Sunday, January 31, 2010



Often lovingly referred to as the “other food group” chocolate has found its way into our daily lives.
Inspiring everything from recipes, stories, cravings and a host of products from eating chocolate to bubble bath; chocolate is an obsession.
Cacao trees are native to Mexico, Central and South America. Cultivated for over 3000 years, Mayans drank chocolate both as an everyday beverage as well as for ceremonial purposes. The frothy bitter concoction was mixed with vanilla, chile peppers and achiote (annatto). Turning cacao beans into the tasty sweet confection we all know and crave is a complicated process with only a handful of companies all over the world truly making their own chocolate. Most candy shops buy chocolate in blocks, melt it and shape it into candies and other sweet treats.

Xocoatl as it was known in the Mayan culture was believed to be used to fight fatigue. This is due to the theobromine content in chocolate.
Chocolate then and now is considered to have many therapeutic benefits including cancer fighter antioxidants, circulatory benefits and many studies are being conducted on using chocolate to fight obesity. While this is certainly good news and really any excuse to eat chocolate is a good one, I urge you to take heed of the adage “you get what you pay for”.

Not all chocolate is good chocolate. In fact, there is a lot of bad chocolate out there. Thankfully it is easy to find the good stuff. Look at the ingredients on the label. There should be just a small handful of ingredients. They should be: CACAO PASTE, sugar, COCOA BUTTER, lecithin, and vanilla for dark chocolate. Milk chocolate will have the addition of milk listed and white chocolate, which is not really chocolate due to the fact that it does not have cocoa paste or cocoa mass but does have cocoa butter, will have sugar, cocoa butter, milk or milk powder, and vanilla. That’s it! No other ingredients should be in the chocolate. Notice that CACAO Paste is listed first. Great chocolate should have a high concentration of cacao, not other ingredients.

There are many great chocolates on the market that are kosher. In fact, there is no reason that great chocolate cannot be kosher. I am lucky enough to have recently been in Paris where I slurped and stuffed myself full of chocolate for one solid week. Armed with my list of kosher chocolate companies and bakeries, I ate my way through the city of lights. You also can enjoy amazing chocolate if you follow a few simple rules.
• Buy the good stuff. You are feeding your family and friends. They deserve the good chocolate. Do not cut corners. Cheap chocolate cannot be disguised by any amount of other ingredients in a recipe. My favorites are: Callebaut chocolates for cooking, baking and eating. Valrhona Cocoa powder. This is an amazing cocoa powder with a deep, dark color and flavor. (all 100% cocoa powder is kosher-Yeah!)
• Chef Laura’s golden rule-do not use substitute ingredients. Butter is butter, cream is cream, Margarine is never good and non-dairy whipped topping comes from a laboratory and should never be ingested by humans.

Now that you have the rules-go forth and enjoy!

Chili Con Carne

The chocolate in this recipe adds not only a faint sweetness but also an earthy and robust flavor. I love the way the chocolate makes the texture of the chili velvety. My kids like to garnish their chili with additional chopped chocolate and cacao nibs which are the cracked shell of the cacao bean. They add a crunch as well as cocoa butter fragrance. Cocoa nibs are found easily in the baking aisle of most grocery stores and on-line.

2 pounds lean ground beef
2 large red onions, diced
6 cloves of garlic, minced
2 ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded, toasted and torn into pieces
1 chipotle chile
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 15-ounce cans tomato puree
1 3-ounce can tomato paste
1 32-ounce can whole plum tomatoes
2 cups dried pinto beans or canned
2 cups dark brown chicken stock (see recipe, page)
2 cups dark beer-such as Guinness or Aventinus
¼ cup finely chopped dark chocolate

1. Brown the beef in batches in olive oil over medium heat. Brown the onions until they are caramelized and soft. Add the garlic and continue cooking for 2 minutes until the garlic has softened slightly. Add the remaining ingredients to the slow cooker and cook on HIGH for 3 hours until the beans are tender. Remove the chipotle chile before serving.

Suggested garnishes-fresh or frozen corn niblets, lime wedges, tortilla chips, fresh flat leaf parsley and fresh cilantro, chopped scallions, chopped jalapeno peppers, chopped red onions, cocoa nibs, chopped chocolate

This is a chocolate recipe that won’t go to you thighs. This is one you can really Enjoy!

1 cup of unscented bubble bath
1/2 cup of dried milk powder
3 ounces powdered unsweetened chocolate

Mix the powdered milk and chocolate well, until blended. Stir into bubble bath until well mixed. Add to your bath in the amount desired. Relax and enjoy the fragrance of chocolate without worrying your waistline!

