Browned Onion Poppyseed Kugel Cakes

L’Shana Tova! …. well, almost.

For those of you that have no clue what I am talking about, L’Shana Tova means “For a Good Year” in Hebrew. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year kicks off this month at sundown on September 28th. Celebrating with family and friends (and food) is a lovely way to acknowledge the start of a new year while reflecting on the moments from the past year. Like any New Year’s celebration, food is at the heart of the party, which is why, you should whip up a batch of Brown Onion Poppyseed Kugel Cakes! Not your traditional kugel… which is typically sweet, these little nuggets are filled with delicious savory flavors. I must also admit, there is something wonderful about getting your own little kugel cake that is perfectly intact and oh so pretty!

I can absolutely not take credit for these wonderful little cakes… it was ALL Judd. The caramelized onion gives the cakes a deep rich flavor with a hint of sweetness. Sour cream and the obligatory cottage cheese moisten the batter with a creamy zing! Not only were these incredibly easy to make, but they are delightful to eat! Celebrate this Rosh Hashanah the right way… with homemade Kugel Cakes!

Makes 6 to 8 main-course or 12 side-dish servings

6 ounces medium egg noodles (1 3/4 cups)
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
3 cups chopped onions (2 large)
1 1/4 cups sour cream
1 1/4 cups small-curd cottage cheese (10 ounces)
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Special equipment: a muffin tin with 12 (1/2-cup) muffin cups

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 425°F.

Cook noodles in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water until al dente, about 5 minutes. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold water, then drain well.

Melt butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat and brush muffin cups with some of butter. Add onions to skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until well browned, about 20 minutes. Transfer onions to a large bowl and stir in noodles, sour cream, cottage cheese, and poppy seeds. Lightly beat eggs with salt and pepper, then stir into noodle mixture until combined well.

Divide mixture among muffin cups and bake until puffed and golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Loosen edges of kugels with a thin knife and cool kugels in pan 5 minutes before serving.

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Pickled Red Onions

As it turns out, pickling food can be rather simple! If you are anything like me, you too must love the vinegary snap of a freshly pickled red onion on tacos, salads, sandwiches, mole…. the list goes on and on. So with my first gander into the art of pickling, this was the end product… crisp red onions mingling with the flavors of allspice, cloves, bay leaves and dried chilies.

Eggs and pickled red onions should be the name of a Dr. Suess book since they really are a match made in heaven. Go on… put them on anything. Everything. Or just dig into the jar with your grubby little fingers and enjoy the sweet tartness of this vibrant and tasty magic meal sprucer upper.

3/4 cup white vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt
1 bay leaf
5 allspice berries
5 whole cloves
a small, dried chile pepper
1 large red onion, peeled, and thinly sliced into half moons

In a small, non-reactive saucepan, heat the vinegar, sugar, salt, seasonings and chile until boiling. Add the onion slices and lower heat, then simmer gently for 30 seconds. Remove from heat and let cool completely. Transfer the onions and the liquid into a jar then refrigerate until ready to use.

*Storage: The onions will keep for several months.

Sugar Snap Pea Salad

Looking at my latest Bon Appétit magazine, I was overcome by the desire to make EVERYTHING in it immediately! With great haste and much enthusiasm, I cooked up a delicious menu for the week jam packed with lots of fresh veggies, grilled meats and vibrant flavors of lemon and spices. Since Judd and I are avid vegetable consumers, this light and fresh sugar snap pea salad seemed the perfect side dish to a summertime dinner. I say summertime, because technically it IS summer…. although, for those of you that live in the Bay Area… I really mean, cold, dreary and winter-like.

Tucked away within our apartment, we leisurely prepared a delicious meal that just begged to be eaten outside… at a BBQ. If it wasn’t for my bundled clothing and cozy slippers, I would have thought it was a gorgeous June evening the moment I dug into this light and refreshing dish. The sugar snap peas explode with color and crunch, while the radishes, feta cheese and mint transport your taste buds to the warm Mediterranean. A simple dressing of olive oil and lemon juice make each bite burst with citrusy flavor. Yum!

Done is under 10 minutes, this dish is perfect for a Forth of July barbeque. Picture this… cold drink in one hand, seared meat cooking on the grill and a zesty vegetable salad that makes you blissfully happy it’s summertime….

