Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The best part of Christmas

When I was a kid I used to count the days, even the minutes until
Christmas. I loved everything about it, singing Christmas carols,
shopping, the snowy cold New England weather, making all kinds
of cookies and of course, the presents. To be really honest, I didn't like 
decorating the tree but all the other stuff was right up my alley.

Christmas Eve was more than I could handle. We always went to my
grandparents in the Berkshire hills of Western Massachusetts. The
adults loved the food and all the jabber around the table. Us kids
loved playing and of course opening presents.  I remember all the way
home I used to look into the sky looking for a Santa sighting.  I
never saw him!  Me and my sisters and brother couldn't wait until we
got home, dying to crawl into bed and wait for Santa.

I still Iove the spirit of Christmas and just like the big folks at my
grandparents on Christmas Eve, I love the food and all the jabber
around the table.  Mostly what I love is getting together with friends and 
family.  I guess that what it means to grow up.
Have a very Merry Christmas!


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Thanksgivikkah!

I always loved Latkes... my family just called them potato pancakes.  When I was a kid, we had them every Friday night.  We ate potato pancakes hot out of the frying pan topped with a big dollop of creamy cottage cheese,  You see, my Dad’s side of the family came from Lithuania in Eastern Europe and this was the food my grandmother made.  My Dad loved them.  

This year, when I asked my brother what he wanted me to bring for Thanksgiving, he said, “Appetizers!” .  I thought long and hard about what I wanted to make and finally came up with the perfect thing.  Since Thanksgiving and the first day of Hanukkah fall on the same day this year,  I thought latkes or potato pancakes, would be the perfect appetizer to celebrate the double holiday.

On Thanksgiving day, as I slide those crispy, golden potato pancakes out of the pan and onto the platter and top them with a spoonful of crème fraiche and a thin slice of smoked salmon, I’ll think of you Dad and give thanks to the wonderful family I grew up with.   

Here's my recipe.  Hope you enjoy these as much as I do: 


4 baking potatoes
3 whole large eggs, whisked together
1/3 cup beer
¼ onion, finely diced
½ cup all purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup canola oil
Smoked salmon 6 ounces, thinly sliced
Crème fraiche

Peel the potatoes and grate them by hand into a bowl.  Let sit 30 minutes.  Drain and place the potatoes in a bowl.  Add the eggs, beer, onion and flour.  Season with salt and pepper.

Heat  half of the canola oil in a large non-stick frying pan over medium high heat.  Add a few tablespoons of the potato mixture and form into a pancake.  Cook until golden on one side, 2 minutes,  Turn and continue to cook until golden on the other side, 2 to 3 minutes.

Drain on paper towels.  Garnish with salmon, a dollop of crème fraiche and chives.  Serve immediately if they make it out of the kitchen!

Serves 8 to 10 

Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Hanukkah!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Mom and the perfect roast holiday turkey

Remembering the Thanksgiving traditions of a childhood in New England and a mom who, it seemed, could do it all.

As a kid growing up in New England, Thanksgiving meant heading to school dressed like a pilgrim and looking forward to a few extra days to spend at home with family.  Since Mom was a professional chef, we took Thanksgiving extra seriously.  This was the time the leaves turned colors and we had bushel baskets of McIntosh apples and butternut squash stored in the cellar. 
My mother started to prepare days before, shopping for ingredients and cooking anything that could be done ahead, like the filling for pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce. The night before Thanksgiving, my mother stayed up late making stuffing and flaky pie crust. My father always helped by peeling vegetables and us kids – we helped set the table.
On Thanksgiving Day, my Mom got up at dawn.  With only one oven, it was a juggling act.  I can still remember waking up to the smell of turkey roasting all the way upstairs in my room.
Probably because of the delicious food, Thanksgiving has always been a favorite holiday of mine.  Plus it brings back lots of great memories.  And now, every year when I smell the roasted turkey and mash potatoes, I always think of my mom and the joy she felt sharing the table with those who were closest to her heart. For this, and so many other great memories, I'm feeling quite thankful!
I would like share my tried-and-true method for making the most perfectly moist roast turkey. Be prepared, you have to start a few days in advance, but it’s well worth it.  Here you are:

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Day of the Dead- a time to celebrate lost loved ones.

When I was a kid I always dressed up like a hobo for Halloween.  I smeared a few ashes across my face, tied a bandana around my head and took a long pole and tied a bundle of old clothes in it and slung it over my shoulder.  As I got older, I managed to avoid Halloween parties all together.  I didn’t like the idea of dressing up and always preferred mom's incredible baked treats to store-bought candies, so Halloween never really excited me.
But as I watched the team at my restaurant, Copita Tequileria y Comida, prepare to celebrate Day of the Dead, I started to take a new fresh look at the holiday.  It also made me think so much about my Dad who passed away two years ago. 

