Last Tuesday was National Chocolate Day, Let’s Celebrate Chocolate!


Did you know that Tuesday October 28, was National Chocolate Day? Did you miss it or get a chance to indulge? I actually didn’t know we needed a National chocolate day to celebrate that luscious, divine ingredient. I’m personally okay with celebrating with a little chocolate on almost any day but okay, let’s refill our chocolate drawer at work, grab a box on the way home and make a killer chocolate dessert to enjoy before, or after, dinner. And since the official day was last week, let’s just keep it going, maybe National Chocolate Month?

Although I will help you find a few good chocolate recipes this week, and answer your pressing chocolate questions, I also must first tell you that all chocolate is not created equal. Though many chocolates are tasty, they are not exactly what connoisseurs refer to as quality chocolate. With an array of chocolates available at convenience stores, markets, specialty shops and chocolatiers, those with a chocolate craving are sure to come across plenty of disappointments on their quest for superior chocolates. Additionally the quality of the chocolate used in a recipe can often determine the end product. I use good quality chocolate for everything, eating, baking, shavings, and even in hot cocoa.

A few tips to buying good quality chocolate…

Let the price tag be an indicator of good chocolate. Good chocolate will cost more than commercial grade chocolate, as it should. If you are looking for top quality chocolate, expect to pay more for the quality.

Look at the ingredients. Good chocolate will have cocoa solids (the actual chocolate) and cocoa butter (the creaminess of the chocolate) as top ingredients. If you browse the list of ingredients and see a bunch of things you do not recognize and cannot pronounce, skip purchasing it.

Check the date the chocolate was made. Dark chocolate is recommended to be used before 1 year, milk chocolate within 6 months and white chocolate within 8 months. The date is located on the package.

Smell the chocolate. Chocolate should smell like...chocolate. No smell to the chocolate indicates old or poor quality chocolate. Chocolate that smells of anything else means it has not been stored well. Chocolate absorbs the odor and flavor of its environment, so pay attention to whatever is on display nearby.

Good chocolate has a glossy surface.
If you open the package and it has a foggy appearance than it is probably made with imitation chocolate ingredients. I would not use this in baking or eating but instead of it going to waste, melt it and add it to warm milk for hot chocolate.

AND I’m often asked these questions about chocolate:
In chocolate, what does bittersweet mean versus semisweet?

Typically, semisweet chocolate has lower cacao content and is sweeter than bittersweet chocolate. However, the only FDA requirement is that something called dark, bittersweet, or semisweet chocolate contain at least 35 percent cacao and less than 12 percent milk solids (more milk solids, and it’s required to say it’s milk chocolate).

Bittersweet chocolate contains sugar, but generally not as much as semisweet chocolate, although, by government standards, they could contain practically identical amounts of chocolate liquor and sugar and still retain their bittersweet and semisweet labels. What this means is that one brand's bittersweet chocolate could be close in sweetness to another brand's semisweet chocolate, and vice versa.
Because of this, bittersweet and semisweet chocolate could be used interchangeably in most recipes; unsweetened, obviously, could not because it contains no sugar.

What does % cacao mean on the package?
When you see “% cacao” printed on a label, it refers to the total percentage of ingredients by weight in that product that come from the cocoa bean, including the chocolate liquor and cocoa butter. The term is found most often on premium chocolates, especially dark chocolate.
It’s a guide to specific flavor intensity. The numbers point to milder or deeper chocolate flavor. Finding this number on the label can help you choose a chocolate that matches your taste preferences or your recipe’s needs.

What do the numbers indicate? Higher cacao percentages equal the following:
• Greater Flavor Intensity: In general, a higher “% cacao” lends a more intense chocolate flavor.

• Less Sweetness: A higher “% cacao” means less added sugar. For example, a 72 percent cacao dark chocolate has roughly 12 percent less sugar than a 60 percent cacao dark chocolate. Unsweetened baking chocolate is 100 percent cacao with no added sugar, and it is very bitter.

What type of chocolate should I use in baking?
For melting or baking use chocolate with more than a 32% cocoa butter (I prefer the brands with 52%) but less than 32% will not melt to a proper workable fluid state. When melted it will be thick and be completely unusable for most dipping and other types of uses. Personally, I like bittersweet chocolate in everything but buy and eat whatever you prefer.

