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Cooking with Envy Apples, How Sweet It Is!

20 Aug


You probably think of apples as harbingers of autumn. But when you think about it, they are there in the grocery store all year round. Loyal friends that they are, they wait in heaps and piles, queued to go home with you anytime. Sweet!


Envy Apple Display


Speaking of sweet, this weekend I attended a cooking class featuring Envy apples taught by Chef Kim at the Schnucks Cooking School in Des Peres. What fun!


As each person entered the room they were offered an apple-themed cocktail–a glass of Apple Rye Punch. If that doesn’t set the tone for a good time, I don’t know what does. 


Envy Beverage

Apple Rye Punch


I was lucky enough to be able to join a group of super fun ladies who were longtime friends, good cooks, and quite photogenic to boot. Plus, they did most of the work while I took pictures.


Envy Cooks


Chef Kim started class by teaching us what makes Envy apples so special. It turns out that the more flecks you see on the outside, the sweeter they will be on the inside. The flecks are called lenticels and they help the fruit “breathe.” Carbon dioxide goes in and oxygen goes out. This increases the production of the enzyme that slows browning, which means that you can cut them ahead of time, and their flesh will retain its white color. This is great news for putting sliced apples in lunches, on cheese platters, and in salads.


Raw, they are crisp and juicy, but cooked, they are delicious as well. And cook them we did. You won’t believe this, but the first thing we did was pickle them! I have to admit, I had my doubts. My first thought was, Why would anyone do that to an already perfect apple? But I stand corrected. The first bite of the Quick Pickle Apples humbled me to my core.


Envy Pickled Apples


The apples were still sweet and crisp but mixed with exotic flavors, and if you can believe this… juicier! A bite of a pickled apple with a bite of cheddar cheese almost brought me to my knees. I could have eaten that and that alone for the entire night and gone home happy.


Envy Apple and Cheese


But wait, there’s more…


The class made a Quinoa Salad with Hazelnuts, Apples, & Dried Cranberries that had such fantastic flavors. The fresh parsley, the green onions, and the crisp apples were the perfect foil for the main course.


Envy Cutting Board


A thick pork chop stuffed with Butternut Squash, Brussel Sprouts, Apples, and Cranberry Stuffing. The chop was just a vessel for what lie within. I would make this stuffing again, perhaps serving it stuffed into or even alongside chicken or turkey. Cornbread cubes, brussel sprouts, hunks of apple, and fresh sage conjured up flavors of Thanksgiving.


Envy Cooked Chop


And of course there was pie. Truly Scrumptious Apple Pie. No, really, that was its name.  The crust, made from scratch, draped over a perfect mixture of apples, cinnamon, nutmeg, and fresh squeezed lemon juice, and dotted with butter. The pie was then brushed with cream, sprinkled with sugar, and baked to browned perfection.


Everyone left happy with an Envy apple apron, fantastic recipes, a full tummy, and new friends. You can’t get that just anywhere, but you can get Envy apples at your local grocery store. They are just waiting for you to bring them home, and that is pretty sweet!


Envy Arial Plate

Perfect plating!


Quick Pickle Apples

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup white or champagne vinegar
  • ½ cup Grade B maple syrup
  • 1 ½ teaspoons pickling spice
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 large Envy apples
  • 2 star anise pods
  1. Combine water, vinegar, maple syrup, pickling spice, and salt in a saucepan.
  2. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 8-10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, wash and core your apples (no need to peel). Cut apples in half from top to bottom, then cut each half into ⅛ inch slices.
  4. Put the apples slices into a glass bowl and add the star anise. Through a strainer, pour the brine over the apples and star anise. Cover and allow to come to room temp.
  5. Store them in the fridge in a glass jar with just enough of the the brine to cover the apple slices. They will keep for a week.

Quinoa Salad with Hazelnuts, Apples, & Dried Cranberries

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 stalks celery, finely diced
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 1 cup hazelnuts
  • 1 bunch or 5-6 green onions, chopped
  • ½ cup dried cranberries, chopped
  • 1 bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 Envy apple, cored and diced
  • Juice of 1 large lemon
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Toast hazelnuts: preheat oven to 350℉ and spread the nuts out on a baking sheet. Bake for 7-10 minutes and let cool completely. You should hear the skins crackle while cooling. When cool, remove the skins and chop the nuts.
  2. Meanwhile, put the water for the quinoa up to boil. Rinse the quinoa well, and add it to the boiling water with a pinch of salt. Cook on medium-low for 15 minutes, or until the water is absorbed. Fluff with a fork and let cool in fridge.
  3. Heat a skillet with the olive oil, and saute the onion and celery until soft. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool.
  4. When cool, add the parsley, cranberries, green onion, apple, quinoa, and hazelnuts.
  5. Drizzle with additional olive oil and lemon juice if desired, and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Mix well and allow the flavors to blend for 20 minutes before serving.