Dia de los Muertos,  or Day of the Dead, is a Mexican Holiday that focuses on celebrating and honoring loved ones that have passed. People in Mexico start preparing for Dia de los Muertos by setting up the alter a day or two in advance- covering a table with a white tablecloth, and on top they place silver crosses, marigolds, candles and photos of their beloved deceased.  
Many family members even place the favorite food and drink of the deceased on the altar as an offering.  While the dead are venerated, the living rejoice with multi-day festivities centered around the home and the table.  Everything has meaning.  Friends and family enter the home and follow the path of marigolds that lead you through the home to the alter and gifts are placed there.   
We’ll be celebrating Dia de Los Muertos again this year with a special menu and the restaurant will be filled with a beautiful alter and marigolds from our organic garden, just up the hill in Sausalito.  Come join us at Copita for some of our favorite fall recipes to celebrate lost loved ones this weekend:


Pa’los difuntos

organic marigold-infused tequila, California poppy liqueur, cava, marigold petals

tequila blanco, guava, campari, st. germain, lime   

Cuitlacoche Corn Truffle and Cypress Grove Goat Cheese;
Epazote, Chile Serrano and served with a Spicy Tomatillo Salsa

4 Different Pozoles:
Vegetarian, Niman Ranch Pork, Mary’s Farm Chicken, or Mixed Seafood

Mexican Hot Chocolate
Spiced Whipped Cream and Pan de Muerto 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Magical Marrakech and a bowl of Harira

Magical Marrakech

Shake me, wake me…. Is this real?  Ah yes, I’m here in Morocco, one of my favorite places on earth!  I'm leading a small group on a Culinary Journey in Marrakech and before their arrival, I went to visit my friend Abdoul at his home in the old medina or center of town.  Imagine this….

As the door to his home opened, exotic music, incense and the light of a thousand candles, poured into the alley.  Inside, the central courtyard opened to the clear night sky and the gentle breeze stirred the date, palm and olive trees that grew towards the night stars and the nearly full moon above.  A fountain, the centerpiece of the courtyard, trickled with water.  Rose petals floated in the pool.   Low tapestry pillows were spread around low brass tables on the intricate mosaic floors.  It was here for the next several hours my friend Abdoul, his family and I shared a traditional Moroccan feast.

A bowl of the richest, most delicious peppery soup called harira, a minestrone‑like soup served with lemon wedges and fresh dates, is the typical dish served to begin the meal.

Harira has a long history whose roots come from the Berbers, indigenous North Africans from the mountains and deserts.  It’s eaten throughout the year, but especially

during Ramadan, a period of atonement and forgiveness when fasting is done during daylight hours.  When the bells chime to announce sundown, silence is heard in every Moroccan village as the families gather at the table and break their month‑long daytime fast with a big bowl of harira.  

Abdoul's Harira was incredible.  I could easily get used to this tradition!

Try it yourself:

1/2 cup dry chick peas
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds small lamb cubes, trimmed of all fat
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
1/4 cup celery, chopped
2 ½ cups peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes, fresh or canned
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon pulverized saffron threads
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup dried lentils
1/2 cup spaghetti, broken into small pieces
1 egg, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons flour
1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro
1/4 cup fresh chopped flat leaf parsley
3 to 4 tablespoons lemon juice
8 lemon wedges

Pick over the chick peas and discard any stones.  Cover with water and soak for 4
hours or overnight.   

In a large heavy soup pot over medium high heat, warm the olive oil.  Add the lamb in a
single layer in batches and cook, stirring occasionally, until well browned on all sides,
10 to 15 minutes.  Remove and set aside.  Add the onions and celery and cook until the
onions and celery are soft, 12 minutes. 
Puree the tomatoes, tomato paste, ginger, turmeric, saffron and 1 teaspoon black
pepper in a blender or food processor until smooth.  Add the tomato mixture and the
lamb to the onions and celery.  Add 6 cups of water, the lentil and chick peas and bring
to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered 2 hours until meat and chick
peas are very tender.

Thirty minutes before serving, add the beaten egg and stir briskly until it makes
strands.  Add 2 cups water and the pasta and cook until tender, 8 to 10 minutes.  
Season with salt and pepper.

Increase the heat to medium high.  Bring the soup to a boil.  Blend the flour with 1 cup
water and add the mixture to the soup pot, mixing vigorously.  Simmer slowly 5
minutes.  Add cilantro, parsley and lemon.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Ladle the soup into bowls and serve each bowl garnished with lemon wedges.

Serves 8 

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! 

P.S.  Ready to make a Moroccan feast?  Try these recipes that Chef Bahija of Jnane Tamsna and I created, too: