hamantaschen circles on parchment

Fill each circle with 3 cherries, no more, no less.  A couple of years ago, I learned that there is an actual proper way to fold Hamantaschen, which involves folding each edge over the edge next to it, instead of pinching together.  Check it out at the bottom of Tori Avey’s genius post here.

a perfectly folded Hamantaschen

Here is a triple chocolate version I am making for my daughter who is not a fan of cherries…or cooked fruit in general.  But that is a story for another day.

triple chocolate hamantaschen

After filling and folding all the cuties, bake at 350 degrees for 12-14 minutes.  You can see how well most of my cookies stayed together, but I did have one renegade.  There is always one….

baked hamantaschen

This is what you are going for!

the finished hamantaschen

Let cool completely.  Melt chocolate chips in microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring in between.  Drizzle, dunk, or dollop cookies with chocolate.  I tried all three methods, and I settled on dollops.

chocolate sauce for the hamantaschen

Here is a finished cookie.  I feel that it would be lovely with chopped walnuts sprinkled on top, but we are nut-free, so that is a no-go.

hamantaschen with Chocolate sauce

My hot chocolate version was adorable, if I do say so, though!  They are filled with mini-mallow bits (the kind in a canister that don’t puff when heated), then topped with more chocolate and marshmallows.  You could totally fill these with anything you want- Peanut Butter, caramel, jams, white chocolate, etc….

hot chocolate hamantaschen

Have fun!

Chocolate Covered Cherry Hamantaschen

For the dough:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature (or margarine, if pareve is desired)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder
  • Powdered sugar for dusting

For filling and topping:

  • 1 can cherry pie filling (or make your own, like I did)
  • 3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter, sugar, vanilla, salt, and baking powder until fluffy.  Add in egg, mixing well to combine.  Mix flour and cocoa powder, and add to mixer.  Starting on lowest speed, mix just until stiff dough comes together.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 15 minutes or up to 1 day.  Let dough come back to room temperature before rolling.

Sprinkle work surface with powdered sugar.  Roll out dough to 1/8 inch.  Using round cookie cutters, cut out as many rounds as possible.  Can re-roll scraps once, if necessary.  Place rounds onto parchment.

Place three cherries in the center of each round.  Fold dough into a triangle around the filling, pinching points together gently.  If dough is a tad crumbly (from being cold or too much powdered sugar), just pinch together and it will still work when baked.  Bake for 12-15 minutes (mine took 14).  Cookies will still be slightly soft when hot, but will firm up as they cool.  Cool completely.

Melt chocolate in microwave safe bowl by 30 second intervals, stirring in between.  Dollop approximately 1 teaspoon melted chocolate over top of filling triangle in center. Sprinkle with nuts, if desired.  Let chocolate set up at room temperature or in fridge, and serve.

* for hot cocoa variation, stuff each cookie circle with chocolate chips and mallow bits.  Do not use mini-marshmallows, as they will puff when baked!  Bake and top with melted chocolate and more mallow bits.  Enjoy!

Simple Valentine’s Day Treat- Dark Chocolate Brigadeiros

My oldest child, my only daughter is turning 11 in a few days.  At the cusp of her tween years, she already acts like a full-fledged tween.  We are having our first sleepover for more than just one or two kids- 6 girls…  I am bracing myself for impact already. Darby (my card carrying tween and resident chocoholic) has requested one thing in her birthday “retainer”, and that is a giant plate of Brazilian Brigadeiros.  I had made them as part of a giant dessert table at her 9th birthday, and apparently she has been dreaming about them ever since.

Darbys 9th birthday party table
Darby’s 9th birthday dessert table. Ooh-la-la!

Brigadeiros are truly the stuff of dreams.  Rich, chocolates, buttery, and chewy- They kind of remind me of a cross between a gooey caramel and a chocolate tootsie roll, only softer and coated in sprinkles.

Luckily for me (and you), Brigadeiros are super simple and inexpensive to make, and are the PERFECT Valentine’s Day treat for your sweetheart(s).  Forget the box of $50 chocolate truffles.  A homemade gift that looks impressive and tastes like you slaved over it, will be much more appreciated.  Plus, they are Brazilian, which makes you seems worldly and sophisticated.  Nuff said.