Butternut Squash, Brussel Sprouts, Apples, and Cranberry Stuffing

  • 1 pound butternut squash, cubed
  • 1 pound brussel sprouts, julienned
  • 1 Envy apple, diced
  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons oil, divided
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 10 slices of bread (cornbread, sourdough, or whole grain), toasted and cubed
  • 1 ½ cups stock
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon fresh sage, chopped
  • ⅓ cup dried cranberries
  • ⅓ cup chopped pecans or walnuts
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 400℉. Toss the squash, brussel sprouts, apples, onions, celery, shallots, and 2 tablespoons of the oil together. Season very well with salt and pepper and roast until the veggies are tender and a bit singed. Remove from oven and let cool. You can serve it as is or you can now use it for stuffing.
  2. Reduce oven temp to 375℉. Cut a pocket in your chops and season with salt and pepper. On a baking sheet, lay out the chops, put stuffing into the pocket, and bake for 20-25 minutes.

Truly Scrumptious Apple Pie

For crust:

  • 5 cups flour
  • 2 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 11 tablespoons very cold butter, cut into small cubes
  • 6 ounces very cold shortening, cut into chunks
  • ½ cup ice water
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, put flour and salt and blend on low speed. Add butter and mix until flour looks crumbly. Add chunks of shortening and continue to mix. When clumps begin to form and the dough holds together when you press some between your fingers, slowly pour in the water and mix just until incorporated. Divide into two pieces of dough.
  2. On a lightly floured surface, roll the first piece of dough into an 11 inch circle. Put into a 9 inch pie plate, letting it hang over the edge of the dish. Roll the second piece of dough into a 10 inch circle and set aside.

For the pie filling:

  • 2 Envy apples, peeled, cored, sliced thin
  • 2 Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored, sliced thin
  • 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, sliced thin
  • ¼ flour
  • ¾ sugar, plus extra for sprinkling on crust if desired
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
  • 2 tablespoons cream or milk
  1. Preheat oven to 425℉. Mix the apples, flour, sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, and lemon juice in a large bowl.
  2. Pour into the prepared pie crust and dot with the butter.
  3. Cover with the top crust and tuck the overhang under the bottom crust. Flute edges with fingers or a fork and vent the top.
  4. Brush the top with the cream or milk and sprinkle with extra sugar.
  5. Place pie on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 40-50 minutes until the juices bubble through the vent. If the edges are browning too quickly cover them by wrapping two strips of foil around them loosely. Let cool on a rack for half an hour before cutting.

Apple Rye Punch

  • 6 cups apple cider
  • 750 ml rye or whiskey
  • 25 dashes bitters
  • 20 ounces hard cider
  • 6 cups ice
  • Envy apple slices for garnish
  1. In a pitcher, mix together cider, rye or whiskey, bitters. Right before serving add hard cider and ice. Garnish with Envy apple slices and serve.

Envy Pouring Apple Filling



Procrastination Soup

27 Jan

It starts with a montage:

A blurry flurry of papers.

The camera pans out.

A writer is crouched over the pile, frantically scrawling away.

The camera zooms in.

A pencil scratches the surface of the paper, the sound like skates cutting into clean ice.

A fist crumples a ball of paper and drops it down off of the side of the bed.

The pile is growing; one ball bounces off of another.

Classical music plays in the background. Or maybe classic rock. Or even something bluesy, ‘cause writers often have the blues. In fact, they regularly mope around, brooding as a form of procrastination.

The camera pulls back.

They suffer publicly. Their friends wonder why they don’t just get a real job. They grow moodier. They start fights with loved ones to avoid fulfilling their destiny, whatever that means. They must believe their chosen line of work is some sort of unavoidable fate, however unpleasant, and that they are the chosen one.

Only they can do this task: drop the ring into the fiery pits of Mordor, conquer Voldemort, destroy Darth Vader, enter the Upside Down and blow the smoke monster to smithereens using nothing but their mind.