Makes 6-8 servings

1 1/2 pounds sugar snap peas, trimmed, stringed, cut in half on diagonal
Kosher salt
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon (or more) fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sumac plus more for garnish
1 bunch radishes (about 6 ounces), trimmed, thinly sliced
4 ounces ricotta salata or feta, crumbled
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh mint

Fill a large bowl with ice water; set aside. Cook peas in a large pot of boiling salted water until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes.  Drain; transfer to bowl with ice water to cool. Drain peas; transfer to a kitchen towel-lined baking sheet to dry. Whisk oil, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, vinegar, and 1/2 teaspoon sumac in a small bowl. Toss peas, radishes, and cheese in a large bowl.

DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover dressing and salad separately and chill.
Add dressing to salad and toss to coat. Season salad with salt, pepper, and more lemon juice, if desired. Garnish with mint and sprinkle with sumac.

Stuffed Indian Eggplant

Sometimes random food items appear in our house in the whirlwind that is grocery shopping. Last week we ended up with these adorable little eggplants. With no plan, other then to expand our culinary vocabulary, Judd reminded me that we had these mini purple veggies patiently waiting for us to eat them in the fridge.

Quickly scanning the internet, I came across this Mark Bittman concoction that looked ever so promising and easy to whip up on a Wednesday night. It’s official, these are now my new party trick. Easy to make and ridiciously delicious, these Stuffed Indian Eggplants are brimming with warm eastern spices and rich flavors. Toasted sesame seeds and pine nuts (the original recipe calls for peanuts) blended together in the food processor alongside brown sugar, cayenne, turmeric, garlic and fresh cilantro, create a wonderfully aromatic paste. Now for the hard part… right?, wrong. Stuffing the eggplants requires the basic skills of a caveman. By cutting an x on the nose of the vegetable, you will be able to stuff the delicious mixture into the eggplant without a hitch. Give them a light saute and a brief steam and you got yourself tender bundles of AWESOME!

Serves 4

1/4 cup toasted white (hulled) sesame seeds
1/2 cup unsalted roasted peanuts (we used pine nuts)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon minced or crushed garlic
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro leaves
2 teaspoons water
10 Indian eggplants, or 6 small Italian or Japanese eggplants (1 1/2 pounds total)
3 to 4 tablespoons canola oil
1/4 cup water

For the filling, use a mini food processor to grind the sesame seeds, peanuts, sugar, salt, turmeric and cayenne to a crumbly texture. Transfer to a bowl and mix in the cilantro and water to create a compact, spreadable mixture. Set aside.

Use scissors to trim the eggplant stems so that they are about 1/2 inch long. Use your fingers to remove the green pointy flaps of the eggplant caps. Make a deep cross incision in each eggplant, stopping 1/2-inch short of the stem. To do that, position each one on its side on your cutting board. Hold it down with one hand while you wield the knife with the other hand to make the first horizontal cut. Roll the eggplant 90 degrees and make the second horizontal cut.

Use a teaspoon to stuff each eggplant with about 1/8 of the filling. Gently pry open the eggplant, stuff in the filling. Make sure there is filling between each of the cuts. Gently squeeze the eggplant to make the filling sticks and fills the crevices.

Pour the oil into a large nonstick skillet over medium heat to film the bottom. When hot, add the eggplants in a single layer. Fry the eggplants for 3 to 4 minutes, turning frequently, to brown them on two sides. Don’t fret when some of the filling spills out. Add the remaining 1/4 cup water, cover with a lid or foil, and turn the heat to low. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, turning halfway through, until tender. Pierce with the tip of a knife to test. There will be filling in the skillet bottom. If you want to crisp those bits and serve them with the eggplant, increase the heat to medium high and fry for 1 to 2 minutes, until crisp. Remove from the heat, let the sizzling subside, then transfer to a plate and serve hot or warm.

Mediterranean Eggplant and Barley Salad

This recipe is AMAZING! No seriously… it’s amazing.

I feel like I have recently discovered barley and its many applications. Recipes containing barley pop out at me like they never have before. This might have been a chance encounter since I was actually searching for eggplant recipes (we had purchased perhaps the world’s largest purple vegetable and needed creative ways to consume it). Nevertheless, this hearty mediterranean eggplant and barley salad became an instant favorite in our house and later took a baby shower by storm. When a group of women like something… they tell you.

