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Nov 26, 2014

In a Nutshell

Chestnuts have had an important role in sustaining people for centuries. In mountainous areas where grains did not grow well, chestnuts were dried and milled for flour to make bread. In the Mediterranean, in fact, there were regions where chestnuts supplied the only flour for bread.

The chestnuts we buy nowadays at local fruit stores and supermarkets are mostly imported from Japan. At one time there was a large chestnut crop in the United States but most trees were destroyed over a hundred years ago by disease.

In the last few years there has been a movement by farmers and scientists to reestablish chestnut trees as a viable crop. They have been working with those few trees that survived and grafting them to cuttings from the disease resistant Japanese trees.

It is a popular misconception that chestnuts contain more fat than other nuts. In actuality, they are only 1% fat compared to other nuts that can be as high as 50% fat. That is why chestnuts are more perishable than other nuts. They should be stored in the refrigerator and will usually last about a week to ten days. The fat in chestnuts is mostly unsaturated, and chestnuts have no cholesterol. They are also the only nut to provide vitamin C, A and calcium.

Chestnuts can be eaten raw but you’ll enjoy them a lot more if you roast or boil them. Before roasting, cut a shallow “x” on the flat side of each nut. Why the flat side? No special reason; it is easier to cut that side than the rounded side. You can make the cut with a short-bladed paring knife but it’s easier to use a specially designed chestnut cutter. Spread the nuts in a single layer on a sheet pan and bake for 20 minutes in an oven preheated to 400 degrees.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes. The cut shell will have curled back. Squeeze the nut gently between your thumb and index finger and the shell should crack open easily. Remove both the hard shell and soft inner skin before eating.

Some people prefer boiling chestnuts. This method is also preferable if you will be mashing or pureeing the chestnuts for use in a recipe. Place whole chestnuts in a pot with enough water to cover them. Bring water to a boil and continue to boil 6-7 minutes. Turn off heat and allow to cool a few minutes.

Remove 3 or 4 nuts at a time and peel with a sharp knife.

Chestnuts are sometimes referred to as “brain food” not only for their healthful properties but also because their unusual shape is similar to that of the human brain. Go ahead and check it out for yourself!


You can use fresh chestnuts and roast them at home or take a shortcut and buy a few packages of prepared chestnuts.

canola oil for soup and toppings

1 medium onion, chopped

1 stalk celery, chopped

1 medium carrot, chopped

1 clove garlic, chopped

Kosher salt

4 cups chicken broth

1 bay leaf

15 ounces roasted chestnuts

1/2 cup soy milk

For the toppings:

2 cups cubed rustic bread, crusts removed

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large saucepan, over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, carrot, garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring, until soft, about 8 minutes. Add the chicken broth and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium low and simmer 5 minutes. Chop the chestnuts; add to the pan and simmer until the chestnuts and vegetables are tender, about 10 more minutes.

Puree the soup in a blender until smooth. Add the soy milk and salt to taste. Keep warm.

For the croutons, heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the bread and cook, stirring, until golden, about 5 minutes until browned. Transfer to a bowl.

Nov 12, 2014

Make it Quick!

Quick breads are breads that are prepared with leavening agents such as baking soda or powder, rather than yeast. As a result, the bread does not have a long rising time. These breads can vary widely in texture and flavor, from light and fluffy to extremely dense, and they can be sweet or savory.

Banana breads and similar loaf breads like zucchini bread are quick breads, as are muffins, pancakes and waffles. Typically, a recipe will include flour, butter or oil, and leavening, but it can also include sugar, ingredients like fruit and vegetables, and liquids. Low fat quick breads often use applesauce instead of fat, and they tend to be lighter in texture.

There are a number of different ways to prepare quick bread. One of the most common ways involves mixing the wet ingredients and dry ingredients separately, and combining them at the very end. The ingredients are stirred until they just come together, and then the resulting dough or batter is quickly baked.

Quick bread can also be made with the creaming method, where butter and sugar are beaten together before wet and dry ingredients are added. With biscuits, shortening is cut into the dry ingredients. In all cases, the ingredients should not be worked too much, as the dough can get hard and tasteless if it is handled too much.