Start with 1 can sweetened condensed milk, 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, 4 tablespoons “good quality” dark cocoa powder (in Brazil, they use milk chocolate powder, but this is my version!), and 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Ingredients for our Brigadeiros

I used Cacao Barry Extra Brute, but any dark cocoa powder will do.  This delicious and useful stuff is available on Amazon, if you are interested.

Cacao Barry Extra Brute for our Brigadeiros

Then you just whisk this mixture continuously, and I do mean don’t step away, for 12-15 minutes on Medium-low heat until mixture thickens dramatically and starts to pull away from the sides when whisked.  It will get slightly hard to wisk (great arm workout!) toward the end.  Mixture will firm up more once cooled.

Whisk the Brigadeiros

Add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract off the heat, and whisk again.  Remove the mixture to separate bowl and stash in the fridge for 30 minutes or so.

The finished mixture for our Brigadeiros

Next, once the mixture is cool enough to touch (might still be slightly warm), scoop tablespoon balls of the chocolatey goodness.  Roll each ball in any type of sprinkle you like…Coconut, nuts, or cocoa powder would also work (but we are nut-free around here).  I usually roll them again in my hands after the sprinkles go on, just to make them perfectly round.

The Brigadeiros should be perfectly round balls

These were the sprinkles I used.  That is it!  Easy as can be.  Serve them in little mini-cupcake liners.  Adorable.  You can store them covered at room temperature or in the refrigerator.

The Brigadeiros are finished

Beautiful Brazillian Brigadeiros

Snow Day Soup!

Here in Northern Virginia, today is a snow day.  The kids are home from school, it is super chilly (even inside), and all I want is my favorite Snow Day Soup and some crusty bread for dinner.  There is some backstory to this soup.

It is not chef-inspired, it has some fresh and some frozen and pre-packaged ingredients, and I am not going to apologize for that.  This is basically a streamlined version of the soup my mom made throughout my childhood.  It is especially memorable, because it was one of the few dishes that she made that was truly delightful.  That alone made it stand out, but it also always followed a trip to the kosher meat market, which was my favorite thing to do…ever.  While I would stand at the meat counter, gazing at the giant beef tongues wagging at me from inside the chilled case, my mom would ask the butcher for the “flanken.”  I am not really sure what the literal translation of this is, but I am pretty sure the Yiddish means the scraps from the better cuts of meat or more probably the meat from the flank of the animal…. The tough cuts that you have to cook for a very long time, so that they will magically transform into fall-apart tender chunks of savory goodness.  Anyway, we always called this soup “Flanken soup,” and it was an event that everyone looked forward to after our monthly pilgrimage to Maryland to buy our kosher meat.  The gigantic poppyseed Hamentaschen from the bakery was my other favorite, but I digress.

The other reason I wanted to share this recipe, is that I wanted to create kind of a tribute to Manischewitz.  You see, I was just lucky enough to win a contest that they offered for one of their products…a do-it-yourself Channukah House Kit.  Thank you so much to Manischewitz!  I am so honored.  Here is my Chanukah House:

Lauren Katz Manischewitz gingerbread house

Anyway, while I was writing back and forth to the company, I realized that many of my early food memories involved their products.  Which brought me to my favorite memory of all…”Flanken Soup”.  It features Manischewitz’s Split Pea soup mix, and sometimes the vegetable soup mix, or both!  You see, this recipe is fluid and flexible, and you can play with it to make it your own.

First, you cube your meat into large but kind-of bite sized pieces.  I used a chuck roast here, but shortribs or stew meat works well.  Note that the fattier the meat, the better.  You don’t want to use lean stew meat…. Do trim any large pieces of fat, however.

Snow Day Soup Ingredients

Here are the soup mixes:  This is for a HUGE pot of snow day soup. If you want to make a smaller amount, just use one split pea soup mix.  These are easily found in the kosher section of almost every grocery store.