The barley is cooked is a savory blend of cumin, coriander, cayenne and scallions that infuses into the grain as it soaks up chicken stock and loads of flavor. Toss in the roasted eggplant and zucchini and this dish seems like it could already be delicious and complete… but wait, there’s more! The cherry tomatoes add a brightness in both flavor and texture, while the kalamata olives (Mmmm) give the salad a kick of vinegar and salt. Dress the entire dish in a vibrant lemony garlic sauce and this salad goes from good to OHHH SO GOOD! Mint, parsley and red onions only heighten the dimensions of flavor that are mingling together in one bowl!

Make this salad as a stellar side dish with fish or simply snack on it for a few days. Either way… you’ll be happy every time you open your fridge and see this Mediterranean delight looking back at you.

Makes 4 (main course) or 8 (side dish) servings

1 1/2 pound eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3/4 pound zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
10 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup chopped scallion (from 1 bunch)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 1/4 cups pearl barley (8 oz)
1 (14-oz) can reduced-sodium chicken broth (1 3/4 cups)
3/4 cup water
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 pound cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/3 cup Kalamata or other brine-cured black olives, pitted and halved
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion, rinsed and drained if desired
1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint

Roast eggplant and zucchini:
Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 425°F.

Toss eggplant and zucchini with 5 tablespoons oil, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper in a bowl, then spread in 2 oiled large shallow (1-inch-deep) baking pans. Roast vegetables in oven, stirring occasionally and switching position of pans halfway through baking, until vegetables are golden brown and tender, 20 to 25 minutes total. Combine vegetables in 1 pan and cool, reserving other pan for cooling barley.

Cook barley:
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a 3- to 4-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then cook scallion, cumin, coriander, and cayenne, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add barley and cook, stirring until well coated with oil, 2 minutes more. Add broth and water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until all of liquid is absorbed and barley is tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, 5 minutes. Transfer to reserved shallow baking pan and spread to quickly cool, uncovered, to room temperature, about 20 minutes.

Make dressing and assemble salad:
Whisk together lemon juice, garlic, sugar, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and 3 tablespoons oil in a large bowl. Add barley, roasted vegetables, and remaining ingredients to bowl with dressing and toss until combined well. Serve with cheese slices.

* Cooks’ note: Salad can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Return to room temperature before serving.

Basmati Rice with Raisins, Nuts & Peas

For Valentine’s Day this year, Judd and I opted to stay home and cook something lavish… something we would never make if it weren’t for this “holiday” (which is basically just an excuse to consume gluttonous amounts of chocolate and nosh). He suggested Indian food, which sent me on an immediate recipe hunt. Since we both seem to gravitate towards the Chicken Tikka Masala on any Indian menu, I felt that it was the clear choice for dinner. But you can’t just make Tikka Masala and call it a night… you gotta give that chicken a tasty side dish to cozy up to. I believe this basmati rice was the perfect Valentine to our chicken (which will be the subject of tomorrow’s blog post).

Years before I met Judd, I was having a relationship with a local Indian restuarant. No really… I would call to place my order, which was always the same and they would know immediately that it was me. I even had a delivery boy ask me once why I hadn’t ordered in awhile… was it because I was learning to cook for a husband? No joke… that is actually what he said, verbatim! Sadly, one day Star of India burned down and my relationship ended without anyone ever consulting me. I have explored many other Indian spots in town, but non seem to offer the amazing Masala Rice dish that I had come to love at Star of India. Filled with nuts, raisins and whole cardamom pods, the Masala Rice often out shined the main dish it was sitting next to on the plate.

So, when I came across this recipe, you can only imagine my delight. Having hints of my long forgotten favorite, this rice dish offered nostalgia with a splash of newness. The sautéed onions soaked up the spice mixture (cumin, peppercorns, cloves, cardamom, bay leaves and cinnamon) adding an additional layer of flavor. Rice cooked in heavy cream and water might seem odd, but the thick dairy plumped the rice grains and coated them with a glistening layer of fat that melted in your mouth. Top off all this goodness with saffron, almonds, golden raisins and frozen peas and I believe we have ourselves a winner.

Makes 6-8 servings

2 cup basmati rice
2 tablespoon olive oil
2 small onions; thinly sliced
2 teaspoon cumin seeds
12 whole black peppercorns
8 whole cloves
6 whole cardamom pods (I used ground 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom)
3 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
4 cup water
1/4 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
1 1/2 cup frozen peas
1/4 cup chopped almonds
1/4 cup golden raisins

Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions; sauté until golden, about 8 minutes. Add cumin, peppercorns, cloves, cardamom, bay leaves and cinnamon; sauté until onions are brown, about 4 minutes.