Even when they succeed, trauma will ensue. It is inevitable. They will never fully recover. They will never be the same. While childhood friends continue life as they knew it, they, the chosen one, will never be the same. Everything will have a slightly more sinister twist. Forever.

The calendar pages flutter as the deadline approaches. The clock ticks noisily on the wall. Blood rushes to their head and a heartbeat is ominously heard loudly in their ears. There is no body under the floorboards, so it must be stress.

Suddenly, cleaning the toilet seems very appealing.

Rituals form. Every day, coffee will be made at this time and this way. Two sugars, two splashes of creamer, filled to the little crack near the top of the rim. Same mug. Every day. The work will begin when the coffee cup is empty.

When the bottom of the mug is revealed, two words are visible: Start now. This was cleverly painted on the bottom of the mug by the writer at a paint-your-own-pottery store. So far, it is all the writer has written, which doesn’t bode well for destiny.

As the two words appear, the music stops short, cut off uncomfortably in the middle of a refrain. Unresolved dissonance hangs in the air. It is as if oxygen has been cut off. All blood flow to the brain is gone. Nothing is left except despair echoing in the pit of the stomach.

The writer looks at the pile of crumpled papers and says: Fuck it. And also: Time to begin.

Except they are launched into a daydream.

It is more like a grand mal seizure.

They have disappeared from the earth, even as their body sits on the edge of the bed, laptop in hand.

They stare straight ahead, the eyes two pits of sadness as they see nothing but terror ahead. They are a prophet. An oracle. They can see the future, and they are afraid.

They clutch the manuscript tightly in their hands. They run for the subway entrance. They barrel down the stairs, pushing past crowds of people who are all wearing gray suits, and dash toward the open train doors. The doors begin to shut in slow motion. The manuscript that is clutched by hands is now also crushed by hands as a leap of faith is taken.

They make it through the jawlike doors in the nick of time, Indiana Jones style, reaching out at the last minute for the hat.


Procrastination Soup

Place the following ingredients into the Instant Pot: a small chicken, a few peeled and sliced carrots, a chopped onion, a bay leaf, a tablespoon of kosher salt, and whatever else you’d like to add to your soup. Fill to the max fill line with water.

Set Instant Pot to the soup setting on high pressure for 2 hours. Release pressure manually, although if you don’t, that is fine too.

When done, strain, add the carrots and some of the chicken, shredded, back into the soup. Make some noodles. Eat.

Okay, now. Enough procrastinating. Get back to work.

Pizza Hamantashen

11 Mar

Folks are doing amazing things with hamantaschen nowadays and are creative as can be. Lately I’ve seen rainbow hamantaschen as well as challah hamantaschen and even cupcake hamantaschen, which are all in good fun. If you are looking for a traditional hamantashen recipe (this one has a feminist spin), then there is no shortage of those as well.

But while you are branching out, why not make pizza hamantaschen, since the only thing that kids like as much as cookies is pizza? And you want to make them happy. After all, it’s Purim!

Pizza Hamantaschen--Be Happy!

Pizza Hamantaschen–Be Happy!

Pizza Hamantaschen  (Pictures follow)

  • ·         1 package biscuit dough, such as Pillsbury or Trader Joe’s,  preferably one that has flaky layers
  • ·         1-14 ounce can pizza sauce (you will use about 6 ounces)
  • ·         Shredded mozzarella cheese (about a cup)


1.       Preheat oven to 350° F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2.      Open biscuit package and separate the dough into 8 rounds.

3.      Peel each biscuit in half horizontally so you have 2 rounds of dough.

4.      Lay them out on a work surface, and top with a dollop of pizza sauce. Do not spread the sauce, and be careful not to put too much or you won’t be able to seal your hamantaschen.

5.      Top with a pinch of cheese.

6.      Fold into the traditional hamantaschen shape by folding up one side and pinching the dough closed, and then lifting up the other side and pinching the other two corners closed. You should be able to see a little bit of the filling peeking through.

7.      Place on the baking sheet and cook for about 9 minutes until the edges of the dough are golden brown and the pizza hamantaschen is puffed. Eat while hot, and don’t forget to be happy!