Chocolate Pound Cake

We cannot have a meal in our house without chocolate.This recipe was created by my husband who is also a chocoholic. The cake is simple but has a big chocolate flavor and can be dressed up or down by adding fruit and a sauce. Attention home cooks: there is no margarine in this recipe because you can still have your cake and eat it too-even pareve!

1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup best quality cocoa powder (I only use Valrhona)
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I only use Callebaut 71%), melted
3 eggs
½ cup brewed coffee
1 ½ cups brown sugar
½ cup canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Lightly grease a loaf pan with canola oil and then dust it with coca powder.

1. Whisk the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Set aside
2. Mix the chocolate, eggs, coffee, brown sugar and vanilla together in a small mixing bowl.
3. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Be careful not to over mix or the cake will be tough. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake in a preheated oven for 50-60 minutes until a toothpick can be inserted and will have moist crumbs on it.
4. Place the cake pan on a cooling rack and allow to cool for 1 hour. Run a knife around the edge of the cake and un-mold onto a plate. Dust with powdered sugar.

Monday, January 18, 2010


When I had my restaurant in New York (Shallots NY), my staff and I would take breaks outside the Sony Building. We would people watch and try and catch some fresh air before going back in for another wave of diners. I was always fascinated by two hot dog stands that were on the corner of 55th and Madison. One of the stands was kosher and the other was not. I used to watch people go out of their way, even waiting extra traffic light changes, to get to the kosher hot dog stand. The line at the kosher hot dog stand was always several people deep and at lunch time, the line was very long for a mid-town street food cart. By the way- writing this makes me miss New York very much.

I looked at the eager hot dog enthusiasts and I could easily identify those that obviously kept kosher by their kippot, those that maybe kept kosher, and then some who probably did not. I am, of course making an educated guess on the kosher consumers. Either way, the line at the kosher stand was often easily tripled or more than that of the non-kosher stand.

One summer day I ate my first New York street food. In Chicago we do not have street food carts so I am not in the habit of purchasing food from street vendors and had also been frightened by my New York kitchen staff and years of watching David Letterman, with the stories of the annual changing of the water from the dirty water dogs. But, I was curious about the kosher dogs and I got in line. After ordering my dog I asked the vendor why his dogs were so much more popular than the other stand’s dogs.
He told me that kosher dogs were healthier and that they were blessed. This guy was a savvy business man, people were scarfing up the kosher dogs while the other stand was almost empty.

I talked to my non-kosher staff and asked why they thought people like the kosher dogs better. They said they were under the impression that the food was blessed and that they knew that kosher food was closely inspected and it was healthier.

At a recent demo for my second book, JEWISH SLOW COOKER RECIPES (John Wiley and Sons), I had several attendees who were not Jewish but followed Jewish dietary laws. They were insistent that kosher food and the kosher lifestyle was healthier and that a multitude of health problems could be cured simply by keeping kosher. They pointed out that pork was not a healthy meat and that combining cheese and meat was hard on the digestive system.

I am not sure if they are right-but I was glad for the extra attendance at the demo and for the book sales.

For the first time ever Glatt Kosher food will be sold at the Super Bowl on February 7, 2010. The New York Times nails the issue right on the head.
Some people eat kosher food simply because they are kosher observant Jews and that is what they do. Others eat kosher food because they believe that the food is healthier and/or higher quality.
As a professional chef who has been serving strictly kosher food for over 13 years, I can say that have never had a recall on beef, poultry or other meats. I watch as my fellow chefs in our company pull tainted meat from their coolers and freezers and then send it back to the distributor and then scramble for safe products. We, like everyone in the country had to stop using peanut butter and have had to pull spinach, cilantro and various other vegetables occasionally from our production when there were e. coli scares, but for the most part we have never had any health or safety concerns. While kosher meat and poultry seems to have had less recalls than non-kosher products, we have had our share of woes with the Agriprocessor debacle and the shame and shortages that followed from the raid of the Iowa plant.

Last summer I wrote a post about the new poultry line at Whole Foods.
I urged all my fellow kosher observant readers to purchase and congratulate Whole Foods on their decision to carry what I call the exacta or win-win of kosher food. Not only is the poultry kosher but it is organic. (I am still thrilled by this). While several other kosher poultry providers have organic products, Hain-Celestial Group seems to be the most successful and has been able to keep up the with demand as well as variety of products.
I have reached out to Whole Foods to ask them why they decided to sell kosher products and am awaiting a response. I know that Trader Joe’s has also started carrying kosher poultry products as have many local and neighborhood stores.

