Achtung! Die Küchentricks der Profis

November 26th, 2012

Die Kuechentricks der ProfisNotes on Cooking has been published in German! Die Küchentricks der Profis (translated as “Kitchen Tricks of the Professionals”) is available on amazon.de. Here’s how the German publisher, Bassermann, describes it: Besser kochen leicht gemacht! Dieses Buch ist ein kleines Schatzkästchen mit den wichtigsten Profi-Regeln für den besten Umgang mit Rezepten, Lebensmitteln und Garmethoden. “Öl oder Butter? Welche Pasta – welche Sauce? Vorher oder nachher würzen?” Diese und rund 200 weitere Fragen werden in diesem Buch beantwortet.

A Few of My Favorite Things from the IACP Conference

April 4th, 2012

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending and participating in the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) 34th annual conference in Soho. DuPont asked me to be a panelist for their Teflon brand “Cook-Aware” roundtable discussion focused on how America thinks about cooking today. Moderated by Cooking Channel’s Kelsey Nixon, the panel included Dr. Rovenia Brock, Joscelyn Ramos Campbell, Janice Newell Bissex, and Dr. Kanthe Shelke. We had a lively and interesting talk about the trends occurring today and what we hope for the future.

Before we took to the stage, I made the rounds to sample the epicurean fare. Two standouts emerged, and I have been inspired by and dreaming of them ever since. Mitchmallows are the most whimsical and creative marshmallows I have seen. And they taste as good as they look. I was torn between the churros, pretzel & beer, horseradish & beet, and mint chocolate chip, so I tried them all. Founder and CEO Mitchell Greenberg somehow packs a huge punch of identifiable flavor into each distinct marshmallow. If taste alone is not enough to win you over, the ChickMallows and Peepers are easily the most happy-inducing confections out there (pictured). I am making star-shaped marshmallows right now for Passover, but I wish I had brought home some Mitchmallows instead.

Much like pizza, caramel sauce is never bad…which is to say that even when it’s not that good it’s still pretty OK. But when these things are good, they are out of this world. And that’s what Spoonable’s Chewy Sesame Caramel Sauce is: extraordinary. I sampled about one tablespoon via three small pretzels, and I was instantly hooked. The base caramel sauce is luscious and thick with just right balance of sweetness and creaminess. The added flavor and texture of toasted sesame seeds is mind-blowing. I am not sure exactly how they make the sauce, but my professional instincts tell me that they stir the warm, just-toasted sesame seeds right into the caramel so that the oils in the seeds and all their flavor permeate the sauce. I, for one, am going to give it shot myself with that method.

Truly scrumptious food is both satisfying and inspiring to the palate and the soul. Thank you, Mitchmallows and Spoonable!

Failure and the Chocolate Chip Cookie

September 18th, 2011

Today I read an intriguing article from last week’s NY Times magazine called, “What if the Secret to Success Is Failure?” It features my alma mater, Riverdale Country School, and our headmaster Dominic Randolph in his quest to help develop students with character. Not just moral character, but grit and determination. I happen to agree with the philosophy that sheltered success is NOT the key to being truly successful. A little failure goes a long way. And it’s best to learn to be comfortable with being a little uncomfortable. I learned that lesson many times, most especially in the kitchen.

And I’m not the only one. Believe it or not, our beloved American chocolate chip cookie is the result of a happy accident at a small country inn in Whitman, Massachusetts. In 1930, Ruth and Kenneth Wakefield bought the Toll House Inn where Ruth prepared freshly baked treats for guests. One fateful day, Ruth ran out of baker’s chocolate for her chocolate cookies. She decided to replace the ingredient with broken pieces from a Nestle semi-sweet bar. She figured that the chocolate would melt and blend with the dough. Much to her surprise and to a nation’s gratitude, the chocolate pieces held their shape and were not absorbed by the dough. Thus, the Toll House cookie was born. The chocolate chip cookie grew popular over the years, so Nestle responded by producing chocolate bars the way Ruth had broken them – scored in small chunks. Eventually Nestle created semi-sweet chocolate morsels called chocolate chips.

Others have triumphed from failure in the kitchen, most notably, Stephanie Tatin in France in 1889. She left her apples cooking in butter and sugar for too long and risked drying or even burning them. She rescued the dish by covering the apples with pastry to protect them as they finished in the oven, then turning the dish upside down, with its apple base now on top. The result became a classic: tarte Tatin.

As I urge in “Notes on Cooking,”Preside happily over accidents. Get in the habit of celebrating errors and seeking lessons. The unrisen souffle, the broken sauce, the tough sirloin, the curdled creme anglaise–every mistake is a chance to turn misfortune to education and, in some cases, discovery.”

It’s more than ok to fail. In fact, it’s really the only way to succeed. The true benchmark for success and achievement should be self-reflected so that we really live the standards we set for ourselves.