Biscuit dough

Biscuit dough

Peel apart horizontally

Peel apart horizontally

Lay flat on work surface

Lay flat on work surface

Put a dollop of sauce on each

Put a dollop of sauce on each

Top with a sprinkle of cheese

Top with a sprinkle of cheese

Fold one side up and pinch to seal

Fold one side up and pinch to seal

It will look like this

It will look like this

Then do the second side

Then do the second side

And the third side

And the third side





Ready to bake

Ready to bake

Bake at 350 F for about 9 minutes or until golden

Bake at 350 F for about 9 minutes or until golden

Pizza Hamantashen 16 Pizza Hamantashen 17 Pizza Hamantashen 18

Pizza Hamantaschen--Be Happy!

Pizza Hamantaschen–Be Happy!

Keen on Quinoa

19 Mar

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).

I recommend the Ancient Harvest brand, which is pre-rinsed to remove the bitter coating on each grain of quinoa, which is called saponin.

Ancient Harvest Quinoa

Ancient Harvest Quinoa

Other brands, such as Trader Joe’s still have the coating, and personally I will do anything to save a step, even one as simple as this. If you do buy a brand that you need to rinse, then do so with a fine mesh colander or you will wind up washing a heck of a lot of it down the drain.

I recommend cooking it in broth, not water, no matter how the instructions on the box insist either way will be fine. The broth will give it some flavor, and anything this healthy needs every bit of flavor on its side to make sure it will always have a place at your dinner table.

Cook it in an uncovered pot for about 15-18 minutes, until the liquid has been absorbed and there are some “holes” in the top of the quinoa.

Broth and quinoa

Broth and quinoa

Cook uncovered

Cook uncovered




See the holes

See the holes


Many recipes will tell you to put the cover on the pot, but I find that then you will have to drain it, and you already know how I feel about saving a step. Since you are not cooking rice, you do not need the cover.

Once it is cooked you will notice that it has changed a little bit—it will now have the cutest little curlicue shape to it. And when you taste it, it will not be mush, but will have a bit of bite to it and a pleasant texture.

Let it stand for about 5 more minutes off of the heat, then, using a fork, gently fluff it out onto a large platter or wide serving bowl, and let it cool a bit. At this point you can add in any mix-ins to help it along and win over your family.



Chopped and ready to go

Chopped and ready to go





Add feta and eat!

Add feta and eat!


Mediterranean Quinoa Salad and other ideas

  • 1 cup quinoa (I recommend the Ancient Harvest brand so you can skip step 1)
  • 2 cups broth
  • 15 pitted Kalamata olives
  • 4 sun-dried tomatoes in oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil
  • ½ red bell pepper

    Israeli Feta

    Israeli Feta

  • 2 green onions
  • ½ cup feta cheese, crumbled (I love the Israeli feta from Trader Joe’s)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Place quinoa in a mesh colander and rinse to remove bitterness (see note above).
  2. Place the quinoa and the broth into a pot, bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes. If there is any liquid remaining, drain in the colander and let quinoa cool to room temp.
  3. Chop olives, sun-dried tomatoes, basil, red pepper, green onions, and feta cheese. Mix into the quinoa and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Qunioa Mix-in Ideas:

  • Sautéed chopped onion, sliced grilled chicken, chopped fresh spinach, squeeze of lemon and drizzled of olive oil
  • Diced cooked asparagus, goat cheese, quartered cherry tomatoes, fresh chopped thyme
  • Sliced green onions, dried cherries, apricots or dates, chopped pistachios, almonds, or cashews, chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • Thinly sliced red onion, crumbled feta, diced cucumbers, and halved grape tomatoes, chopped fresh mint
  • Eat any of these quinoa salads as is or in a lettuce wrap.
  • Stuff any of the quinoa salads into a hollowed out Roma tomato, portabella mushroom, zucchini, or eggplant, and baked in the oven at 350° F until the veggies are tender.

Slow & Low Kale Chips

13 Mar

“Slow and low that is the tempo.” ~ Beastie Boys

By gollly, I’ve done it! After many misleading tips on the interent (who woulda thunk!), I have finally cracked the kale chip code.

It is not like roasting other vegetables. It is its own thing entirely.

More like meringues (well, only sort of), it is a drying out process of properly spaced items on a baking sheet.

To make a lot, two bunches of kale, about 8 ounces each will do it. My local grocery store has curly kale for 99 cents per pound. It also carries organic dino kale, which I love, for $5.98 per pound! It doesn’t seem fair, but it is what it is. I went with the more affordable option for today.