For whatever reason the food vending folks at the Super Bowl have decided to sell kosher food this year, I hope that whether or not you keep kosher, you buy some kosher food. If you do not have tickets to the Super Bowl, maybe you can drop them a line or two regarding their excellent decision to have kosher food available. I fear that if we do not support this decision, just as the square footage in the poultry case has decreased for the kosher poultry line at Whole Foods, so too will kosher food disappear at the next Super Bowl.

Monday, January 11, 2010

No Reservations Necessary

DIY-Date Night

Imagine soft candle light, beautiful music, crisp-refreshing martinis, crackling skinned chicken with the fragrance of rosemary and lemon perfuming the air and deep dark chocolate mousse. Your favorite restaurant? No. This is your home kitchen and you at the helm. Usually date night means eating at a restaurant and sometimes having a great meal and sometimes not. I propose that the next date night, whether you are cooking for one, two or a bunch you can treat yourself and those you love to an intimate home cooked meal.

A home cooked meal has oodles of advantages.
1. You set the atmosphere. Light your candles, play your ipod and wear your favorite dress up clothes or your pj’s.
2. Homemade date night is usually more economical. You have the advantage when you are making food at home of picking and choosing which ingredients to splurge on and which to be a bit thriftier. You also get to eat the leftovers!
3. When you make a fabulous dinner, even if it is for just one, you are giving your heart and soul to the diner(s). Nothing says “love” like a great meal with a little TLC thrown in.
4. Making dinner at home is intimate. You can have your date help you in the kitchen or go for the big “ta-dah” and present your diner with beautifully presented food.
I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Next time you feel like making reservations, consider a homemade date night. My simple recipes will help you make a luscious and restaurant quality meal that will have your diners begging for another at DIY Date Night.

Mixed Olive Tapenade
Serve the tapenade with crostini. Cut a baguette into ½ inch thick slices, Rub them with olive oil and toast them in a 350 degree oven until they are lightly browned and crispy. Rub the crostini with a peeled garlic clove while they are still warm and then dollop the tapenade on the toasts.

½ cup kalamata olives-pitted
½ cup cracked green olives-pitted
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
2 cloves of garlic-peeled
Pinch of crushed red chili flakes
2 anchovy filets
Extra virgin olive oil
1/ 4 cup fresh flat leaf parsley-chopped

3. Place the olives, lemon juice, zest, garlic, chili flakes (if using) and anchovy filets in a food processor. Pulse the mixture until it resembles a chunky paste. Add additional olive oil if necessary.
4. Remove mixture and place in a small bowl. Stir parsley. Adjust seasoning. Tapenade can be stored in the refrigerator covered for up to 3 weeks.

Herb Roasted Chicken

Roasted chicken with a crackling skin and luscious meat is the little black dress (or male equivalent) of the food world. It goes with everything. You can dress it up or down depending upon how you serve and garnish it. Do not even think of substituting boneless-skinless chicken breasts for a whole chicken. Boneless-skinless breasts are fine for some recipes, but a whole chicken just tastes more savory and succulent. Serve this fragrant chicken with a big salad and you will be a star.

Serves 2-3

1 whole chicken about 3 ½ pounds
½ cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary plus 1 sprig
Juice and zest of 1 lemon plus 1 whole lemon
Juice and zest of 1 orange
2 tablespoons cracked black pepper corns
1 bulb of garlic cut in half horizontally
¼ cup Extra Virgin olive oil
Kosher Salt

Pan Jus
½ cup white wine
1/3 cup chicken stock

1. Preheat the oven to 450. Rinse the chicken thoroughly. Pat dry and place on a roasting rack. Place all the fresh herbs (except for the whole rosemary sprig), zest and juices and black pepper in a small bowl and whisk together.
2. Use your hands to thoroughly rub the chickens inside the cavity and out with the herb mixture. Stuff the lemon, whole rosemary sprig, garlic and ½ onion into the cavity of the chicken. Tuck the wings under the body of the chicken tie the legs together (this will help keep the shape a little nicer).
3. Roast the chicken for 20 minutes at high heat. Turn down the oven temperature to 250 and slow roast (occasionally brushing on more of the herb mixture) until a thermometer inserted into the thigh registers 160 ( about 1 hour). Remove from the chicken and loosely cover with foil. Allow the chickens to rest before carving.
4. To carve the chicken: (You CAN do this part!)Cut the string off of the chicken and remove the vegetables and lemon. Reserve the garlic and discard the rest. Cut down the center along the breast bone on both sides. Remove the breast bone. Pull the chicken apart slightly to expose the back bone. Cut along both sides of the back bone and remove it. Cut the birds into quarters and place a serving platter. Reserve the pan juices.
5. Skim off the fat from the pan juices. Add the pan juices back to the roasting pan and place the pan over medium heat. Squeeze the garlic cloves into the pan. Mash the garlic with the back of a spoon to puree it. Add wine and chicken stock and reduce the mixture until the jus has slightly thickened.

