Archive for December, 2009

Simple and Delicious Latkes and Applesauce

latkes

It’s Hanukkah! And that means it’s latke time. Those tasty, greasy potato pancakes come in a variety of styles. My personal preference is to keep them thin and somewhat crispy. That’s why I like recipes that leave the potatoes simply grated and don’t have much or any flour. The recipe I’ve been using for a few years, always turns out well. I believe it’s from my parents’ food processor cookbook.

Ingredients

  • 6 large potatoes
  • 1 onion
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 tsp salt
  • pepper
  • vegetable oil

Directions

Peel and grate the potatoes (I recommend doing it in a food processor), then wash them under cold water and squeeze out the excess moisture. Grate the onion and mix all the potatoes, onion, eggs, salt and pepper together in a bowl.

Get the oil nice and hot, and start frying away until each side is nice and browned.

Drain on paper towels and serve hot with applesauce or sour cream.

Applesauce

Now, for that applesauce. If you’ve never made it, it’s remarkably easy and will taste much better than any you buy at the store. And, there’s only really one ingredient — apples. I sometimes use apple juice, too, since it’ll make it a little sweeter.

All you need to do is peel and cut up the apples — I used 2 large ones and a cup of strawberries for the applesauce you see in the photo above — then put them in a pot with apple juice or water (or some combination of the two). Cook the apples over medium heat stirring frequently until they begin to fall apart. After about an hour, you’ll have applesauce. If you don’t like it a little chunky, you can puree it with a food mill or food processor. You can also add some sugar if it’s not sweet enough, but this shouldn’t be necessary if you’ve used apple juice in place of some of the water.

I really liked the strawberry applesauce I made — it was quite sweet and chunky, and it had a beautiful reddish color. I’ve also made it with plums before, which also add a pink color.

Happy Hanukkah!

Simple and Festive-Looking Holiday Appetizer: Pea Pesto Crostini

pea pesto crostini

A few weeks ago, I was watching Giada at Home on the Food Network and Giada made a super simple and pretty looking recipe — Pea Pesto Crostini. I decided to make it when we had a friend over for drinks and it was a hit, and then I made it again this past weekend for a holiday potluck.

With only 4 ingredients in the pesto — defrosted peas, garlic, parmesan cheese and olive oil — plus some bread and tomatoes, it’s quick to make, and it packs a surprising amount of flavor in every bite. It also has a great festive red and green palate and looks really pretty sitting out on a plate or board.

Check out the original recipe. I’ve already used it twice and will likely use it again.

An Anniversary Dinner: Soup, a Savory Pie and Chocolate Almond Cake

November 3, Evan and I celebrated our third anniversary. It seems that each year before this one, November 3 has been a hectic day full of lots changes. On our first anniversary, I moved out to Budapest. Evan was already there, and I was joining him to live there for a couple of months before we went to London. On our second anniversary, we started to move into our apartment in LA. We didn’t finish the move because my parents’ dog, Murray, died that day, so we went to spend time with my parents. This year didn’t have any of the fuss of the years before. Evan went to work, I stayed home and worked, and I decided to cook us a nice dinner so we could just enjoy each others’ company at home.

I turned to my trusty New Vegetarian Epicure cookbook and found a nice seasonal meal of butternut squash and pear soup, chard and fennel pie, and one of Evan’s favorite desserts — a chocolate and almond cake with a layer of raspberry preserves.

Butternut Squash and Pear Soup

Butternut Squash and Pear Soup

The soup was quite simple — I cooked a butternut squash and a sweet potato in some vegetable stock and water until they were tender. Then I sauteed 4 pears and 1 onion in some olive oil. Once everything was tender, I blended it all together and added just a touch of cream (it would have been fine without it, but it was a special occasion). The soup was nice and sweet and hearty. I would definitely make it again.

A Slice of Chard and Fennel Pie

A Slice of Chard and Fennel Pie

Our main course, the chard and fennel pie, was a bit time consuming to make because I had to make a dough, let it rise, make the filling, put together the pie and bake it, but it was worth it. The doughy crust was nice and light and bready, since it was a bread dough and not a pastry crust. The contents of the pie blended together really well, with the chard adding a deep green color, the cooked fennel adding its slightly anise taste, and feta cheese adding a nice amount of bite and salt. It also looked quite nice (and could have been even nicer had I been a little better at handling the dough), and it sliced beautifully. It also held up well as leftovers, both hot and cold, for quite a few days.

Chocolate Cake with Almonds and Raspberry Jam

Chocolate Cake with Almonds and Raspberry Jam

The cake was a favorite I’d made once before. I did have to make it twice since on my first attempt I didn’t fold in the egg whites quite enough and the cake became a strange consistency and had some white streaks through it. But on the second try, the cake turned out perfectly — it wasn’t too flat, I was able to slice it in half easily (though not exactly evenly), and we even dusted the top with powdered sugar. It’s a great cake that isn’t as rich as it looks, has a slight crunch from the almonds, depending on how well you grind them, isn’t too sugary, and is just a really nice finish to a meal.