Snow Day Soup Mixes

Another gratuitous meat shot!  Approximately 2 lbs, but you could use more or less, depending on how many people you are feeding.

Snow Day Soup Meat

Brown the meat in your soup pot in a little oil on high heat.  If you are in a rush, you can skip this step, but I highly recommend it.

Snow Day Soup Meat Cooked

Cut up your potato (1 large), mushroom (about 10 ounces), and carrot (about 1-2 cups).  I like the mushrooms diced, but sliced works as well.  Baby carrots are fine- sometimes I leave them whole, sometimes not.  Waxy potatoes work well, but I only had a russet today.

Snow Day Soup Veggies

Put them all in the pot, with a couple of bay leaves, a small bag of frozen cut green beans (use fresh if you want, but it will all come out the same in the end…), the split pea soup mix (with the seasoning packet, and the veggie soup mix (I did not add the small pouch of noodles, but everything else).  I added a bit of leftover Lima beans that I had kicking around, but that is optional.

Snow Day Soup Veggies cooked

Now, fill her up with water.  You want it to cover all the meat and veggies plus an extra 2 inches or so.  It will seem watery, but when the peas cook, it will thicken quite a bit.  This is almost more of a stew or porridge consistency when done.

Snow Day Soup In the pot

Once it come up to a simmer, cover for about an hour.  Stir, and reduce heat to medium-low.  Keep pot uncovered and at a low simmer for about 3-4 hours, or as long as possible!  Stir it occasionally.  Season with a ton of black pepper and salt, to taste.  The soup mix has salt in it, so you usually don’t need much (if any at all).

Snow Day Soup ready to serve

Okay, so this is kind of a homey/homely rustic looking stew, but take my word for it.  It is delicious!  Better the second day, if there are leftovers.  It is a full dinner and very hearty, so enjoy with some crusty bread or biscuits and you are done.  Enjoy!

Snow Day Soup. Yum!

P.s.  You could make this in a large crockpot on high, if you put it in early in the morning, and cook it uncovered for the second half of the day.

 

 

Latke Trials: My Search For the Ultimate Latke

I have decided to run latke experiments this Chanukah, for the betterment of mankind.  Out of the goodness of my heart, I will suffer through plate after plate of latkes this week.  I know, it’s a tough job but somebody has to do it.  I will take one for the team here.

UPDATE: After just finishing this post, I really want to stress to you the importance of trying my third latke recipe at the end.  It was the best, IMHO…and my family agreed.

Latke Trial 1:

I normally make the shredded latke, so I opted to do something a tad different here.  I wanted to make the creamy centered, crisp lacey edged variety of latke that some of my friends make.  I opted to try to bind them with my usual eggs and to try rice flour in lieu of my usual all-purpose flour or matzo meal.  I really enjoyed the results, but I will add a bit of baking powder just to lighten them a bit on my next trial.

Pro: gluten free, easy to make, no annoying grating, quick clean up, crisp Lacey texture, creamy center, perfect round shape.

Cons:  my family missed their usual shreds, slightly dense center texture when not perfectly fresh out of the oil.

Latke Trials Latke 1 in the mixing bowl

Latke Trials Latke 1 in the pan

Latke Trials Latke 1 ready to serve

Lacey Latkes (Gluten Free)

  • 2 medium-large Russet potatoes
  • 1 medium onion (white or yellow, non-sweet variety)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup rice flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • Vegetable or canola oil for frying

Cut potatoes and onion into small pieces.  Pulse many times in a food processor until the texture of thick applesauce.  Add the eggs, rice flour, baking powder, salt and pepper.  Pulse to combine.

Heat a large skillet (or 2, like I do) over medium heat with about 1/4 inch of oil.  When oil is hot, add spoonfuls of the batter to the hot oil, leaving about an inch between latkes.  Wait until edges are a deep golden brown to flip.  Flip and remove to drain on paper towels when browned on both sides.  Keep warm in a 250 degree oven until ready to serve.  Serve with sour cream and/or applesauce.