Chocolate Mousse

No fake whipping cream needed when you use great chocolate (no cheap stuff or the recipe will not work) and a plump vanilla bean loaded with flavor. This mousse is all about chocolate. Serve with fresh fruit, cocoa nibs and chopped nuts.

4 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate (70% cocoa mass), chopped
3 tablespoons strong, brewed, coffee
1 tablespoon cognac (or water)
4 whole eggs at room temperature
3 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of kosher salt
1 vanilla bean scraped

1. Place the chocolate, coffee and cognac if using in a small bowl and place over a pan of simmering water. Melt the chocolate. Transfer to a large bowl and set a side to cool.
2. Place the eggs, water, sugar, salt and vanilla bean in the bowl of a high-speed mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk on high until the mixture resembles whipped cream. This will take 7-10 minutes-be patient!
3. Fold the whipped eggs into the cooled chocolate in several additions.
4. Portion the mousse in dessert glasses or ramekins. Place in the refrigerator to set at least 2 hours before eating. The mousse may be made one day ahead, wrapped with plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator.

Monday, January 4, 2010


Winter Boot Camp

Remember that second piece of pie that you just had to have? Well, now you are regretting every delicious bite. No worries. I have two; count them two tasty soups that are low in fat and big on flavor. No need to worry about breaking resolutions with these scrumptious recipes. Both soups are quick and easy do-ahead recipes and will help you start the New Year off with a bang. Each recipe can be made ahead of time and frozen. I like to freeze portions of soup in reusable containers (this is part of that Be GREEN resolution you also made!) and then reheat each portion when I am ready.

There. Don’t you feel better? Your freezer is full, the pie is history and the year is just beginning. Eat and be well!

Tomato and Basmati Rice Soup

Makes 4 servings

Olive oil
1 medium Spanish onion-diced
2 medium carrots-peeled and diced
1 bulb fennel (white parts only, reserve fronds for garnish)-diced
3 cloves garlic-minced
1 tablespoon Moroccan spice mix
2 cans whole plum tomatoes with their juices (break up the tomatoes with your hands)
1 3 ounce-can tomato paste
3 cups homemade or low salt chicken stock or vegetable stock
½ cup Basmati rice
Salt and Pepper
Suggested garnishes: chopped flat-leaf parsley, chopped cilantro

1. Brown the onion, carrots and fennel in batches over medium heat in a sauté pan lightly coated with olive oil. Be sure to salt and pepper each batch of vegetables. Add the garlic to the last batch of vegetables and lightly sauté it for just a few minutes until it is fragrant and softened. Do not brown the garlic as it can get bitter if it is overbrowned. Transfer the browned vegetables to a large stock pot or sauce pan.
2. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer until the rice is cooked. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. If the soup becomes too thick, add a bit more stock.

Moroccan Spice Mix
Two 2-inch cinnamon sticks, broken into pieces
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon anise seeds
1 cardamom pod
Place the cinnamon, coriander, cumin, chili flakes, anise, and cardamom in a spice grinder or coffee grinder and process until completely ground. Store the spice mix in a tightly covered container away from light for up to 3 months.

Makes 4 servings
The beets in this soup turn this soup an incredibly gorgeous scarlet color, so don’t even think of leaving them out. I like to make a big batch and freeze it to eat on a cold night.
Olive oil
½ pound beef chuck or stew meat, minced very fine
1 large Spanish onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and grated on the coarse side of a box grater
3 celery stalks, chopped
1 large red beet, peeled and grated on the coarse side of a box grater
One 28-ounce can plum tomatoes with their juices, crushed
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/3 cup vinegar, preferably rice vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
2 quarts homemade or low salt Chicken Stock
1 small head green cabbage, quartered, cored, and very thinly sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Lightly coat the bottom of a sauté pan with olive oil. Brown the meat over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
2. Add the onions and continue to cook until the onions are translucent and soft, about 5 minutes.
3. Add the garlic and continue to cook for 2 minutes more.
4. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer uncovered until the meat is cooked through and the vegetables are soft (about 30 minutes). Adjust seasoning and serve.