Blood, Bones & Butter

April 24th, 2011

When Anthony Bourdain exclaims that he is “choked with envy” about the quality of another chef’s memoir, well, you know it is likely going to be one hell of a story if not an exceptional work. Gabrielle Hamilton’s “Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef” is better than exceptional… if there is such a thing.

The metaphor of the “blood, bones & butter” is the only predictable thing about the book. I, for one, was eagerly anticipating a couple hundred pages of cooking trials and food porn. Instead the book is an expertly crafted autobiography of a woman who happens to be the chef owner of a restaurant; that fact that she is a chef is almost ancillary. Hamilton herself, irrespective of her station at any given moment of her dizzying journey, is the thing that grips us. Her life story is both compelling and engaging, often bordering on the unbelievable. Her writing is simultaneously exquisite and alarmingly vivid, so much so that when she writes about having to deal with fecal matter in an unexpected place on the premises of her restaurant, I can honestly say I physically reacted.

Without giving too much away, the author has not led a “Leave it to Beaver” life in any respect, and thank goodness for the reader’s sake. She has done her fair share of drugs and spent time with people of questionable repute. The one thing that she seems to have been involved in quite a bit in her youth was shoplifting and theft. Many people have pasts where they have done wrong like Hamilton. She is in no way proud of those actions, but I never felt any sense of remorse on her part. And that bothered me. A lot. A part of me disdains to feel the admiration that was marinating as I read her story. Nevertheless, I remain in awe of Gabrielle Hamilton, wishing that I were as worthy as she is in so many respects, if not at least as fearless.

I have never met Gabrielle Hamilton. However, I have seen her busy at work in her restaurant, Prune, the several times I have eaten there. I remember one night in particular, she must have been past the 36-week mark in one of her pregnancies, yet she was calmly and meticulously expediting. Perhaps at that point it was too difficult to work the line, her belly forcing her whole body back from the heat as any chef is otherwise accustomed. Maybe she routinely toggled between cooking and expediting, and that night was just like any other. I’ll never know. But she was magnificent to watch, just as her food was delectable to eat, which proved to be a satisfying, symbiotic experience. Reading her memoir has urged me to return to Prune so I can more fully appreciate eating in her restaurant, a higher form than I had known before.

My only complaint about “Blood, Bones & Butter” is that it ends too abruptly. I was literally angry when I read the last word, exclaiming “Is this for real?!? This is it?!?! She cannot just leave me hanging like that!” All I wanted was more–another page, another day in her life, just one more colorful description of anything she encountered. Yet Hamilton’s ending, so cleverly structured in both metaphor and self-realization, left me feeling like I had evolved along with her. The book was so delicious that, even having eaten Hamilton’s food many times, I am left wondering: is Gabrielle Hamilton an even better writer than chef? Or is she Midas with apron strings and Microsoft Word? Whatever she is, she is splendid.

Hot Breakfast New Year’s Resolution

January 4th, 2011

Most kids in America do not eat a hot breakfast. Cereal seems to be most common when breakfast is eaten at home. But breakfast is too often eaten on the go, a granola bar in hand as an afterthought while racing out the door. Starting the day off right, as they say, is incredibly important. My latest book, Eat Your Breakfast or Else!, helps young children understand this through the book’s main character, Jared, who encounters a harrowing journey to outer space when he does not fuel up properly. I now have a video live on KitchenDaily that shows you how you can serve fluffy and flavorful flapjacks any day of the week in under a minute! Yes, literally in under 60 seconds. Watch the video and you’ll see…

Serving a hot breakfast is pretty easy if you plan ahead. Make 2011 the year that you feed your family something homemade and healthy for the first meal of the day!

The Ultimate Chrismukkah Cookie

December 14th, 2010

Candy Cane Toffee Crisps

Candy Cane Toffee Crisps

I actually detest this new, made-up word “Chrismukkah” for too many reasons to list here. But in a culinary sense, I just experienced it in its purest form when I created a cookie of sorts inspired by my favorite Passover treat but flavored for Christmastime to share with friends. I am a huge fan of matzo brittle, praline strips, matzo toffee, or whatever you like to call it. I make it every year for Passover, and I just love the flavor and texture of a thin, crisp matzo covered in toffee, chocolate, and nuts. What could be bad? Matzo for Christmas, though, probably would not be the biggest hit.

My Grandpa Ted had pointed out to me many years ago that matzo and Carr’s Water Crackers taste and feel the same. A Carr’s Water Cracker, however, has the aesthetic advantage of being perfectly round. He loved to make super-chic-but-not-at-all-pesadich matzo brei hors d’oeuvres with them for this reason. Then it dawned on me: I could make matzo brittle year-round with Carr’s crackers! Once I got going, I knew I was on to something: use crushed candy canes instead of nuts. I never loved candy cane bark as much as the idea of it. But if candy cane bark could be on a toffee coated cracker, well, that I could learn to love. And, boy, do I!