Quick bread is great if you are an inexperienced baker as most recipes are simple and forgiving like ours below.


1 cup fresh cranberries

1/3 cup sugar

2 tablespoons grated orange zest

1½ cups plus 1 teaspoon flour

1/2 cup yellow cornmeal

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

2/3 cup honey

1/2 cup canola oil

1/2 cup orange juice

1 teaspoon grated orange rind

2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350°. Coat a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with baking spray; line bottom of pan with parchment paper. Coat paper with baking spray as well.

Combine cranberries, sugar, zest and 1 teaspoon flour in a bowl, and toss well. Sprinkle bottom of pan with cranberry mixture.

Combine flour, cornmeal, and baking powder in a large bowl; make a well in center of mixture. Combine honey and the remaining ingredients in a bowl, stirring well, and add honey mixture to flour mixture, stirring just until combined. Scrape batter into prepared pan over cranberry mixture. Bake at for 50 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs clinging. Cool in pan 10 minutes on a wire rack.

Place a plate upside down on top of bread; invert bread onto plate. Remove parchment paper. Cool and serve.


1 1/2 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

2/3 cup sugar

4 tablespoons canola oil

8 ounces almond paste

2 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon almond milk or rice milk

1/4 cup sliced almonds

1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar


Preheat oven to 350°. Spray a 9x5” loaf pan with baking spray.

Combine flour and baking powder, stirring well with a whisk. Place granulated sugar, oil and almond paste ingredients in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well combined. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition; beat in vanilla. Beating at low speed, add flour mixture and 1/2 cup almond milk alternately to batter, beginning and ending with flour mixture; beat just until combined.

Scrape batter into prepared pan; sprinkle with sliced almonds. Bake for 50 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs clinging. Cool in pan on a wire rack 10 minutes. Remove from pan; cool on wire rack.

Place confectioners’ sugar in a small bowl. Add remaining 1 tablespoon almond milk; stir with a whisk until smooth. Drizzle glaze over top of bread; let stand until set.

Nov 5, 2014

More than Guacamole

Avocados are the star of the produce section. Of course they’re the go-to ingredient for guacamole and salads at parties but they're also turning up in everything from smoothies to brownies. So what, exactly, makes this pear-shaped fruit such a super food?

Avocados provide nearly 20 essential nutrients, including fiber, potassium, Vitamin E, B-vitamins and folic acid. They also act as a "nutrient booster" by enabling the body to absorb more fat-soluble nutrients, such as alpha and beta-carotene and lutein, in foods that are eaten with the fruit.

One-fifth of a medium avocado has 50 calories and contributes nearly 20 vitamins and minerals, making it a nutrient-dense choice.  Avocados contain less than 1 gram of sugar per serving and 75% of the fat in avocados is unsaturated making them a great substitute for foods high in saturated fat.

The avocado’s smooth, creamy consistency makes it one of the first fresh foods a baby can enjoy. The fat in avocado is extremely to babies for normal growth and development of the central nervous system and brain.

Avocados are a good source of B vitamins, which help you fight off disease and infection. They also give you vitamins C and E, plus natural plant chemicals that may help prevent cancer. They contain fiber, which helps you feel full longer. In one study, people who added half to their lunch salad or sandwich were less interested in eating during the next three hours.

Adding avocados to your diet is easy if you try some of our recipes today!

Avocado Chummus

Serve with sliced vegetables or baby carrots

2 ripe avocados, peeled and seeded
1 15-oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp olive oil
½ tsp salt, or to taste
Dice half the avocado and set aside.

Mash remaining avocado, garbanzo beans, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and salt together until smooth.
Gently stir diced avocado into hummus mixture. Drizzle with additional olive oil if desired; serve.

For the salad:

2 cups cooked corn, fresh or frozen
1 avocado, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup finely diced red onion (about 1 medium)


2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil or 2 teaspoons dried basil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Combine the corn, avocado, tomatoes and onion in a large glass bowl. Mix together the dressing ingredients in another bowl, pour over the salad, and gently toss to mix.