Remove the kale from the stem and rip it into little bite sized pieces. Wash it well, and spin it in your salad spinner to remove excess water.



Into the salad spinner

Into the salad spinner

Spin dry

Spin dry

Lay it on clean kitchen towels or paper towels to air dry completely.

Air dry

Air dry

You can store the washed and dried kale in Ziploc bags in the fridge for a few days. Or, if you are ready to cook ‘em, then do so now.

Preheat the oven to 275°F. Line 2 half sheet sized baking trays with foil. Place the kale on the trays. Drizzle each tray with 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with course sea salt. You don’t need much, just a little to give the chips some flavor and offset some of the pleasant bitterness of the kale. Toss with clean hands and then make sure the kale pieces are scattered about on the tray in a single layer with space between them.

Place the kale on the tray

Place the kale on the tray

Two trays full

Two trays full

Add oil, salt, toss, and spread

Add oil, salt, toss, and spread

Bake them, one tray at a time (I have a double oven so can do two at once) for a total of 30 minutes, stirring halfway.

Let cool on tray for a few minutes and pour them into a serving bowl.



Taste for salt and devour!

Start snacking!

Start snacking!

Any leftovers can be stored in a sealed container in the fridge and snacked upon as necessary. If you need to crisp them up you can just put them back in a low oven for a few minutes.

Slow & Low Kale Chips

  • 2 bunches kale, any kind, about 8 ounces each
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Course sea salt
  1. Remove the stems and discard. Tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces. Wash and dry very well, leaving out to air dry on kitchen towels or paper towels if you must.
  2. Preheat oven to 275°F. Line 2 baking sheets with foil. Divide the kale between them and drizzle each batch with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and sprinkle with a little of the sea salt.
  3. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring halfway. Let cool for a few minutes on baking sheet and then taste for salt and serve.

    Slow & Low Kale Chips

    Slow & Low Kale Chips

On Top of Spaghetti Squash

6 Jan

Winter squashes have it hard.

No really, they do. But only on the outside.

I know some folks choose to struggle to saw through the shell with their sharpest kitchen knife or workshop tool.Others flirt with the produce man at the grocery to get him to slice one. While still others, may microwave the squash for a few minutes to be able to cut through the tough exterior.

But I have  a better way. And in this case, it is to cook spaghetti squash:


In the mood for pasta? Of course you are! I am too, but I am trying to make sure I eat healthfully since New Year’s is just a few paces behind us and I can still see it glaring at me and my resolutions when I glance over my shoulder.

So spaghetti squash will stand in for noodles, this strange pale-yellow orb, uncanny in its ability to almost trick the eater with its ribbon like strands and its talent for holding on to butter and parm even better than actual spaghetti.


It has an added benefit of having a high amount of beta carotene which will be better absorbed by your body if you have a little fat to help it along. No,by fat I mean the butter you will put on the squash, silly, I was not implying that you, my beloved reader has any fat at all.

OK, I’ve rambled on long enough– here is my trick for easy spaghetti squash cookery:

Take a long narrow sharp pointy knife and make 5 deep slits all around the squash, making sure that your knife plunges down to the center of the squash. Cue theme from Psycho now.

If you have trouble getting the knife back out, envision yourself as a young King Arthur pulling Excalibur from the stone. Awesome, you are now king of the realm.

If you don’t pierce the squash down to the center, it will explode in the microwave and crack in half like an egg. I know this because some of my friends have told me it is so (Right, V. P. & E.P.?). Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Put it on a plate and put it in the microwave for 20 minutes.

Take it out and let it cool until you can handle it without burning your hands.

Cut it in half, scoop out the seeds and discard them.



Then using a fork, scrape out the strands of squash that look eerily like spaghetti and place them in a bowl.


Toss with a couple of tablespoons butter, a couple of pinches of kosher salt, and a few spoonfuls of grated parm.


You are almost fooled! And no power tools required!Image

Microwaved Spaghetti Squash with Butter and Parm

  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • Butter, a tablespoon or two
  • Grated parmesan cheese, a few spoonfuls, to taste
  • Kosher salt, a few good pinches, to taste
  1. Pierce the squash with a long narrow knife 5 times around, making sure to plunge the knife deep into the middle.
  2. Place on a dish to catch any escaping juices
  3. Cook in the microwave for 20 minutes and then let cool for about 15
  4. Cut in half, discard  the seeds, scrape out the strands of squash into a bowl using a fork.
  5. Top with butter, parm and salt.
  6. Eat!