And now, chocolate recipes to enjoy…
Brownie Chocolate Chip Pie
Chocolate Almond Ripple Cake
Chocolate Biscotti
Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Bars
Chocolate Meltaway Cake
Chocolate Yogurt Snack Cakes

And for a huge assortment of chocolate recipes to choose from check out the CHOCOLATE INDEX

School Lunches

Back to Life, back to reality, back to MAKING SCHOOL LUNCH…

It’s strange how the regular less stressful parts of life can get so stressful. Things like running errands, paying bills, making dinner, and any mundane part of our life can derail our day if it lacks order or organization. The same is true for the dreaded, making school lunches! I get lots of emails from people asking for new ideas and hints on how to get nutritious and wholesome lunches into our children’s diets. I’m not a miracle worker but do have some success with this. Here is my strategy that saves time and aggravation…And don’t forget to see all the lunch suggestions at the bottom.

Make a list of options: With your kids, make a list of 20 potential lunches that make both you and the kids happy. See some samples below.
Plan the Week: Consult with your kids and make a plan for the week. Yes…the whole week of lunches. Choose from your list of options.
Shop: Make sure you have the ingredients and items you need in the house. No running out for ingredients on Tuesdays or picking up Sushi (that must be on the plan for that day already)
Involve: We divide up the week. I take 1-2 nights (depends on their schedules) to prepare lunches and each child alternates and takes a turn to help or take care of the lunches. My little boys participate too.
Variety: Change your list, add and delete items, but give variety!
Tip: Make sure you have the essential equipment that will help your kids enjoy the lunches. I love the resuseit insulated lunch sacks and the insulated and leek-proof food jars and thermos options. Keeping food an appropriate temperature is crucial. How would you like a cold quesadilla?

Lunch Ideas:
Meat sandwiches: My boys love leftover grilled or fried chicken in a sandwich. I use leftover challah or challah rolls and add thousand island dressing and lettuce. For the more adventurous, try spicy mayo, lettuce, tomato, or grilled onions or other meats, like meatballs, meatloaf, even chicken from the chicken soup, mixed with a little BBQ sauce makes a great sandwich. Sloppy Joe style cooked meat is good too.

Bagel with fix-ins: Ya know, cream cheese, lox, tomato, avocado, butter. Or add scrambled eggs and send in an insulated bag to keep it warm.

Wraps: Not the store-bought variety. This is great for homemade leftovers. We stuff them with leftover brisket, chicken, steak, meatballs, then add rice or quinoa, any dressing and a little greenery. Chummos or cooked mashed beans are delicious as add-ins too.

Yogurt Parfait: Invest in some jelly jars to make it look great. Fruit, layered with yogurt, granola or cereal, repeat it all. Looks so gorgeous all their friends will ooh and ahhh.

Quesadilla with cheese and beans: Open can of beans, simmer with a little water and salt, then mash. Melt cheese in a tortilla with some beans. Wrap in foil to keep warm-ish and send in an insulated bag.

Any and all day old soups or Chili: Soup makes awesome leftovers. Send a bag of chunky croutons alongside a thermos of soup. Pour in the top cup of the thermos, add croutons to make it a little more filling. Same for Chili.

Stuffed baked potato: Stuff a baked potato with great fillings, melted cheese, broccoli, mushrooms, salsa, or go the meat route, and add chopped deli meat with veggies. Wrap tightly in foil and send in an insulated bag.

Sushi Salad: Sushi rice mixed with imitation crab, chopped cucumber, and drizzled with both sushi sweet sauce and spicy mayo. Mix and serve. Its great room temp or cold. Keeps for days in the refrigerator.

Salads: This is my girls favorite lunch. We mix it up by using lots of different types of lettuce from romaine, kale, arrugula to cabbage and bok choy. We add lots of toppings, like veggies, cheese or grilled chicken, roasted or grilled vegetables, quinoa, brown rice, egg whites or whatever is leftover from the salad the night before. Makes lots of extra dressing.

Falafel: Stores sell it pre-made or there are many mixes available. Add chopped lettuce and tomato, and some tahini dressing. Send in an insulated bag.

Veggie Burgers: So many brands and flavors available. Great way to get some protein into a salad without being fleish. Or send it on a bun in an insulated bag.

Sushi: We usually treat ourselves one day every other week to sushi lunch, store-bought the night before.

Oatmeal: Great protein packed oatmeal cups are available now and made by many manufacturers. Send a thermos of warm water. Kids just add water and stir. I sometimes send in chopped fruit or granola to add to it to make it a little more hearty.

A few other items that are not a meal but make great additions include:
Chips and dips: salsa, guacamole, chummos, cheese, bread, veggies
Tuna fish on anything: my kids don’t like it but great in wraps, sandwiches, Bagels or atop a salad
Cheese and crackers: And add sliced apple too
Pickles: add to wraps, salads, sandwiches, who doesn’t like pickles?
Peanut butter: If your school allows this, well, you have nothing to complain about, PB&J, PB& marshmallow fluff, PB& banana, crackers, pita, celery, you name it, PB is good on it.

