Keen on Quinoa

Before quinoa became popular, my mother had it in her pantry when I was growing up. Back in the ‘70’s, it was hippie dippy health food and had a picture of a Native American on the box to show how natural it was. I am sure my mother made it once, and it was either tolerated at one weeknight dinner, or rejected entirely, and then left for dead on the shelf, in memory of mom’s attempt to try something new.

But now it has made a re-appearance in grocery stores, and healthful minded people are turning to it for a low-carb, gluten-free substitute for other grains. Understanding what it is and how to cook it can keep its popularity stats up at your dinner table.

First thing you should know is that it is not a grain, although it looks a lot like couscous.

Uncooked quinoa

Uncooked quinoa

My husband thinks it looks a lot like bird seed and jokes that we are sharing dinner with our pet parakeet.

Bird seed

Bird seed

Our parakeet, Happy Love

Our parakeet, Happy Love

Quinoa is related to beets and spinach and is high in protein and iron. It is the seed of its plant, and, if you look closely at it after it is cooked, has a lot of personality—it is curly, just like me!

Curly when cooked!

Curly when cooked!

It is also accepted as kosher for Passover—just think, it is the only kosher food that has a curly tail!

Curly close-up

Curly close-up

During Passover I leave a big bowl of it in the fridge, and it will save me from sobbing into my matzah on day 3 of the holiday because I can’t go one more day without my beloved couscous, rice, or pasta (carboholic in the house, yo).

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Perfect Potato Pancakes: A Latke Tutorial

My favorite electric skillet!

Now come on, don’t be shy, raise your hand if you have never attempted to make your own latkes. That’s better.  It feels good to share, doesn’t it.
Or more likely, you have made latkes, and year after year you wonder why they are not turning out crispy outside and melt in your mouth creamy inside. And why, oh why, don’t they taste like Grandma’s???
Don’t worry, help is here!
I have a foolproof latke recipe for you, and it is low-fat!  Okay… I am totally lying about the low-fat part.
You can read this blog, or you can watch me make them live on TV here, or both:
Aura Makes Latkes on KMOV’s Great Day St. Louis
Tis the season to make latkes, so either way, get out your food processor, your frying pan, and let’s go!
Latke 101
The goods:
Potatoes. You can make these with any kind of potato and any kind of vegetable, really. Cooks are always throwing in everything from zucchini and carrots to sweet potatoes and curry. But for traditional latkes, I recommend using Russet potatoes because of their high starch content.
Onions. You can’t make a good latke without a good onion. Use a 2 potato to 1 onion ratio here folks.
Eggs. Keep it together folks. I know the onions made you cry, but in this case I mean the latke. It will help hold it together.
Salt. Yes, mmm… good. You can’t make a decent latke without the proper amount of salt. Besides, the right amount will help the water drain from the potatoes and onions. I’m a fan of kosher salt.
Flour vs. Matzo Meal vs. Potato Starch. Ok, sit down for this one: I don’t add any flour or matzo meal to my batter. I find it makes the batter gummy and heavy and you will still have liquid in the bottom of the bowl as the potatoes and onions will continually give off water. Instead, I use the potato starch that naturally comes out of the potatoes in my bowl (instructions and photos follow). And the liquid, well, you just keep mixing it back in. If you find you absolutely must add flour and can’t accept the concept of a flour-less potato pancake, then go ahead and add a little, you have my blessing. But don’t keep adding when you see liquid in the bowl, just mix it back in.
And oil. This is the most important part here. You want to use peanut oil. It is the best. Its high smoke point allows you to get through the whole batch of lakes without setting off the smoke alarm. You can also use canola or vegetable oil, but it won’t have the same results. Peanut will give you the crispiest texture. See below for more on oil.
Helpful tips:
Skin the potatoes. But someone I know leaves them on and boy does that save a lot of work, not to mention keep some extra nutrients in. But I haven’t tried it myself, so for now I say skin ’em.
Use a food processor. I know plenty of people swear by hand-grating. But the people I know who usually do this, well, the latkes are the only thing they will cook all year so they have energy to spare. You grandmother grated by hand. She suffered so you don’t have to.
You can double or triple this recipe. But if you do I recommend crushing a vitamin C tablet and adding it to your mixture to keep the batter from turning brown.
Make sure your oil is hot, hot, hot, like the Buster Poindexter song. You can put in a wooden chopstick as the oil heats, and when bubbles form around it and are moving rapidly you will know your oil is ready. Pretty cool, huh? And I def don’t advise throwing droplets of water into your oil to see if it spatters–it will, and you will have a mess and could possibly get burned.
Flip once, not twice, unless you want to give your latke a bath in the oil. Yuck.
Don’t press down with the spatula. You want it to have a little body, not be an oily potato chip. And the expression “flat as a pancake,” well don’t press down on those either.
Feel free to make these ahead and freeze. They are extra crispy when reheated. Try 375 degrees F for 6-8 minutes per side.