Perfect Potato Pancakes: A Latke Tutorial

6 Dec

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 you 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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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

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

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

Sriracha Challah

3 Nov

Yep, in fact I am doing a little dance right now.  The Sri-ra-cha-cha!

We had always seen the bottle in stores, at restaurants, at friend’s houses, but somehow, never thought to try Sriracha Sauce. I am not sure how we overlooked it, but the important thing is that we have it now..


And we will always be together.

I’d heard mention of “rooster sauce” but never before had we heard anyone openly gush about it, until we professed our new found love on Facebook—since then, friends have been coming out of the woodwork to tell us how much they love it too!

Now, we have had hot chili sauces before, many kinds, many times. In fact I would go as far as to say that my father-in-law is a connoisseur of hot sauce and he has probably never missed an opportunity to try a new kind, no matter the hotness—it doesn’t scare him.

Well, I have to confess, that I guess I was a little intimidated by the fiery red color, the thick viscous texture, and the size of the bottle–Tabasco is tiny in comparison!  The rooster looked a little suspicious to me, as if to warn me: danger, danger ahead, danger of ruining your already spicy food with more spice.


Maybe size does matter…

But I am a gal who can admit a mistake. And I was wrong.

Oh, Sriracha, how I misunderstood you!

Now my whole family is addicted to it, with no end of things to try it on! As a dip for fresh spring rolls, on chicken quesadillas, in vegetable soups, and now baked into bread. Instead of having a meal and thinking we can add Sriracha to it, we have been planning our meals around what we can put the sauce on.

Our world revolves around Sriracha. Here is our new philosophy:


My husband, is in a rock band called The Mack Daddyz.  He is very particular about the T-shirts he will wear at a performance and bought a Sriracha shirt to proudly display his new obsession. He is rockin’ that T, let me tell you, and he has as many fans compliment the shirt as they do his guitar shredding, 80’s rock style of course!


So, as a cook, and a creative-type at that, I think like this: how many things can I do with this that maybe no one has thought of before! And the carb-a-holic in me, well, my mind goes straight to bread.

And what a bread it was!

Soft, fluffy, warm, orange, like a summer sunset, flavorful, reminiscent of Thai chilies, deep, and complex, and then, the slow pleasant burn begins. It will leave you wondering: is it bread, or is it a miracle?

And now I bring you….drumroll please…my recipe for Sriracha Challah!!!



Sriracha (Bread Machine) Challah


  • 2 cups bread flour (King Arthur is the best!)
  • 1 cup all-purpose unbleached flour (Ditto)
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 1/4 teaspoon active-dry yeast
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1/4 cup Sriracha Sauce
  • 1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon water, set aside

1. Place all ingredients into your bread machine in the order that your manufacturer specifies. Set to dough cycle and press start. For the first five minutes or so, stand there with a rubber spatula helping to incorporate the ingredients. If it is too dry, add a little more warm water. If it is too wet and sticky, add a little more flour. Stop when the dough is nice and smooth, not too sticky and no longer clunking around hitting the sides, then shut the door and walk away.

2. When the dough is finished rising in the bread machine it will be a little smaller than regular challah dough, but no worries, just let it sit in the machine another 15 minutes or so, until it almost fills the pan. Remove the dough from the bread machine and transfer it to a lightly floured board.

3. Fold it over a few times, pat it into a rectangle and flour it lightly. Using a scissors, a sharp knife, or a bench knife, cut it into 6 even pieces. Braid 3 strands together, tucking the ends underneath. Then repeat with the other 3 strands. It is okay of the strands aren’t smooth ropes–it will all work out perfectly after the next rise, so braid away.

4. Using a baking stone or baking sheet lined with parchment paper, place the loaves onto the parchment paper and then lightly brush the tops of the challot with the egg wash.

5. This part is a little different but it really works! Preheat oven to 170 degrees F for exactly one minute to warm it, and then shut the oven off immediately. Place the baking tray into the middle of the oven and shut the door. Let it rise for about 40 minutes and DONT OPEN THE OVEN DOOR!

6. After the 4o minutes, turn the oven back on to 350 F and set the timer for 30 minutes. The challah will continue to rise a little more and then bake into the golden-orange beauties you see in the photos. Check them after the 30 minutes (you may open the oven door now) and if you like them a little more golden, continue to cook for 5 more minutes.
7. Remove from the oven and let them cool on a rack. Eat now or later, or freeze for another time. Enjoy!