Latke Trial 2:

Okay, night two, and all the surfaces in my kitchen have the subtle, sticky sheen of oil upon them. Oy vey! Time to recap my second experiment. I thought these were pretty delicious, but my daughter was appalled that I put a little bit of scallion in them, because G-d forbid she consume anything green. So help me.

The idea behind these latkes was to combine the first latke for the creamy center, but to add some shreds for texture. I became consumed with the idea that the shreds would not cook in the center, so I opted to make them very fine shreds. This might have been a mistake, because they were not much different than the first ones, though definitely a slight improvement.

I shredded one potato on a microplane style fine grater.

Latke Trial 2 Micro Shredded potatoes

Then I made my purée of potato, onion, egg, rice flour, baking powder and salt.  I added about 1/2 tablespoon of A-P flour, because I just can’t leave well enough alone….

Latke Trial 2 Ingredients

I dropped in some pepper and sliced scallions this time, but never again…It lead to what I now call “Scallion-gate”.  We will never speak of it hence forth.

Mixed the shreds with the puree and fried the babies up.  Eureka!

Latke Trial 2 ready to serve

I really loved these!  My son was totally into them.  My hubby is totally over the latke experiment, as it is ruining his low-carb diet.  Oops!  Finally, my daughter took one bite, saw green, and freaked the hell out.  So, mixed reviews…

Crisp and Creamy Latkes

  • 2 russet potatoes
  • 1 large cooking onion
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 cup rice flour or AP flour
  • 1/2 tablespoon All Purpose flour (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced (if you dare)
  • oil for frying- I used vegetable oil

Cut 1 potato and onion into smaller pieces.  Place pieces in blender (if you have a vitamix) or food processor.  Blend into puree with egg, salt, baking powder, flours.  Pour into a bowl and fold in pepper and scallions.

Grate remaining potato with a medium microplane grater.  It will take a while-sorry! Next, mix potato shreds into the puree mixture.

Heat oil over medium to medium-high heat in a large skillet.  Drop around a tablespoon into the hot oil to form latkes, being careful not to crowd the pan.  Flip when edges become a deep golden brown.  When both sides are completely brown, remove latkes to drain on paper towels.  Keep warm in a 250 degree oven, if not serving immediately.  Serve with sour cream and/or applesauce.

On deck is my classic shredded recipe, but I think I want to play with a small amount of the puree still.  I can’t give up the idea of mixing…

Latke Trial 3:

The shredded, but with a twist.  These are a tad more involved than my usual shredded potato latke.  I am trying to combine both types of latkes, plus add some bread crumbs (because I don’t happen to have matzo meal on hand). I read an article yesterday about how using flour creates a gummy texture, and how matzo meal is the way to go.  It supposedly binds without becoming mush.  I am deciding to substitute bread crumbs, because A. I am not a fan of matzo meal and B. I think it should have the same effect.

I decided to split the difference with the shreds vs. puree.  I am puree-ing 1/2 of one potato and 1/2 of the onion with the regular blade in my food processor for these.  Then, I switched the blade and shredded the rest of the potatoes (1 1/2).  I then decided to chop the remaining 1/2 onion for texture and more of an onion hit.

Latke Trial 3 shredded potaotes

Then I added 1/4 cup bread crumbs,1/2 teaspoon baking powder,  1 tablespoon potato starch, 2 teaspoons salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and 1 whole egg, plus 1 egg white.

Latke Trial 3 in the frying pan

I decided to do three things differently during frying.  1.  I used about double the oil to ensure complete 360 degree crispness.  2. I made them a bit thicker than usual.  3. I resisted the urge to press them down.