Add rice to spices and stir 2 minutes. Add 4 cups water, cream, salt and saffron. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to low. Cover saucepan almost completely and cook until almost all liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes.

Add peas to rice. Cover and simmer until rice is tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove cinnamon stick and bay leaves. Sprinkle with nuts and raisins.

*Note: this side dish has whole peppercorns, cardamom and cloves. They are not meant to be eaten, so discard them when serving the rice.

Black Bean Burgers

Sometimes I get cravings for inexplicable items of food. There is usually nothing conscious that triggers these cravings, but there is a nagging sense of ‘want’ that WILL NOT go away until I have satisfied the beast. Yesterday my brain and stomach decided they wanted Black Bean Burgers. The last time I ate a Black Bean Burger was over 2 years ago while I was visiting Seattle. It’s not like I eat these often and therefore think about them a lot. Quite the contrary… I give little thought to these beantastic burgers, so… I decided to succumb and introduce Judd to the joys of a well made meatless patty.

Easy to make and yummy to devour, we were both pleasantly surprised by the flavorful patty filled with earthy spices and a kick of heat. The black bean purée combined with a whole can of beans, fresh jalapeño and cilantro creates a burger with nice texture. Cumin, dried oregano and cayenne give this dish a latin flare and rich flavor that is just asking to be dressed up with fun condiments. Top these burgers with sour cream, salsa and avocado to brighten both your plate and taste buds.

Makes 4 servings

2 (14-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained, divided
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/3 cup plain dry bread crumbs
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 jalapeño, seeded and minced, optional
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 soft hamburger buns, lightly toasted

Accompaniments: sour cream; salsa; avocado

Pulse 1 can beans in a food processor with mayonnaise, bread crumbs, cumin, oregano, and cayenne until a coarse purée forms. Transfer to a bowl and stir in jalapeño, cilantro and remaining can beans. Form mixture into 4 patties.

Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Cook burgers until outsides are crisp and lightly browned, turning once, about 5 minutes total. Serve on buns.

Corn Dip – the secret revealed

Looks gross, tastes amazing!!!

Ok friends, it’s time to share the infamous Corn Dip recipe! For those of you that have been to a festive gathering at my house… you understand the power that is Corn Dip. For all you newbies… get ready to meet the greatest dip EVER!!!

Many years ago, my mom’s friend and coworker, Karen, made this dip. It must have left an impression, because my mother decided to bring it into her appetizer rotation at parties. Always turned off by its looks, I politely declined to try this dish for years and years. Something clicked one day… maybe I was just bored or being adventurous, but I dove in and took the bite… and man, was it ever delicious!

Once I moved to San Francisco (6 and half years ago), I found myself showing up at parties with this easy to whip up bowl of goodness. After assuring friends that it did in fact taste better than it looked, they grabbed a Fritos Scoop and took the plunge. That’s all it took before people started requesting Corn Dip for every occasion. A party without Corn Dip is not a party. In fact, I think if I omitted this dish from my appetizer table at celebrations, friends might revolt.

Now let’s talk about how it tastes. It tastes awesome… obviously.

The corn serves as a sweet and hearty base that allows maximum scoopage onto each chip. The sharp cheddar and scallions add strong notes while the jalapeños add heat. Lots of heat. Be forewarned, when you make this dip the night before, the jalapeños seem to intensify in spice overnight. Mmm. The mayo and sour cream bind all the ingredients into a thick and creamy substance that makes it almost impossible to stop eating. While the creole seasoning adds salt and flavor, it also tints the mayo and sour cream a lovely pinky color which helps confuse folks as they try to decipher what the dip might contain other than corn. You MUST serve this dip with Fritos Scoops. Trust me, no other chip/cracker tastes nearly as delicious when combined with Corn Dip. I don’t make the rules… but I will enforce them.

So, you want to be the hit of this weekends Super Bowl party? You do huh? Then make Corn Dip. You can thank me later.

Makes enough for the party

3 cans corn, drained
1 can mexicorn, drained
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 bunch scallions (6-8) finely chopped
1-2 cans diced jalapeños, drained (use 2 for additional heat)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons Zatarain’s Creole Seasoning
1 large bag Frito Scoops

In a large bowl, combine corn, mexicorn, cheese, scallions and jalapeños. Stir in mayonnaise, sour cream and creole seasoning until evenly incorporated.

Serve with Frito Scoops (this is an absolute must!!!)

* Tip: Can be made 1 day ahead of time. Refrigerate until ready to eat.