My son loves this bread with all of his “heart!”

Roasted Vegetable Torte, Not as Easy as Pie

18 Oct

Roasted Vegetable Torte, Not as Easy as Pie

(But let’s face it–pie isn’t so easy anyway!)

The Roasted Vegetable Torte. There it was. Every time I opened the cookbook the picture would be there, waiting for me. I would check it often, to see if it still had that same effect on me: longing.


It was too beautiful for words, too pretty to make. How would I ever cut into it? And which friends liked roasted veggies enough for it to be worth the effort?

But I could wait no longer.

I bought the most beautiful veggies I could find. Cheerful red and yellow peppers, a glossy red onion, a shiny black eggplant. I sliced them with care and brushed them generously with extra virgin olive oil, generous pinches of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. I lay them all out on large baking sheets to wait their turn in the oven to roast. The veggies turned dark and soft in the oven.

I prepared a spring form pan and layered the veggies with cheese. I placed a plate on top to weigh it down and a plate on the bottom to catch the juices.

And then I waited another day.

When dinnertime came, I opened the fridge to find the veggie tart waiting patiently for me in the fridge. I can’t say I displayed the same virtuous trait, but now, the time had come!

Time to un-mold…top view:


I put it on a cake stand, something worthy of its beauty, and left it on the counter to come to room temperature.


When my dinner guests arrived I let it sit on the counter in the center of all of the hubbub.

Surrounded by the sounds of clinking glasses and laughter, I let it bask in admiration and let it get the ooohs and aaahs it deserved.

I’m ready for my close up:


I carried it to the dinner table, gingerly, and placed it down amid other loved dishes, the spice rubbed roasted salmon, the tomato-feta salad, the warm homemade bread.

It was hard to make the first cut. But well worth the wait.

Adapted from Barefoot Contessa’s Roasted Vegetable Torte

  • 2 zucchini, cut into 1/4 inch slices (sometimes I skip zukes and double up on the other veggies I like more)
  • 1 red onion, cut in half lengthwise and sliced
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus another few tablespoons for brushing veggies
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 red bell peppers, halved, cored, seeded
  • 2 yellow bell peppers, halved, cored, seeded
  • 1 eggplant, unpeeled, cut into 1/4 inch slices ( 1 1/2 pounds or more)
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (but I like to switch this our for soft herbed-goat cheese)

1. Preheat over to 400 F.
2. In a large saute pan, place 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and cook the zucchini, onions, garlic for 10 minutes or until tender. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Brush the bell peppers and eggplant with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and roast on a baking sheet for 30-40 minutes, until soft, but not browned.
3. In a 8 inch round cake pan (I used spring form but either way it works), place each vegetable in a single overlapping layer, sprinkling cheese, salt and pepper to taste, between each layer of veggies. Begin with half of the eggplant, then layer half of the zucchini and onions, then all of the red peppers, then all of the yellow peppers, then the rest of the zucchini and onions, and finally the rest of the eggplant.
4. Cover the top of the veggies with a round of wax paper. Place a plate on top so that it is sitting right on top of the veggies, and weigh it down with a heavy jar. Place the whole thing on top of a larger plate to catch the juices in case it leaks (it will), and place it in the fridge until it is well chilled (might as well make it the day before).
5. When ready to serve, drain the liquids, un-mold and serve at room temp. Cut it into wedges like a cake and enjoy!

Oh, and leftovers make an awesome sandwich the next day! See for yourself…Image

Can’t talk right now…gotta go!


Sublime Lime Salad

7 May

I am a salad lover, it’s true. But admittedly, no matter how delicious I think the veggies are, I am really in it for the dressing. The greens are merely a vehicle to get the dressing from plate to mouth, the best way, second only to a spoon.


I have a friend, whom I will call “C,” who is very wise, and also pretty healthy. She loves to hike, bike, and camp, and goes out of her way to make sure her meals are healthful and beautiful, flavorful and simple. C also goes out of her way to make sure that lots of children in our community eat well by connecting them to local, organic, fresh ingredients, and instilling in them a deep appreciation for what comes from the earth. And she also has a talent for this salad, amongst other things.