Perfection In Latke Form

Perfection In Latke Form

Ingredients

  • 2 medium-large russet potatoes, do not peel
  • 1 large cooking onion
  • 1 whole egg and 1 egg white
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 cup unseasoned bread crumbs, matzo meal, or cracker meal
  • 1 tablespoon potato starch
  • Canola or vegetable oil for frying

Instructions

  1. In a food processor, puree 1/2 of 1 potato and 1/2 onion until the texture of thick apple sauce.  
  2. Switch blades to the shredder disk.  
  3. Shred remaining 1 1/2 potatoes.  
  4. Chop remaining onion.  
  5. Put everything into a large mixing bowl.  
  6. Add egg and egg white, salt, pepper, baking powder, bread crumbs, and potato starch.  
  7. Stir well.  
  8. As mixture sits, liquid will collect. Just stir liquid back into mixture before scooping for latkes.
  9. Heat 1/2 inch oil to 360-375 degrees in a large skillet.  
  10. Scoop about 3 tablespoons latke mixture into oil.  
  11. Do not press down (can gently flatten just the top a bit).  
  12. Let cook until the edges turn a deep golden brown.  
  13. Flip and cook on the other side until browned and crisp all around.  
  14. Drain on paper towels.
  15. Serve immediately with apple sauce and/or sour cream.
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*Just finished eating these, and they were literally the best latkes ever!  I am pretty sure I just revolutionized my latke technique for life.  Try them and let me know what you think.

P.S.  I know some of you like to hand grate, but I actually think that the food processor does a better job and comes out crispier with less damage to the potato shreds’ cellular integrity (that sounds so scientific- not even sure if it is a thing).  Feel free to do this recipe with a hand grater, if desired.

P.P.S.  I also realized that the latke style you grew up with will always be your favorite.  There is a certain comfort food nostalgia that latkes bring about in people.  I am pretty sure that there are as many perfect latkes as there are Jewish people in the world, and that is just the way it should be.  Happy frying!

Million Dollar Recipe, Nut Free Version! “Soynutty Pie Crust Clusters”

As I might have mentioned 100 a few times, I was lucky enough to be a contestant in the last two Pillsbury Bake Off Contests.  The winner of the 47th contest was just announced live on The Chew tv show the other day, and boy was I thrilled that my new friend and fellow Virginian, Beth Royals, walked away with the Grand Prize of 1 MILLION dollars!  Her absolutely addictive “Peanutty Pie Crust Clusters” are amazing, and I would encourage you to make a batch for your holiday cookie tray or exchange parties.  The original recipe can be found here. Not wanting to be deprived of these treats in my nut-free home, I set about making a peanut-free version, “Soynutty Pie Crust Clusters” .  It is a tad bit more involved than the original version (mostly because of the toffee chips!), but still took me around 30 minutes to throw together.

First, cut the pie dough into 16 strips in both directions.  I did this on top of parchment, with my pizza cutter.

The cut pie crust for my Nut Free Pie Crust Clusters

Then you spread the little pieces apart a bit, so that they don’t stick together.  This part would totally appeal to those of you that are obsessed with crossword puzzles.  It was kind of fun!  Kids can help make this recipe easily, by the way…

Nut Free Pie Crust Clusters dough on the baking sheet

Then you bake them at 450 degrees for 6-8 minutes or until light golden brown.

Nut Free Pie Crust Clusters dough baked

While those were baking, I set about making my own toffee.  It is super simple, takes about ten minutes, and is necessary if you want to avoid nut products.  You also could buy nut free hard candies, such as Werthers Originals and crush them up, if you wanted to skip this step.

Just place butter and sugar in a pot over medium-high heat and whisk occasionally until it reaches 305 degrees (hard crack stage).  If you don’t have a candy thermometer, it will turn a lovely toffee color at this point.  Pour out onto a lined pan onto parchment or Silpat mat.  Let cool and bust into pieces with a mallet.  Told you this was fun!

Nut Free Pie Crust Clusters toffee 1Nut Free Pie Crust Clusters toffee 2Nut Free Pie Crust Clusters toffee 3

Nut Free Pie Crust Clusters toffee 4

Not only do you get to bash toffee, but you get to smash pretzels in this version as well!  Great holiday stress relief.

Nut Free Pie Crust Clusters Smashed Pretzels

Now, put your white chocolate chips into a microwave safe bowl.  An aside about white chocolate chips- It is hard to find a coconut oil-free brand that is not made in a plant with nuts, but Trader Joes makes them, and they are perfect for this recipe.  They do contain milk, however.