Need more help? Ask me!

Aura’s Traditional Potato Latkes

  • 2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and quartered lengthwise
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
  • 1 egg
  • 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup peanut oil

1. Using the grating disc of your food processor, grate the potatoes and the onion.

2. Remove the shredded potatoes and onions and put them into a mesh colander sitting over a large bowl.

3. Change the blade of the food processor to the chopping blade. Put most, but not all of the shredded potatoes and onions into the work bowl of the food processor and pulse until you have a smoother texture.

4. Put the mixture back into the colander over the bowl and press down to help the potatoes release their liquid.

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5. Remove the colander from the bowl and you will see the liquid from the potatoes with the white starch settled at the bottom. Pour off the water being careful to save the potato starch.

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6. Put the potato-onion mixture into the bowl with the potato starch, add the egg, salt and pepper, and mix well.

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7. Pour the oil into a large frying pan and heat to medium high. Place a wooden chopstick into the oil and when bubbles form around it you know the oil is the right temperature for frying.

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8. Carefully drop spoonfuls of batter into the hot oil. Let the latkes cook for about 3 minutes until golden and then carefully flip and cook on the other side.

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9. Remove them from the pan and place on paper towels to drain. Repeat with remaining batter.

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10. Serve with applesauce or sour cream.  Makes 18 latkes.

Aura is interviewed about Chanukah Traditions and cooking in the Ladue News

Lazy Day Noodle Soup

Baby, its cold outside and winter lethargy has set in. You need something hot and you need it right now.

OK, well in reality, it is December and freakishly warm where I live. And although it has been 70 degrees for the last few days, my body knows it is soup season.

This will never replace your mom’s chicken soup recipe, which of course is the best. But it is better than anything canned, packaged, or processed. It is simple and honest and easy and fast. And you probably already have everything in the house.

I am a big fan of slaving away over a hot stove any day of the week. I love wielding knives, mixing, measuring, mashing, stirring, kneading, etc. But this is not that recipe.

All you do is throw a few things in a bowl, stick it in the microwave, and walk away. Of course you can go back and sit on the couch, or in front of the fireplace, the TV, the wall, or whatever you like to stare at. When your work is done, you will be rewarded with a hot bowl of chicken noodle soup.

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Quick Chicken Noodle

  • 1 medium carrot, sliced thin
  • 1 stalk of celery, sliced thin
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme, crushed up a little
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 chicken flavored bouillon cubes and 4 1/2 cups water (or you can use 4 cups broth and ½ cup water)
  • 1 generous cup fine egg noodles, slightly broken up

1.  In a large microwave-safe bowl, place all of the ingredients.

2. Cover and cook the soup in the microwave for 15 minutes.  Let cool for 5 minutes.

3.  Ladle the soup into 4 bowls and serve with crackers, if desired.

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Cloud Cookies, aka Chocolate Chip Meringues

It is just after Thanksgiving and probably best to take it a little easy when it comes to eating dessert.  If your family served nine kinds of pie—This. Means. You.

I don’t mean anyone should skip dessert entirely—I would never suggest anything as radical as that—but here is an opportunity to eat something a little lighter.

I wouldn’t call this healthy or good for you, but honestly, it is not too bad, as far as desserts go.

These are easy to make, so if you just spent days cleaning and cooking for T-Day, then this is surely the way to go. And you probably have all of the ingredients in your house already, since there are only four. But note: don’t make these on a rainy or humid day—ironically these Cloud Cookies won’t turn out.

It starts off simply–first you take three large eggs and leave them at room temp for about an hour or so. If you don’t have time to spare, then take your three eggs and put them in a bowl of hot tap water for 5 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 275° F and line a large baking sheet or two with parchment paper and set aside.

Next, you crack the eggs, and separate the white from the yolk using any one of the following methods:

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Heavenly Chocolate Ganache Cake Balls for Passover

Here it is folks, up to the minute breaking news from right here in Aura’s Test Kitchen and pomegranatesandhoney.com! I’ve been in the kitchen trying to reinvent Passover. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it can be done. No more matzo flavored chocolate cake. No more weird tasting egg-puffed chiffon cakes. No more getting dessert out of a can.