I actually made the cake again this week for a holiday party. It’s a recipe that Evan’s parents got as a handout for a department store selling some sort of kitchen gadget. They didn’t buy the gadget — and don’t even remember what it was — but they have used the cake recipe. I haven’t made many cakes from scratch before, and it does take some effort, but this one comes together really well. Here’s the recipe…

Gateau Chocolat-Amande

Ingredients:

  • 4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
  • 4 eggs separated
  • ¼ cup cold coffee (I often don’t wait for the coffee to cool, and have used both regular and instant coffee)
  • ½ cup finely ground almonds
  • ½ cup unsalted butter (8 tbs or 1 stick)
  • 1 Tbs. Triple Sec
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup all purpose flour
  • Raspberry preserves,
  • Powdered sugar

Instructions:
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter, line, and flour a 9” round cake pan

2. In a double boiler, combine and melt together the 4 oz. of chocolate and the ¼ cup of cold coffee

3. When the chocolate is melted, whisk in the ½ cup of unsalted butter, one tablespoon at a time. When the butter is absorbed, whisk in ½ cup of sugar. Allow the mixture to cool.

4. While the chocolate mixture is cooling, separate the 4 eggs and grind the ½ cup of almonds.

5. Whisk the egg yolks into the cooled chocolate mixture one at a time. Fold in the ground almonds, the 1 Tbs. Triple Sec and the 1/4 cup flour.

6. Whip the egg whites until stiff and then fold them gently into the batter. (This is the hardest part to get just right. You need to make sure everything is incorporated, but you don’t want to over-mix. Thankfully, if the egg whites fall a little too much when you incorporate them with rest of the ingredients, the cake will still turn out ok, just a little thin. We’ve put the raspberry preserves on top instead of cutting the thin cake in half, and it still tasted delicious.)

7. Turn the completed batter into the prepared cake pan. Bake in the middle of the pre-heated oven for 20-25 minutes. The cake is done when it springs back to the touch, and it will be moist in the center.

8. Unmold the cake and allow it to cool on a cooling rack. When cool, split the cake into two layers.

9. Arrange the bottom layer on a serving plate and spread it with a layer of raspberry preserves. Top with the second layer of cake. (The original recipe says “thin” layer of preserves, but you can judge the thickness that you’d like — we tend to put on quite a bit).

10. To serve: Just before serving, dust the top of the cake with confectioner’s sugar. Use a doily or a cake rack to make a design if you wish. (You’ll want to do this just before serving since the cake absorbs the powdered sugar quite quickly)

The cake will keep well refrigerated, though its taste and texture will become a bit richer as the preserves get absorbed by the cake.

A Relaxing Weekend in Ojai

We found some trees that change color in Southern California!

We found some trees that change color in Southern California!

OK, this post is only more than a month late, but I did want to share…

Over Halloween weekend, Evan and I decided to get out of LA for a bit. He’s been working 6- or 7-day weeks, and he finally had a full 2-day weekend to relax for the first time in more than a month. Also, neither of us really like celebrating Halloween, so it was the perfect weekend to get away. We considered Palm Springs, or Santa Barbara, or even Solvang, but they all seemed troublesome and pricey that weekend — there was a giant Phish concert out in the desert, and Santa Barbara has a major Halloween celebration, so we thought of some place a little closer and quieter — Ojai.

We were only going for one night, and we only decided to go a few days before the weekend, but thankfully things weren’t too busy and we were able to book a beautiful room in a very cute and cozy bed and breakfast called Inn Harmony. Inn Harmony is on a residential street just a block away from the main shopping and restaurant area. The yellow house had only a few rooms and it really felt like staying in a friend’s beautiful guest room. The furnishings looked new and were a mix of classic shapes with contemporary funky fabrics, the bathroom was quite modern, and we even had our own little balcony. There was a wine and cheese happy hour, a nice yard and porch where we spent time reading, and an absolutely adorable and friendly little Havanese dog.

How could you not love that face?

How could you not love that face?

Ojai turned out to be a great little vacation spot. We went on a nice hike which crossed back and forth over a small stream and gave us some beautiful views of the Ojai valley. There were so many hikes in the area that we had a hard time choosing which one to do. We also had a nice dinner at the Ranch House, where we sat on their heated patio in a lush garden. We got a very private table that was on its own platform amid the trees, and shared a bottle of wine and a nice meal.

One of the views from our hike

One of the views from our hike

We also went wine tasting at the Old Creek Ranch Winery, which was just outside of Ojai. We tasted a large selection of their small runs of wines and were impressed with all of them, especially the now sold-out sauvignon blanc and the sangiovese. Though they buy their grapes from other vineyards, they do make the wine on the pastoral property, and there were plenty of people picnicking with their families and dogs.

Ojai turned out to be the perfect weekend retreat for us. We relaxed, spent time outdoors and had fun checking out the little shops that featured the very talented local artists, like Steven Spiro. It was also really easy to get to — it only took about an hour and a half to get there. I’m excited to find another weekend when we can go back.

Final Photoshop II Project: NYTimes Opinion Illustration

Wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything. It’s been a really busy month and I have lots of adventures to catch up on writing about. First, though, I wanted to share my final project from my Photoshop II UCLA Extension class.

We had to create an illustration for a New York Times Opinion Section piece in the style of ParkeHarrison. I was inspired by the surreal images, and loved the themes of flight, clouds and tethering. I chose an article called “Have Work, Will Travel” about working holiday visas for young people and the freedom it gives them. I focused on the freedom to travel and explore the world as opposed to the parts of the article that talk about how the U.S. doesn’t have such reciprocal agreements with other countries. As someone who has used a working holiday visa — when I went to London — it really was a great experience.

I put together a number of different photos — my friend Guiselle leaping into the air, a stock landscape, many stock cloud photos and a photo of a parachute for the strings.

"Have Work, Will Travel" ParkeHarrison-Style Illustration - Click for larger view

"Have Work, Will Travel" ParkeHarrison-Style Illustration - Click for larger view