Anyhow, stick one bag of the white chocolate chips with 1 tablespoon crisco (butter variety or plain works as well), 1 tablespoon of soy-nut or sunbutter, and microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring well until completely melted.

Nut Free Pie Crust Clusters soy nut butter and white chocolate chips
The chips and Soynutty butter I used.

Nut Free Pie Crust Clusters soy nut butter and white chocolate chips in the bowl

Now all my bits and pieces are ready to go!  Just fold the pie crust bits, the smashed up toffee, and the broken pretzels into the melted chocolate goodness.

Nut Free Pie Crust Clusters ingredients

Nut Free Pie Crust Clusters ingredients mixed

Dollop onto parchment in little clusters.

Nut Free Pie Crust Clusters on a baking sheet

Pop into the fridge for 15 minutes and you have the best sweet and salty munchie ever invented….1 million dollars good!  Enjoy.

Nut Free Pie Crust Clusters yum
The focus group loved these!

(Peanut-Free) Soynutty Pie Crust Clusters

(Peanut-Free) Soynutty Pie Crust Clusters

Ingredients

    For the Clusters:
  • 1 pillsbury pie crust, room temp and unrolled
  • 1/3 cup toffee bits (recipe follows) or crushed hard caramel candies like Werthers
  • 1 cup pretzels (Rold Gold is nut-free), broken into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 1 bag (2 cups) white chocolate baking chips (Trader Joes)
  • 1 tablespoon crisco (butter flavored or plain)
  • 1 tablespoon Soynut butter, golden peabutter, or sunbutter
    For the toffee:
  • 2/3 cup salted butter
  • 1 cup sugar

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Cut pie crust into tiny squares or16 rows in each direction.
  3. Place on parchment lined baking sheet.
  4. Bake for 6-8 minutes or until light golden brown.
  5. Let cool.
  6. Meanwhile, make the toffee by combining the butter and sugar in a saucepan over medium to medium-high heat.
  7. Whisking occasionally, heat to 305 degrees or until toffee colored (about 10 minutes).
  8. Pour out onto a lined baking sheet covered with parchment or a silpat .
  9. Spread out with an offset spatula and let cool completely.
  10. Break up into tiny pieces with a mallet or rolling pin.
  11. Place the pretzels into a zip topped bag.
  12. Crush into small pieces with a rolling pin.
  13. In a large, microwave safe bowl, heat white chips, crisco and Soynut butter on high in 30 second intervals, until melted.
  14. Gently fold in pretzels, toffee bits, and pie crust pieces.
  15. Make sure that everything is coated.
  16. Dollop by heaping tablespoon onto parchment paper and place in refrigerator for 15 minutes.
  17. Store covered, if they last more than 10 minutes!
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Some other allergy thoughts- If you have a peanut allergy, but are not allergic to tree nuts, you could add pecans or hazelnuts, lightly chopped.

If you are gluten-free, you could use Pillsbury’s gluten-free pie and pastry dough in place of the crust, and make sure to use gluten free pretzels.

If you are Milk free- you could use milk free chocolate chips in place of the white chips. A brand like Enjoy Life would work well. You could make the toffee with non-dairy margarine instead of butter.

If you are allergic to soy, use sunbutter or golden peabutter.

Cookie butter might also rock in this! Just a thought…

Thanksgiving Dinner – Tips and Tricks for a Stress-Free Holiday Meal

I make a kick-ass Thanksgiving Dinner.  Not being egotistical, because it is just a fact.  Here are some of my favorite tips and tricks to make your Thanksgiving extra special….at least the food part!  You are on your own when it comes to dealing with your in-laws, but well-fed relatives are usually less confrontational, right?

Great things to make ahead of time and when to make them:

Way ahead: only things that can be frozen or canned like jams, jellies, apple butter, quick breads that freeze well, and homemade stock….I have herb scones in the freezer right now!  Some pies freeze well, too.  I am not a huge fan of freezing things, but sometimes it must be done.

2-3 days ahead:  cranberry sauce, cookies, prep work like compound butters (see my last post!), soups, and brining.