3 Haas avocados, halved, seeded and peeled
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 medium onion, diced
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
2 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro, optional
1 clove garlic, crushed

In a large bowl toss the avocados and lemon juice to coat. Drain, and reserve the juice, after all of the avocados have been coated. Mash the avocado.  Then, fold in the onions, jalapeno, tomatoes, cilantro, and garlic; season with salt. Add 1 tablespoon of the reserved lemon juice. Serve with tortilla chips.

Don’t tell—they’ll never know!

4 eggs
1 cup sugar
8 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 tsp good sea salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 ripe avocados, mashed smooth in a food processor
1/2 cup almond meal or almond flour

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line an 8” x 8” pan with parchment paper.
Using an electric mixer, whip the eggs and sugar until fluffy.
Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or microwave. Add the melted chocolate to the egg mixture.
Blend in the cocoa, almond meal, salt and vanilla extract.  Now fold in the avocados to the chocolate mix.

Pour into the pan and bake for about 30 minutes. Use a wooden toothpick to test the middle. When it comes out clean, they’re done.

Oct 29, 2014

Pack it In

Cooking en papillote—steaming small portions of food in a wrapper―is a classic technique. Some cultures use grape leaves, banana leaves, cornhusks, or other natural materials to wrap delicate foods before cooking. They add vegetables, herbs and spices for seasoning.

Steaming requires little or no added fat; steam builds up in the packet to cook food quickly yet gently. The nicely wrapped package allows you to add juices, spices, or herbs.
Steaming en papillote (pah-pee-YOHT) requires no special equipment, other than a roll of parchment paper And, of course, cleanup is easy―just toss the parchment when you're done.

Perhaps the best part about cooking en papillote is that it's a solution for busy weeknight dinners. There's something inherently festive about opening a packet at the table to free a cloud of fragrant steam.

 A few important things to keep in mind: Never substitute wax paper for parchment when steaming. Wax paper tears easily, and more importantly, it will burn and eventually leak liquids. Parchment paper can safely be used in an oven at temperatures up to 450°.  The parchment will be puffy and slightly browned when the dish is nearly done.
Cooking en papillote works best with tender foods that cook quickly like chicken breasts and salmon.  Also vegetables with high moisture content like onions, zucchini, or bell pepper.
Think about the size of the foods cooking together in a parchment packet; consider the amount of time it will take for the main ingredient to cook, and cut the accompanying items into sizes that will cook in the same amount of time. If you're preparing a fish fillet with potatoes, for instance, you'll need to slice the potatoes thinly so everything will be done at once. Otherwise, you'll end up with undercooked potatoes or overcooked fish.
Add flavor with fresh or dried herbs, salt, pepper, and other spices, and liquids like wine, broth or juice. Adding a drizzle of olive or canola oil goes a long way towards adding taste as well.

Follow these simple steps to making parchment packages:
·        Cut a 15- x 24-inch piece of parchment.
·        Fold parchment in half crosswise, making a crease down the center.
·        Draw half of a heart shape on paper. Cut out heart, and open the parchment.
·        Layer ingredients in one half of the sheet, making sure to leave at least a 1-inch border around the cut edges.
·        Starting at the round portion of the heart, fold paper, tightly sealing edges with narrow folds.
·        Twist the tip portion of the heart to seal.
·        Place packets onto an ungreased baking sheet, and bake.

Mediterranean Chicken en Papillote

4 boneless, skinless, chicken breasts
1 medium onion, thinly sliced

1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced into strips
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tablespoons za'atar or other spice mix
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon, sliced thin (seeds removed)

Preheat oven to 375°F. Slice each chicken breast on the bias, into three or four equally thick pieces. Place chicken in large bowl and toss with the onion, pepper, tomatoes, Za'atar, oil, parsley, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

Place chicken and spice mixture near the center of each square of parchment paper as instructed above. Place slices of lemon on top.