Magic Macaroni Salad

Growing up, my dad LOVED buying macaroni salad from Old World Deli, our local Italian deli counter. I remember recoiling at the thought of eating cold noodles drenched in mayo. YUCK! Seems things have changed. As I’ve gotten older, my aversion to mayo has not only disappeared, but has in fact spun on it head. I actually like mayo now. (Just typing those words sends shivers down the spine of 12 year old me). Turns out, it might not have been the mayo-y noodle salad the turned my taste buds as much as the mayo-y noodle salad recipe, because years and years later… I now LOVE my dad’s awesome macaroni salad. If he had been serving up heaping sides of this “salad,” something tells… I would have gotten on the mayo bandwagon at a much younger age.

Lots of things make this macaroni salad the best. First off, its neither oil based nor mayo based… its a hybrid! The olive oil and mayonnaise combination gives the macaroni just enough creaminess without being goopy. The chopped vegetables bring brightness and color to this otherwise beige dish while also adding crunch and sweetness. I like to use 3 colors of bell peppers for a more vivid salad, but 2 would also do the trick. So what makes it magic you ask? The hot chili peppers of course! I might be a glutton for punishment when it comes to heat, but I promise that the peppers actually add balance to this dish by kicking it up with a little unexpected heat.

With the Superbowl fast approaching, I thought I would share the secrets to this sure fire crowd pleaser. People might even brush past the seven layer dip for a second helping of this delightful dish… it’s possible, stranger things have happened.

Makes 12-20 servings

1- 8 ounce box elbow macaroni (the smallest macaroni you can find)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh cracked pepper
4 ounces shredded carrots, finely chopped
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1/2  yellow bell pepper, finely chopped
1/2  green bell pepper, finely chopped
6-8 hot chili peppers (I like Mezzetta), seeded and finely chopped
1/4-1/2 cup mayonnaise (add more or less depending on desired coating)

In a large pot, bring salted water to a boil, add pasta and cook until al dente. Strain pasta and immediately coat with oil olive, salt and pepper. The pasta should be evenly coated with pepper. Set aside to cool.

Chop carrots, onion, bell peppers and chili peppers. All the vegetables should be the same size for consistent bites.

Once pasta has cooled, mix in chopped vegetables. Add mayo. You can add more olive oil and mayo until you obtain desired consistency. The pasta should not be overly mayo-y.

Delight it the deliciousness of this awesome macaroni salad!

Curried Lentil Soup

Lentils are amazing! If you haven’t been eating lentils… you’ve been missing out.

Seriously.

I don’t know what it is, but lentils have a gravitational pull on me, so, when I came across this curried lentil soup recipe, it was pretty much on. Not only was this soup delicious, but it whipped up in no time! The carrots, onions and garlic give a nice fragrant base to the soup while the lentils and chicken stock add a hardy broth. When I started this recipe I was not sure how the chickpeas would fit into the picture. By making a hummus like mixture that gets added to the soup, the garbanzos thicken with a meaty and flavorful consistency that cream can’t emulate. The tab of butter also gives the soup a silken glean and robust creaminess.

I don’t know about you, but curry is a staple in my cooking. We go through more curry than seems humanly possible. Mmmm. The garnish of lemon and scallions brightens the flavors with a lovely splash of citrus. Damn, my mouth is watering… I really wish I had a bowl of this to eat right now. Sigh.

So, as we approach the thick of winter… heave out the soup pot and curry yourself some lentils… lots of lentils.

Makes 4 servings

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
3 large garlic cloves, chopped, divided
2 tablespoons (or more) curry powder
1 cup green or brown lentils
4 1/4 cups (or more) chicken stock or water, divided
1 15- to 16-ounce can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained, rinsed
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon (1/8 stick) butter
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1 lemon, cut into 6 wedges

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add onion and carrot; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook until onion is translucent, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes. Add half of chopped garlic; stir until vegetables are soft but not brown, about 4 minutes longer. Add 2 tablespoons curry powder; stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add lentils and 4 cups broth or water. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Increase heat and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium; simmer until lentils are tender, about 30-40 minutes.

Meanwhile, puree chickpeas, lemon juice, 1/4 cup water, remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, and remaining garlic in processor.

Add chickpea puree and butter to lentil soup. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and additional curry powder, if desired. Add water by 1/4 cupfuls to thin to desired consistency. DO AHEAD: soup can be made up to 1 day ahead. Cool, cover, and refrigerate. Rewarm before continuing.