Over the years I have tried to duplicate C’s salad, and although she has shared the list of ingredients, if without exact amounts (a little of this, a little of that), it just wasn’t the same. The juice of a lime (what size?), grapeseed oil (I tried canola and olive—I doubted her and am humbled), a little salt, and some nice spoonfuls of sugar. Those things combined with tender lettuce, thinly sliced cukes, bits of cilantro, some creamy avocado, and there you have it—light, crunchy, soft, fresh, and very, very green.


Start with the softest most buttery greens you can find: Bibb or Boston lettuces are ideal. Second best would be red or green leaf lettuce, if you must, but try to steer clear of any crunchy or spicy greens such as romaine, or arugula. Not that it would be bad, but it would counter the delicateness of the dressing.


After much tinkering, here is as close as I can come to C’s Sublime Lime Salad:


      ·         Juice of one large fresh lime, ¼ cup (pulp in, seeds out)

·         ¼ cup grapeseed oil (such a light delicate flavor, worth buying just for this salad)
·         ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
·         2 to 3 tablespoons sugar (I add 3 but do what you will)
·         Butter and/or Bibb lettuce, a few of the tiny heads, chopped into bite-sized pieces
·         1 long English cucumber or a few small Persian cucumbers, skin on, sliced very thinly
·         Fresh cilantro; I throw in a nice handful of leaves and sometimes I leave them on the stems
·         A large ripe avocado, cut into small chunks

      1.       Assemble the lettuce, cukes, cilantro, and avocado in a salad bowl.

2.      In a small bowl, mix together the lime juice, salt, sugar, and then slowly whisk in the grapeseed oil.
3.      Toss lime dressing with greens. Experience the sublime, or enjoy a great salad at the very least.


23 Jan

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.” 
·         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.

We Go Together Like Orange-Olive Salad with Cumin-Garlic Dressing

11 Jan

When itcomes to recipes in cookbooks I am like a talent scout and can spot a starrecipe from a mile away. No, really. I can pick a recipe out of a cookbook like nobody’s business. And this recipe is a showstopper. You can see for yourself:

Photo by my friend Yana Hotter at Spoonful of Sugar Photography

I found it by accident. There was a cooking class I was scheduled to teach to promote the cookbook section at a local library and not 24 hours before, after all was planned, I received a phone call that we couldn’t actually “cook” at this cooking class, that the kitchen was not up to fire code. Well, what could I do but go back and look in the cookbooks for recipes that didn’t need “cooking” per se, as much as assembling.
Now, that being said I am a big fan of COOKING at my cooking classes, but I took a risk, without testing it, or ever having anything like it cross my lips, I made this at the class and like I told you, a star was born.
Since then I have made it many times, with run-of-the-mill thin-skinned brightly-hued navel oranges, with lovely sweet pink-fleshed Cara Caras, with gorgeous Valencias so heavy with juice I thought they would burst in my hand, and all were amazing.
The secret to this is the red wine vinegar which brings out the flavor of the oranges while taming their sweetness.
There is nothing like the surprise element of this salad, when you watch your dinner guests, take a bite of this and are expecting cloying sweetness, or the tang of olives, but instead see how well the flavors meld. 
They will think, “Garlic-cumindressing on FRUIT!!! No!” And then you will pull it off like a magic trick, you a sorcerer of taste, conjuring all of the magic you have to make this work.
But actually, it goes together like ramma-lamma-lamma-ka-dinga-da-dinga-dong (whatever the heck that means, thank you very much Danny and Sandy).
The only way to convince yourself and others is to spread the good word and to make this and eat it as often as possible with as many people as possible as often as you can.
Because baby, it’s a STAR!
MoroccanOrange and Olive Salad with Cumin-Garlic Dressing 
4 oranges, Cara Caras, Valencia, Blood Oranges, or Navel
¼ cup oil cured black olives, pitted and halved
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon cumin
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1.      In a medium bowl, whisk together vinegar,honey, garlic, paprika, cumin and oil. Set aside to let flavors blend.
2.      Remove the skin and pith of the oranges using a serrated knife: cut the ends off of the orange and then startingat one cut end, slice away the peel curving the knife around to the other end. Then slice the orange horizontally into ¼-inch rounds.
3.      Arrange orange slices on a serving platter and scatter with olives and parsley.
4.      Drizzle the garlic-cumin dressing over the oranges and olives sprinkle with sea salt and pepper to taste. 
Note: This dressing is also delicious poured over couscous, chicken, and pasta. Just sayin’.
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