Send me your ideas too so that I can share them with others!

What is Best to Eat Before a Fast, Plus My Pre Yom Kippur Menu Ideas…

I wrote this a few years ago, but a few newspapers and magazines run it each year plus many people requested it again. So back again,

What is Best to Eat Before a Fast, Plus My Pre Yom Kippur Menu Ideas…

What is it about fasting that makes us all so obsessed for days before the fast? I am not referring to the spiritual side (as that is worthy of the obsession) but the food aspect. Did you know that most healthy adults could survive many days and up to a month without eating? Regardless, days before the fast, I am reducing my caffeine intake and worrying about how I will manage. I have heard of all sorts of “fast survival” techniques, from caffeine suppositories, extra strength Excedrin without water (that’s my personal favorite), drinking coffee right before the fast to fool your system and give it caffeine for the morning, eating 2 tablespoons of honey before the fast, and crazy carbo loading. Everyone has their own strategy; tell us what yours is so we can share it with our readers.
GKC consulted with the experts (now who is an expert faster???) and here are our tips and recipes for a successful fast.
- Lots of Water. The discomfort from fasting is actually not from fasting but from lack of fluid. Super hydrate before the fast. Drink a great deal a day or two before as well and then really fill up with fluids before the pre-fast meal.

- Reduce caffeine intake. The headache associated with fasting is from caffeine withdrawal. One week prior to fasting start reducing your caffeine intake to about 1 cup a day or drink decaffeinated teas and coffees to fool your system. If this is too tough, seriously consider the caffeine suppositories or an aspirin before the fast to rid yourself of those headaches.

- Eat Normal Sized Meals. Overeating will not stave off the effects of hunger and may make you more uncomfortable. The excess fluids needed for your body to process large meals may also lead to dehydration which is counter productive. So while we eat numerous meals before the fast and a pre-fast meal, do not overeat.

- Eat carbs; yup, it’s true. Complex carbs like those in pasta, breads, rice, fruits and vegetables, are best for maintaining energy levels during the fast. The also help your body absorb water more efficiently so eating carbs will help you stay hydrated. Whole-grain products and fruits and vegetables with fiber are best because they digest slower and keep you feeling full longer.

Sweet Challah
Minestrone Soup
Citrus Marinated and Roasted Chicken
Oven Baked Saffron Rice OR Quinoa with Black Beans and Corn OR Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Zucchini Kugel
Roasted Mixed Vegetables
Chocolate Chip Banana Bread
Assorted Sorbet and Fruit

Peeling Beets


No more purple fingers! The best way to peel roasted or cooked beets is to rub them with a paper towel. The towel provides just the right amount of traction and helps keep the juice from staining your fingers.

Freeze Flat for Compact Storage and Quicker Thawing


Many people are beginning to get a few items cooked and stored for the upcoming holidays (I’m behind already!). I like this freezing tip, freeze soups, meats, sauces, and sides in zip-lock freezer bags as flat as possible. Not only will they stack more neatly in your freezer, but they will defrost much faster because they are thinner. When freezing liquids, lay the bag flat while holding the zip-top end up a bit so that the liquid stays in the bag. Force out as much air as you can, seal the bag and freeze it on a flat surface. I like to put a tray down to catch any leaks. Also, remember to place food in the freezer when it is room temperature or cold. If you freeze warm food, it will create condensation and ice crystals and excess water will end up defrosting into your food.

Energy Boosting Foods for Back to School


There are no miracle foods in the energy equation, but smart food choices really boost your day. For example salads with both dark greens, packed with iron to keep your brain alert throughout the day, and whole grains, like quinoa, filled with amino acids, can keep your stomach full and your body full of energy. Back to school is a crucial time to treat your body well. Days are longer and you need more energy and hydration to stay perked up for learning. I’m keeping my refrigerator full of kale and arugula for interesting salads and making some homemade snack bars to keep the kids happy. I’m also preparing edamame beans to toss into salads, make into a salsa or using it in the Nutty Edamame Spread for a flavor and energy boosting appetizer.

More recipes:
Cherry-Almond Energy Bars
Southwestern Quinoa Salad with Black Beans and Fresh Vegetables
Homemade Basic Granola

Know your Dessert Salts

Whatever your dessert needs, a sprinkle of one of these will get the job done, but don’t use table salt!!!!