Working one package at a time, fold the parchment over the chicken. Repeat with remaining packets.
Place the packets on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until the chicken is cooked through, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer each packet directly to a serving plate and serve, breaking open the packets at the table.

Oct 27, 2014

Honey in Hand

With Rosh Hashanah just a few weeks away, you may be thinking of ways to add honey to your dishes. If you substitute honey for sugar in your favorite baked recipe here are a few tips to keep in mind:  
1-Reduce the other liquids in the recipe by 1/4 cup for each cup of honey used. 
2-Add a half teaspoon of baking soda for each cup of honey.
3-Reduce oven temperature by 25 degrees to prevent over browning.
4-A 12 ounce jar of honey is equal to a standard 1 cup measuring cup.

Honey cakes seem to be the more common choice for home bakers but in our family we prefer honey cookies. The children enjoy them all year but Rosh Hashanah would not be the same without them.
We also prefer easy-to-hold, neat cookies to crumbly cake when it comes to the younger generation. Most honey cookie recipes are “drop cookies.” They are made with a thick batter that is dropped by the spoonful onto a cookie sheet. The easiest way to do this is using a cookie scoop. This also ensures that every cookie is a uniform size and shape.

1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup shortening or oil
1 egg
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Cream together honey, brown sugar, and shortening in your mixer. Beat in egg; then add flour sifted with baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Allow the batter to rest in the refrigerator for 3-4 hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Using a medium-sized cookie scoop drop batter onto a sheet pan lined with a silpat or parchment paper.  Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on a rack and remove from the pan. Store airtight or freeze.

Roll our cookies that use honey are a little more unusual but we found a tasty recipe if you prefer to roll your cookie dough instead of scooping.

3 cups all-purpose flour plus more for rolling
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. table salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
8 ounces or 2 sticks margarine, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 large egg
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda. Whisk until well blended.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment beat the margarine and sugar on medium speed until well blended and slightly fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and the beater. Add the honey, egg, and vanilla. Continue mixing on medium speed until well blended, about 1 minute. Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed until the dough is well blended and comes together in moist clumps, 30 to 60 seconds.

Divide the dough roughly in half. On a piece of plastic wrap, shape each dough half into a smooth 5-inch disk. Wrap well in the plastic. Refrigerate until chilled and firm enough to roll out, 1 to 1-1/2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two or more cookie sheets with parchment or silpat liners. 

Working with one disk at a time, roll the dough on a floured work surface to about 1/4 inch thick. Dust with additional flour as needed. Cut your cookies with apple or shofar-shaped cutters. Place the cookies about 1 inch apart on the lined cookie sheets. Gather the scraps and gently press together. Re-roll and cut. Repeat with the remaining dough.
Bake one sheet at a time until the cookies’ edges are light-brown rim, 11 to 13 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the sheet for about 10 minutes and then transfer them to a rack to cool completely.

If anyone in your family is allergic to eggs you will want to try our next recipe. Shortbread cookies contain no eggs making them perfect for allergic children.

Try this twist on honey cookies—you’ll love the sweet-salty taste!

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup or 1 ½ sticks cold margarine, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 Tbs. honey
1 tsp. kosher salt

Spray a 9-1/2-inch tart pan with removable bottom with cooking spray.
In a food processor, briefly pulse the flour and sugar. Add the margarine and pulse until incorporated and the mixture is sandy and uniform. Press the dough evenly into the prepared pan with your fingers. There will be some loose crumbs around the edges, but most of the dough should be solid and compact. Refrigerate until chilled, least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.   Using the tines of a fork, prick the dough evenly all over. Bake the shortbread until golden in the center, 40 to 45 minutes.
Heat the honey in the microwave until warm and liquid but not boiling, about 10 seconds. Pour the honey over the shortbread and spread with a pastry brush over the entire surface. Sprinkle the salt evenly over the honey. Return the pan to the oven and bake for 3 minutes more.

Transfer the pan to a rack and let the shortbread cool slightly, about 15 minutes. While still warm, remove the tart pan ring and cut the shortbread into 12 wedges with a sharp knife. Cool completely before serving or storing. The cookies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 week.