Archive for the ‘Recipes’ Category

Failure and the Chocolate Chip Cookie

Sunday, 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.

Hot Breakfast New Year’s Resolution

Tuesday, 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

Tuesday, 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

Sunday, 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 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

Monday, 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

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

What could be better than key lime pie? The ice cream sandwich version, of course! In my new AOL series on, 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

Tuesday, 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.

Lavender, Vanilla Bean, and Rosewater…Oh My!

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

Lavender is making a hug come back in my kitchen this spring. I am tucking it under the skin with lemon zest and thyme when I am panfrying a butterflied chicken. It’s floating in my simple syrup for a bold and distinctive lemonade. And now it is taking over my cookie plate.

The following recipe for my Lavender Vanilla Bean Tea Biscuits with Rosewater Icing is a new favorite. As soon as these shortbread cookies leave the oven a sweet perfume pervades the kitchen. Fragrant and mildly floral, they are an unexpected treat for a summertime garden party, paired with a tall glass of herbed tea or crisp lemonade. It is important to use the seeds of a vanilla bean instead of the more typical extract so that the natural and rich flavor shines. The dried lavender gets a little boost from the optional rosewater icing.

for the cookies:
1 cup sugar
¾ cup (1½ sticks) butter at room temperature
2 eggs
seeds of one vanilla bean
1 teaspoon dried lavender, crushed
2½ cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon fine sea salt

for the optional icing:
2 cups powdered sugar
3-4 tablespoons milk or water
1/2 teaspoon rosewater

To make the cookie dough, beat the sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla bean seeds, and lavender in a large mixing bowl until fluffy and well combined. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt, and then stir it into the butter/sugar mixture. Divide the dough in two equal parts and roll into logs in plastic wrap. Store in the refrigerator for at least one hour, or until chilled enough to slice.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Once the dough is chilled, cut the logs crosswise into 1/8 inch-thick circles and space an inch apart on a lined or greased cookie sheet. Bake for 7-9 minutes. Remove the cookies from the oven to a cooling rack.

Meanwhile, prepare the icing. Whisk the powdered sugar, milk, and rosewater together in a mixing bowl and drizzle over the tea biscuits once they are completely cool.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

Store the cookies in an airtight container for up to one week once the icing has fully dried.

Matzo Brei Isn’t Just for Breakfast

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

Most people who grew up eating matzo brei know it exclusively as a breakfast treat, enjoyed only eight days a year during Passover. A French Toast of sorts, matzo brei is made of broken pieces of matzo soaked in water, then drained, and finally scrambled with egg, sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, and perhaps drizzled with maple syrup. It is truly delicious, I think. For the record, there are some who do not like it (my father, for example, is not a fan). But there are other ways to enjoy matzo brei than merely as your best effort to tell your taste buds that the deprivation of bread, pasta, and rice (for all you Ashkenazis like me) isn’t so tough.

In my family, we eat matzo brei as an hors d’oeuvre. Yes, four courses of food isn’t enough for us. We like to get started with some herring, and just to make sure we can survive the abbreviated seder and don’t faint, we first feast on pieces of matzo brei topped with chopped liver or chopped eggs and onions, the princely pates of Eastern European cooking.

My grandfather, Ted, perfected this dish. Since matzo brei is traditionally a scrambled mess (in my father’s defense, it certainly is not the prettiest dish you’ll ever see), he thought to break matzo pieces into same-sized squares to create the perfect base for the chopped liver and eggs and onions. He soaked the pieces in water (so they become tender and flexible like a noodle), then stacked them in threes before dipping them in egg and rolling them in matzo meal (a course flour of ground matzo). The matzo meal coating transforms standard matzo brei into something extraordinary. Then frying the whole thing in schmaltz (chicken fat) imparts that extra depth of flavor and exceptional golden brown color.

Breaking the matzo pieces in perfect squares can be challenging. Check out this amusing video from Japan of all places on how to do it easily.

The Egg Came First

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

Well, it did in a kitchen anyway. No one, I don’t care who they are, can claim genuine culinary competence if they cannot properly scramble an egg or prepare an omelet (the former is a precursor to the latter, by the way). Roasting a chicken is also an essential skill, but I would argue that since breakfast comes first and an egg cooks in a matter of seconds or minutes, making eggs is the very first step on the road to cooking well.

I learned this many years ago in school at The French Culinary Institute from Chef Henri Viain who told me that when he was a boy in France and he went on an interview for a stage (an internship), he would be asked to prepare scrambled eggs or roast a chicken. After all, if you cannot do that, what can you do? Exotic ingredients and offbeat combinations do not a competent cook make. It’s the foundations and clean execution of timeless technique that makes a real cook.

Watch master chef Andre Soltner make an omelet and then go make one yourself. Refer to my recipe below for step-by-step instructions. You’ll be on your way to competent cooking!

The ultimate omelet is French: rolled, as opposed to flat, and generally with a completely smooth, unbrowned surface, and slightly runny in the middle. Taste and preference prevail, of course, but this is the classic preparation. The key to making a superb omelet is scrambling the eggs first, then setting the omelet. Never overstuff it, or you’ll have a hard time rolling it. If egg white omelets are more your speed, try making the following recipe with 3 large egg whites and just one yolk. You’ll never go back to just egg whites again!

Essential equipment: small mixing bowl; fork; nonstick 8-inch sauté pan, flat wooden spoon
Essential technique: mise en place; sauté

for the omelet:
3 large eggs (ideally, room temperature)
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
salt and pepper to taste

for the filling, choose one of the following per omelet:
¼ cup grated cheese
3 tablespoons caramelized onions
¼ cup chopped tomatoes
2 button mushrooms, sliced

Break eggs into a bowl and mix well with a fork. Heat a nonstick 8-inch skillet over medium heat and add 2 teaspoons butter. When the butter foams, add the eggs and let them be, just until they start to set along the edge. Stir continuously with the back of a fork or wooden spoon until they are at a runny scramble stage. Spread them evenly in the pan. When the omelet is lightly set, stop stirring and remove the omelet from the heat. (The point at which you stop stirring is the key to having a smooth omelet.)

Place the filling in the middle of the omelet. Fold the edge of the omelet over onto itself, tilt the pan from the handle and lightly tap the pan so that the omelet moves down to the edge of the pan. Form the omelet with a wooden spoon.

Roll the omelet onto a warm plate seam-side down. Adjust the form if necessary by shaping with a clean towel. Serve immediately.

Makes 1 omelet.