Kosher salt: These crystals dissolve quickly and evenly in cookie dough’s, tart and pie crusts, and caramels, introducing salt to ingredients without clobbering them.

Flaky Sea Salt: Preferred for their light, crunchy texture and delicate pyramid-shaped flakes, sea salts like Maldon or Himalayan Sea Salt, provide the ideal finishing touch on cookies, ice cream and apple pie. I like to use this one in Umami Ice Cream Bars.

Coarse Sea Salts: These salts (like fleur de sel) work with assertive flavors and textures. Like Maldon, their grains are crunchy but don’t
dissolve as quickly.

Homemade Granola

Crunchy, toasty, a little sweet and totally addictive, homemade or even store-bought granola is a favorite of mine. Granola is definitely on my breakfast menu a few days a week, tossed with Greek yogurt and seasonal fruit, but it’s also in my pantry for other great uses, like snacking, a dessert topping, added crunch as the topping for sweet potato soufflé or noodle kugel, or a less sweet type for a salad mix-in.

Granola is easy to make which is amazing because home cooks can save money (granola, especially the ones in the artisanal packages, is quite pricey, and most importantly gives you the ability to control the taste, more salt, more or less sweet, amount of crunch, with coconut, dried fruit, or pepitas? Make it your way with the basic guidelines below.

Don’t forget to send me your pictures and homemade versions on facebook, twitter or instagram. I love seeing reader recipes and their creations!

In the meantime, play with this simple step by step guide or try some of the other ideas below.
Homemade Basic Granola
Quinoa Granola
Yael's Granola

More Grilling Tips and Tricks


I’m teaching a lot of grilling classes this summer so I thought I’d share some grilling tips and tricks and important details so that everyone can become a better griller. Grilling can be fun, easy, and super delicious but it’s not fool-proof and definitely requires thinking and attention. Here goes…

Advance planning: At least an hour before grilling or even that morning, marinate meats (see recipes below) and chicken. I rub my steaks with olive oil, and a bit of salt and pepper if I’m not using another dry rub or marinade. The salt, draws out moisture and begins to break down the tissue of the meat and therefore tenderizes it. Be careful though, kosher meat already has been salted so it’s definitely possible to add too much salt. If seasoning more than an hour ahead of time, place in the refrigerator (uncovered) until ready to use. Always grill room temperature meat.

Good Equipment: Grilling requires a few items, like tongs, a basting brush, a grill brush, a thermometer, hot pads, and a good spatula. Invest in the good stuff.

Choose your cut well: Ask your butcher to help you if you are unfamiliar with meat cuts. But remember that fat equals flavor. Steaks with even marbleizing, naturally bastes the meat as it cooks.

Timing: Use the time and temperature chart for best cooking results.

Indirect heat is essential: For gas grills, indirect heat is a great tool. I like to sear over direct heat for 2 – 4 minutes then move meats to indirect heat, cover the grill and cook “low and slow” to finish cooking, keeping the meat moist and tender. Alternatively, turn down burners and cook over lower heat.

Let the meat rest 5-10 minutes before slicing, making sure the juices redistribute throughout the meat and do not end up on the cutting board.

Use a marinade for cheaper cuts of meat. I’m often BBQ’ing for large groups and that makes certain cuts just too expensive. I like to use flank steaks, minute steaks, split London broil, and skirt steak. These cuts grill well after they are marinated. The best marinades are made with a fat, like olive oil, an acidic element, like juice, or vinegar, and seasonings to deliver flavor. Best quality meats are excellent with nothing more than olive oil, salt and pepper. Spice rubs are great flavor enhancers too. Make a combination of any flavors you like and rub all over the meat. It creates a great crust when grilled. See recipes and suggestions below.

Oil or grease the grill: Everyone loves grill marks, nice brown ones, not black ones. Either spray the grill with non-stick cooking spray made for high heat or brush grates with oil. Your meats will not stick to the grill and the grease will create that perfect grilled appearance.

Don’t get distracted: Although grilling is so easy, don’t wander too far from your grill. You would be surprised how quickly the perfectly seasoned meat can become very overcooked.

Cooking temperatures:
Here is a guide
125 – 134 degrees Rare
135 – 145 degrees Medium Rare
Over 150 Well (well – don’t! That is a good way to ruin a good steak!)

Simply Great Grilled Steaks
Good quality grilling steaks
Olive oil
Kosher salt and pepper

Season a thick steak with kosher salt and black pepper. Let sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour.

Light all grates in a gas grill on medium-high and then turn off one or more of the burners. Grease grates. Place steaks on direct heat (hottest part of grill) for 2 – 4 minutes, flip and sear on the other side.