1 day ahead: mashed potatoes (see tip about reheating later!), stuffing, carrot soufflé or sweet potato souffle, pies, cakes, casseroles, dips, and you can even do your turkey ahead (but would rather you not!).  Also, set the table, but only if you don’t have kids; )

Thanksgiving day:  make the turkey (or duck, or goose, or ham, or turducken?), gravy, rolls or breads (unless frozen in advance), and vegetables (unless in a casserole), salads, cut fruit and veggies for crudités, and reheat everything.

Cooking tips

Mashed potatoes:  Use Yukon Gold potatoes (also called Butter Potatoes) for the richest, best mashed potatoes.

Start them in cold, well salted water then bring to a boil.  Do not cut them super small, as they will become water logged.  If you do not salt your water, no amount of salt added later will make the potatoes taste good.

For the love of everything holy, do NOT over whip them!  They will become gluey, and then there is not much you can do.  This happened to me last year, and I am still bitter about it.  Use a hand masher or ricer, and you should be fine.

Use plenty of butter and cream.  I like to steep herbs and garlic in the warm cream and butter mixture, which I later remove before adding to the potatoes.  This is not the time for skim milk.  Sour cream is fine, though!

If making potatoes ahead, add a little extra cream and butter on top before reheating.  This will prevent a skin from forming on top and make the potatoes perfect!

Thanksgiving Potatos in the Pot

 

Herb infused cream and butter.
Herb infused cream and butter.
Mashed Potatoes with Herb Infused Cream
Mashed potatoes ready to be stored in the fridge for tomorrow. The cream and butter on top will prevent a crust from forming.

Stuffing or Dressing:  Make your own!  It is not hard.  Just sauté veggies in butter, add herbs, stale or toasted bread cubes, stock, and voila.

Thanksgiving Dinner Stuffing ingredients being sauted

Thanksgiving dinner stuffing complete

To make ahead and reheat, just pour a small amount of stock and dot with butter on top and reheat slowly in the oven.

DO NOT stuff the bird with the stuffing.  By the time the stuffing is cooked through and safe to eat, your bird will be way over cooked.

Stuffing muffins are one of my favorite ways to serve stuffing.  Everyone gets a pre-portioned stuffing ball with some crispy top and soft center!

Thanksgiving Dinner Stuffing Muffins

Turkey

Use a meat thermometer or digital probe thermometer that alerts you when your Turkey is cooked through.  Insert thermometer into the center of the Breast meat- careful not to touch a bone!  Do not rely on pop-up thermometers that come with some birds.

ONLY stuff a turkey with aromatics such as herbs, lemon, onion, garlic, oranges, apples, etc…  Do not stuff with dressing, as I said before.  Your bird will cook faster and be moist and delicious.

DO use a high heat first method, such as Alton Brown’s Turkey Recipe.

Also, slather your bird under the skin with a compound butter (see my previous blog entry.  A little canola oil on top, salt and pepper will make a nice crispy brown skin.

Feel free to brine your bird if you have the space in the fridge and time, but if you want to save on that, buy a pre-brined or a Kosher Turkey.  Anyone who keeps kosher knows that these turkeys are already brined for you and are the tastiest birds around!

When reheating your turkey (because it is almost impossible to serve a hot turkey and hot side dishes at the same time unless you have 5 ovens), slice turkey, and lay it in a large baking pan in one layer.  Add a little stock over all the turkey, cover and heat in the oven on a fairly low temperature until warmed through.  The turkey will be very moist from the stock!

Pie crust

Feel free to make them from scratch, and more power to you if you do.  However, there is no shame in buying premade crusts, especially if you are doing the bulk of the cooking.  It saves a lot of time and effort, and let’s face it, pie is still fantastic either way.  Never seen anyone turn down a pie, because the crust was store bought.  I like the ones you unroll and place in your own pie tin.

Use pie shields instead of messing with foil to prevent your crusts from burning. Another tip is to bake pies at a slightly lower temperature for a longer amount of time.  I really like baking pies at 375 degrees, because the crusts don’t burn easily that way.