I served these Candy Cane Toffee Crisps Saturday night at my annual holiday party, affectionately called “Matzo Ball & Mistletoe.” They were truly the perfect December fusion sweet treat, and one that both Tara and Jen have asked me to share. So, here it is:

Candy Cane Toffee Crisps

1 sleeve Carr’s Water Crackers
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
1 cup light brown sugar
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup crushed candy canes

Bubbling Toffee Toffee Coated Crackers Melted Chocolate Chocolate Coated Crisps

Preheat the oven to 325F.

Line a rimmed sheet pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Place the crackers on the sheet pan in a single layer and set aside.

In small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the brown sugar and boil for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. It will bubble and look frothy. Pour the mixture evenly over the crackers to coat them completely. Place the sheet pan in the oven for 8 minutes.

Remove the sheet pan from the oven and sprinkle the crackers with the chocolate chips. Turn the oven off and return the pan to the oven for 5 more minutes, until the chocolate chips are soft and melted to the touch.

Remove the sheet pan from the oven and gently spread the chocolate evenly over the toffee-coated crackers. Using a small offset spatula, remove the individual crackers to a cooling rack. Sprinkle with the crushed candy canes and cool for 30 minutes before storing in the refrigerator.

Peanut Butter Makes Everything Better

November 14th, 2010

I love cooking, but I love cooking with colleagues even more. That’s where the good ideas come from, and those are the moments where I become a better cook. This past summer I filmed 45 videos for my show, “Pantry Challenge,” on AOL’s KitchenDaily.com. The premise: show busy moms how to create delicious and doable recipes from items they already have in their pantries, solving their unique cooking challenges. One such challenge was what to do with currants. Sure, we could stuff them in a scone or pop them in a pilaf, but I thought it might be fun to make something that most people buy in the box. And so, my chewy, fruity granola bars were born.

Lauren's Chewy Granola Bars

Photo by Aimee Herring for AOL

The photo basically says it all: they are moist, chewy, and packed with dried fruit. The currants are even better than raisins for granola bars because they are half the size with just as much flavor. How could these granola bars get better? My colleague, friend, and food stylist, Erin Merhar, loved the recipe so much that she added in one of her favorite ingredients (and one of mine, too): peanut butter. The result is an even better granola bar. Thank you, Erin! Here is Erin’s recipe that uses my original recipe as a base:

2 1/2 cups quick rolled oats
1 c. light brown sugar
1/4 c. wheat germ
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 c. chopped peanuts
1/2 tsp of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 c. honey
1/4 c. peanut butter
2 T. maple syrup
1 T. vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 325F. Line a 9″ x 13″ pan with wax or parchment paper. Stir together the oats, brown sugar, wheat germ, currants, apricots, salt, and cinnamon in large bowl, being sure to break up any clumps of sugar or dried fruit. Set aside.

In a smaller bowl, mix the honey, maple syrup, oil, and vanilla. Pour over the dry ingredients and mix well.

Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the edges turn golden brown.

Remove from the oven and lift the wax or parchment paper from the pan. Let the granola slab cool for 5 minutes before removing the paper and cutting into bars.

Cool completely before eating or wrapping.

Jewish Soul Food

September 13th, 2010

It might seem strange to think about food for a holiday about fasting, but that’s just what I did when AOL asked me to write some recipes for Yom Kippur – break-the-fast, that is. Stranger still, I am STILL thinking about it! (Well, let’s face it…it’s not that strange, especially if you know me.)

herring blintzes rugelach quiche

Should I make some blintzes with cherry sauce, or just some chocolate chip rugelach? I do make the blintzes fairly often, as it is hands down my son’s and husband’s favorite breakfast. My Great (and great) Aunt Candy will be serving her legendary kugel, so I can cross that off my list. I already prepared some pickled herring with apples and walnuts as a Rosh Hashanah hors d’oeuvre; but maybe I’ll pick up some matjes herring from Russ & Daughters. If I end up with leftover smoked salmon I absolutely will make a “lox, eggs, and onions” quiche.

What is your favorite break-the-fast food?

Key Lime Pie Ice Cream Sandwiches

August 3rd, 2010

What could be better than key lime pie? The ice cream sandwich version, of course! In my new AOL series on KitchenDaily.com, Pantry Challenge, I show busy mom and PR professional, Jennifer, how to make this delicious no-bake dessert. Want to lower the calories a little? Use sugar-free jello and low-fat graham crackers.

Quick Kids Lemonade

July 6th, 2010

My son is obsessed with lemonade. Not the bottled or powdered kind, but the real deal. Every day during this hot and humid summer I allow him a glass of chilled happiness in the form on 8 ounces water, 2 teaspoons agave and the juice of half a lemon (plus a handful of ice cubes, of course, to let the sweet and tangy elixir last). I make two glasses at a time using one lemon. Quick, easy, healthy, natural, and utterly refreshing. Give it a try and you’ll never drink the fake stuff again.

Three easy ways to get the kids involved to help make the lemonade:
1. Have the kids roll the lemons back and forth on a cutting board to loosen the juices.
2. Pass the measuring spoon to tiny hands to measure the honey.
3. Let the children stir the lemonade until thoroughly mixed.