We are free, so let’s eat like it! No need to be enslaved to your grandmother’s fruit compote recipe forever.
Every year I consider it my personal mission to come up with one or two never seen before Passover recipes. I have fond memories of my mom’s Passover desserts from childhood. But let’s face it, Passover desserts taste odd. Maybe some of you look forward to that matzah cake meal flavor, but I say let’s leave matzah where it belongs—on the seder table. On your dessert table, put these, because, well, why not?
I bring to you my latest creation…
Heavenly Chocolate Ganache Cake Balls
·          One and half 8 ounce packages pre-made Passover cake, such as Osem marble cake or pound cake (12 ounces total)
·         ¼ cup cream (dairy-free creamer is ok too)
·         ½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate
·         ½ teaspoon almond extract
·         10 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate  plus 1/2 cup cream for the coating, or if you want a hard chocolate shell use 10 ounces of chocolate almond bark candy coating
·         1 ½  tablespoon finely chopped almonds
1.      Crumble the cake into a large bowl. You will get about 4 cups of cake crumbs.
2.      Put the cream and chocolate chips into a microwave safe bowl and cook for 1 minute. Stir until smooth. Add almond extract and stir again.
3.      Pour the chocolate mixture into the cake crumbs and stir until well combined.
4.      Line a baking sheet with wax paper. Using a small cookie scoop (will make 36 truffle sized balls) or a medium cookie scoop (will make 18-2 ½ inch cake balls) scoop out the batter and roll into balls. Place on tray and place tray into freezer. Note: it is quicker to make the balls larger, but it is cuter to make them smaller. It’s your choice, and may it be the toughest decision you’ll make all day.
5.      Melt the 10 ounces of chocolate and the half cup cream in a dish in the microwave; let stand for a few minutes then whisk together until smooth, or for a hard chocolate shell melt 10 ounces of chocolate almond bark or chocolate candy coating.
6.      Dip each ball in the melted chocolate using 2 forks, and give them a gentle shake before removing from the bowl to remove excess chocolate.
7.      Place on wax paper and sprinkle each with a pinch of chopped almonds as you go along, so the almonds stick to the still-wet chocolate. If you wait too long the chocolate will harden and the almonds won’t stick.
8.      Let the chocolate harden or stick them in the freezer and remove 30 minutes before serving. Feel free to double the recipe—I would if I were you. These are over-the-top delicious and you won’t taste any matzo in this dessert.

Notes:
*A small cookie scooper will make 36 truffle sized cake balls, and a medium one will make 18-2 ½ inch cake balls. It is quicker to make the balls larger, but it is cuter to make them smaller. It’s your choice, and may it be the toughest decision you’ll make all day.
**If you wait too long the chocolate will harden and the almonds or sprinkles won’t stick.

Aaaaahhh, heaven!!!

Hamantaschen, The Ultimate Purim Schpiel, De-Mystified

Hamantaschen are classic Purim cookies.  Tradition says, large ones represent Haman’s hat; small ones represent his ear or his pocket, literally translating to “Haman’s pocket.”  Another story tells us that the three corners represent Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the founding fathers of Judiasm.

Blah. Blah. Blah.

If you ask me, I will tell you that hamantaschen represent the thing that really saved the Jews from destruction, and that my friends is this–Queen Esther’s, um, er, how to put this delicately, please tell me you know what I am going to say.
My very smart husband has cautioned me against using any overly-specific words in this blog, although I want to. If I write the word, my name will be forever linked to it, thanks to Google algorithms. My heart is pounding as I type this—I have waited years in which to come out with this and go public with such a shocking statement.
oprfuHH Hopefully by now you have figured out that I am referring to Queen Esther’s special pocket and not Haman’s.
Queen Esther!
The day I realized this, was the day my life as a Jewish girl ended and my time as a Jewish woman began. Stories are told to us as children are glossed-over versions of the real thing, packaged prettily to keep us innocent, and this is a good thing. Sometimes, a person has to come to their own conclusions when the time is right. And then they never look at things the same way again.
I am not alone in my belief–there are feminist Jewish writings on what the hamantaschen really means at websites such as lilith.org. The more you think about it, the more you know I am right. As shock wears off, acceptance sets in.
Sure, in medieval times it was the custom to make a pastry in the shape of your enemy and then to eat it to make the enemy disappear. And yes, this is what I will swear to publicly at any of my Purim-themed cooking classes, and anyone within earshot will be amazed at this fact because it is very interesting. But this is not the only reason we eat them.
It is un-Jewish to focus on war, violence, killing when it comes to holidays. Instead, we focus on food, playful traditions, and fun-filled folklore for children. No, the story of Hanukkah is not really about the miracle of the oil. It is a story about war and oppression, and one has to wait until adulthood to realize that the atrocities that go with any war also happened there. Same with the story of Purim—there are secrets within secrets as the plot unravels, some not to be revealed until we are ready to hear them.
The joke goes, “They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat.” Does this sound like a reason to make pastry in the shape of a triangle hat—he wasn’t a Colonial American, or a pirate, and not a wizard either. Pointed ears? Come on, Spock, Vampires, Elves of the Woodland Realm, yes, but a person working for the King of Persia, nope, don’t think so.
Try this recipe, my favorite, and as you are making your 10th hamantashen and filling it with poppy seeds or raspberry jam, you will start to have a moment of enlightenment. And by the time your 40th is done, you too will know my words ring true.
Here is to Queen Esther, who did what any good queen would do to save her people. The greatest power she had saved us all, and to celebrate, we eat it.
I completely understand if you can’t bear to look me in the eye after reading this one. Don’t worry, you’ll come around. So have that celebratory Purim drink, and be happy for goodness sakes, it’s Purim!
Queen Esther’s Hamantaschen
        ·       1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
·         1 cup margarine or unsalted butter, very soft
·         4 large eggs
·         1 tablespoon juice and all of the zest of one  orange
·         1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
·         4 cups unbleached flour
·         2 teaspoons baking powder
·         Pinch of salt
·         Filling suggestions: seedless blackberry or raspberry jam, lemon curd, strawberry, apricot or blueberry preserves,  Israeli chocolate spread or Nutella, pie filling, pastry filling, any flavor you’d like, even poppy seed or prune if you are a traditionalist, which I am not.
1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line 2 baking trays with parchment paper and set aside.

2. Place sugar and butter in a large bowl and cream together with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each one is added. Add vanilla extract, orange juice and zest, mixing well. Add flour, baking powder and salt, and mix until a soft dough forms and all ingredients are incorporated, making the softest, most beautiful dough you have even seen.

3.  On a floured board, using a rolling pin, roll out a portion of the dough to approximately ¼ inch thick. If dough is too soft or too sticky sprinkle a little extra flour on the board and on the rolling pin. With a three-inch cookie cutter, cut out circles. Place a teaspoon of filling in center of each circle. 

5. To shape, fold up the left and right sides and pinch it together into a corner.  Fold up the third side and pinch the last two corners to make a complete triangle.

6. Place on cookie sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes.  Let cool before eating if you can.

ALL HAIL KALE!!!

We live in a world where green+leafy=good, while white+ fluffy=bad.  So although cake, cookies, bread, pasta, rice, and potatoes are quite possibly the most delicious things a person could eat, they have a reputation for being less than healthy. In fact, I have quite a few friends that hold up a hand in classic “stop” position and say, “No carbs.” Well, hi, my name is Aura, and I’m a carb-a-holic (but no need to pity another’s dietary choices.)

In fact when I do eat cake-cookies-bread-pasta-rice-potatoes (and that would be every day), I try to see them for what they are, and when I offer my family seconds I try to say “would you like more noodles?” instead of, “another helping of carbs, honey?” I envy other cultures on a carb-based diet (otherwise known elsewhere simply as “food”): China comes to mind—rice, the foundation for every stir fry if not the meal itself; and Italy too, with piles of fresh pasta on every plate. In fact, the gorgeous Sophia Loren has famously said, “everything you see I owe to spaghetti.” ‘Nuff said.
But the topic for today is both green and leafy, and more specifically: kale. Notice how I ramble on about “carbs”– like eating my veggies, I am avoiding the topic of kale. But it turns out I love greens, too. Even if my fork will first reach for the carb, uh, I mean pasta, before the broccoli, don’t hold it against me.  It is very European to end on the salad (but very French to end on cheese, but I will save that for another blog entry).
I have embraced kale as the sovereign of all greens. It packs a nutritional punch and been given the name “superfood.” It is hearty and will last in the crisper for days as I try to avoid making it for my family. But when I do we are all surprised every time how much we don’t hate it. We even like it. A lot.
Kale chips, although trendy, haven’t given me the kind of success I hoped for. High temp, low temp, no matter—they are always a combo of yummy-crunchy-crispy-flaky, burned-bitter-brown, and raw-chewy-stringy. I admittedly can’t get them right (if you can please message me the recipe immediately, although I have probably already tried it).
I have enjoyed a friend’s kale, stewed with large white beans and some kind of barbeque sauce.  I suppose what I’ve been looking for in a kale recipe is not something that masks it, or something that uses it as a healthy ingredient while making me feel like I have taken a dose of medicine (kale smoothie anyone?). I’ve been looking for the “Holy Kale” of recipes that will make me stand up and shout “ALL HAIL KALE, THE MIGHTIEST TASTIEST GREEN THAT EVER WAS!” and I have found it.
It is simple: you whisk up a very simple dressing (in this case I would even call it a marinade), you chop up the leaves, or shred them really, you combine the two and let it sit, 30 minutes , but even better the next day, as it does its own hard work of softening up in the fridge.
You can use any kale you’d like: Lacinato or dinosaur kale, or basic supermarket variety labeled generically “kale” (which could be curly or plain leafed). Just wash-dry-shred-marinate-eat.
It just sits on the kitchen counter for about ½ an hour cooking itself while you slave away at all of the other things you are preparing. Make it first before you make your pasta-rice-potato side dish and let it smugly wait it out. Let it sit while you roast your chicken or cook your fish or heat up those beans to go with your rice. In fact make it the day before, or even two, shocking as it may seem. While other lettuces will wither and wilt having to bear the weight of dressing too long, these greens only get better. Have it tonight for dinner, pack it tomorrow for lunch, and the next day as well. You can count on this salad to be waiting for you when you get home and won’t have to wash-chop-dress your dinner when you are tired. And if Popeye is any indication of what one is like after eating their greens then you will feel as strong as he after chowing down.
Put this out for company or bring it to a potluck—unlike cole slaw that cannot take a hot summer’s day out on a picnic table, this can. And guest will say, oh is that…kale?” And they will ask, “how do you make that—I hear it is good for you.”  And you will say,” it is, in more ways than you know.” 
“ALL HAIL KALE” SALAD
·         ½ pound kale
·         ¼  cup each shredded carrots and purple cabbage
·         ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
·         ¼ cup seasoned rice wine vinegar
·         1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
·         2 teaspoons sugar
·         2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds or chopped peanuts
·         ½ teaspoon kosher salt
·         ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
1.       Wash and dry the kale. Strip the leaves from the stems and discard the stems. Shred the leaves into thin ribbons. Place in a bowl with the carrots and cabbage.
2.      In a medium bowl whisk together the remaining ingredients and pour over the kale salad.
3.      Let marinate for a minimum of 30 minutes and up to two days.
 
 

Rockin’ Shakshuka, Breakfast of Kings

This summer I went to Israel, lucky me. I stayed in the luxurious King Solomon Hotel.

And while my travel mates were gorging themselves on the chocolate rugelach for breakfast (and who can blame them), I was madly, wildly in love with the shakshuka.

Not only did I have fun eating it, but talking about it was pretty awesome too. Go ahead, say it. Out loud. SHAKSHUKA!!! *fist raised in air* There!
You are now so empowered that you don’t really need that second cup of coffee to get you going (have it anyway).
I’ve had shakshuka before and frankly it was either too spicy or had too many bell peppers for my taste, but this, this was bliss. At the King Solomon, there were big metal trays of chunky garlicky tomato sauce with eggs poached on top and fluffy pita bread on the side. Warm and nourishing, and like almost everything in Israel, healthy.

So I put the chocolate rugelach in my purse for later (my grandma would be proud), but for breakfast, only shakshuka!

Shakshuka, King Solomon Style
6 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped (not from a jar)
¼  cup extra virgin olive oil
1-28 ounce can diced tomatoes (Muir Glenn is my favorite)
4 to 6 good quality eggs
Pita bread (if you live in The Lou I command you to go to Pita Plus and buy it there)
Optional: crumbled feta, chopped parsley

   1.      In a medium to large sized skillet warm the olive oil and the garlic. Cook for 2-3 minutes until garlic is sizzling. Make sure to keep it moving in the pan and do not let it brown.

2.      Add the can of tomatoes, a pinch of kosher salt and 1/8 of a teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or more if you like it spicier).  Simmer on medium heat for 15 minutes.
3.      Crack desired amount of eggs on top, cover, and cook, 5 minutes for soft eggs, and 7 minutes if you like them cooked through.
4.      Scoop onto plates, sprinkling with feta, parsley, kosher salt, and freshly ground pepper, which are all optional. Serve with warm pita bread, which is not. B’tayavon!