Lastly, because I have to go make some pie-

Pumpkin pies-  Every pumpkin pie has some form of milk product, but which is the best?  It is really a matter of personal preference, but I have conducted an exhaustive search to find which I like best over the past few years.  I have tried heavy cream, half and half, condensed milk, and evaporated milk.  IMHO evaporated milk is the best tasting, because the pumpkin really shines through and there is a lighter consistency to the filling.  The heavier creams (and I am usually such a fan!) muddle the flavors of the spices and pumpkin for me.  My second favorite would be the condensed milk, which leads to a richer, denser consistency that is also great!

Thanksgiving Dinner Pumpkin Pie

General tips for Thanksgiving Dinner:

1. Be careful and aware of the food allergies your guests might have.  If your recipe has nuts in it, please disclose that information!  If you sneak oysters into your stuffing, make sure nobody has a shellfish allergy and so on…

2.  Keeping a list of what needs to be done, reheated, and when you plan on doing those things is very helpful.  I generally write a menu, a to-do list, and a schedule of when I will make and heat things.  It helps tremendously.

3.  Clean as you go.  ‘Nuf said.

4.  Do some of the work ahead of time, if possible.

5.  Enlist your children or family members to do easier jobs like setting the table, peeling potatoes, cutting the ends of the green beans, etc…

Thanksgiving Dinner Children Helping

Thanksgiving Dinner Children Love to Help!

6.  Experiment with one or two recipes that might be out of the box creative, but keep most things fairly traditional.  That curried, pretzel crusted turkey from the cover of Bon Appetite might not please everyone in your family.  People want the food that brings back memories of Thanksgivings past and the comforting flavors of childhood.

7.  No need to go over the top with decorations.  The food is beautiful enough, and centerpieces usually get moved aside.

8.  Do have activities ready for the children to work on while waiting for the meal.

What tips and tricks do you know?  Please leave me a comment with helpful hints or recipes that make your Thanksgiving special!  Hope this was helpful.

Thanksgiving Quickie – Herbed Compound Butter

Since I am in the midst of my favorite time of the year, my Super Bowl of cooking as it were…I am kind of pressed for time.  I am making a million complicated, delicious things that I won’t get a chance to blog about.  However, sometimes it is the simplest thing that really makes all if those other dishes sing. For me, that simple thing is compound butter.

You can pretty much add or subtract whatever you want.  I generally make a sweet version for spreading on rolls and sweet bread (think Cranberry bread with honey-orange butter), but I want to talk about the savory one I make every year:

I rub this stuff on everything, and it makes everything delicious.  Look, I know butter isn’t a diet food, but if you can’t enjoy copious amounts of butter on Thanksgiving, then why bother?  I stuff it under the skin on my turkey, then slather it over the outside.  I will probably use it as the base of my stuffing, to sauté the vegetables before adding the bread.  You could even add it to the warm cream instead of plain butter to make a delicious herbed mashed potato. Smear it on bread, sauté your green beans in it, melt it on your Brussels sprouts or carrots…You get the idea.

First, throw a garlic clove and a shallot in the food processor and pulse until finely minced.  Then take some room temperature salted butter (if using unsalted, just add some salt!) and throw it in the food processor! too.  Add herbs of your choice- I used chopped fresh thyme, sage, rosemary, and parsley.  Then process it up!  Roll it up in a piece of plastic wrap and refrigerate until you need it.  Let it come to room temp if you are smearing on Turkey or turducken.  Voila!  Thanksgiving Magic.

compound butter in the blender

compound butter on the plastic wrap

compound butter ready to be refridgerated

P.s. My secret new favorite thing is to add room temperature brie to the mix.  Delicious on roast chicken, too!  Shhh, don’t tell

Herbed Compound Butter Recipe

Herbed Compound Butter Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 shallot
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 sticks salted butter, at room temperature
  • Large handful of herbs (any combination you like)
  • 4 ounces brie cheese (optional variation), at room temperature

Instructions

  1. Add shallot and garlic to a food processor and pulse until finely minced.
  2. Throw in the butter, herbs, and brie (if using).
  3. Process until well blended.
  4. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate.
  5. Let come to room temperature before using in a thousand delicious ways.
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