Move to cooler part of the grill, cover grill and cook to your desired doneness, see cooking temperatures above. This will take 5 minutes to 20 minutes depending on thickness of meat. Let rest 5 – 10 minutes before serving.

Try these:
Grilled Steak with Rosemary Garlic and Onion Marinade
Teriyaki Chicken Marinade
Grilled Steaks with Peach BBQ Sauce
Dry Rubbed BBQ London Broil
Coffee Cajun Dry Rubbed Steaks
Thai Peanut Sauce
Skirt Steak with Chimichurri Sauce

How to Thank Israeli Soldiers In Israel?

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So many people are doing wonderful things to collect for and support the IDF. If you would like me to share your ideas with our readers please post your thoughts on the GKC facebook page or email me at GKC readers are eager to help so please share your personal efforts or local collections.

A few other ideas that came this week include;
Thank Israeli Soldiers, sends packages and assistance to the soldiers on the front line. Donations can be made online.

Check out Indiegogo, Support our Soldiers in Israel, social media campaign to raise money for the basic necessities of Israeli soldiers. Their mission, “Help us raise money to support to our troops, they are missing so many basic things such as towels, socks, necessities, medical equipment and so much more. Your genorosity counts, it  will count to accomplish this task. It's our thank you to our soldiers, for risking their life so we can live in peace in Israel.” Give or repost their efforts on your facebook pages.

Get IDF gear, t-shirts, pens, luggage tags, bags, etc. and still help fund Friends of the IDF. Or to their Rapid Relief Fund.

Rabbi Gradon in Los Angeles spoke of the immediate need for bullet proof vests for the Israeli soldiers. Checks are being collected and Rabbi Gradon is personally involved in this assistance. Checks should be written to Tzedekah Fund (receipts will be provided) and mailed to :
Joan Steinberg
1138 Cardiff Ave. #4
Los Angeles, CA 90035

Let me know what you are doing in your neighborhoods!

Nine Days Recipe and Idea Round Up

The Nine Days are here, have no fear…I have so many suggestions, you won’t miss your fleishig one bit, or not that much

From fish, to pasta, to quiche, make this a week of new recipes, flavors, and adventure in the kitchen. Here are a few ideas and older posts that might help.

- Want to make pasta just right? Not sure what type or sauce works well together…try these pasta recipes and cooking tips

- Like Salmon? Try these salmon burgers, Poached Salmon, Teriyaki Salmon, or Dozens of other Salmon Recipes

- Tired of just salmon? Try Flounder with Lemon Caper Sauce, or Pretzel Crusted Fish,, Halibut in Puttanesca, Olive oil Poached Cod with Zucchini and Tomatoes or how about endless other fish recipes too

- A few personal favorites…Pan Seared Cod with Cilantro Vinaigrette and Creamed Corn, Sea Bass with Balsamic Reduction, Salmon with Apple Corn Curry Sauce

- Quiche? Try these quiches, or my preference, Mushroom and Spinach Frittata

- I don’t wait for the nine days to make the Caramelized Onion Boursin Cheese Pizza, and these pizza recipes are great ideas too.

- Nine Days wrap up from years past, recipes, tips, menus, and more

Juicing is So Popular and Nutritious!

Juice bars and are popping up all over, and it’s is a big food trend. Juice bars puree vegetables and fruit and turn them into liquid drinks. What’s the rage all about? First, it has great nutritional value. Juicing the vegetables retains all the vitamins and minerals of the ingredients in the juice. You can drink more nutrients than you can eat in one sitting. And many people prefer to drink kale or spinach juice mixed with something sweet rather than eat a few servings of it. This gives people a shot of energy and better overall wellness.

Juicing has its critics though. Juices can be high in sugar and calories depending on the type of fruit or vegetable used. And juice cleanses can leave people without certain important nutritional needs, like proteins and carbohydrates.

Juice bars can be pricey, some are about $8 a drink, ouch. Here are some at home options and tricks for making them for far less money.
Tip 1: Always include one item that will give lots of liquid, like grapes or oranges. Kale is great nutritionally but produces only a little juice.
Tip 2: For vibrant juice, choose fruits and vegetables in the same color family. Otherwise, you can end up with less-than-appealing brown juice.
Tip 3: Keep fruits and vegetables chilled. Your juice will be more refreshing and you won’t need to add ice.

Green Juice
Blueberry, Kiwi, Strawberry and Mint

Other great combinations, proportions don’t matter, just tinker with taste):
Strawberry, Carrot, and Spinach
Pineapple, ginger, banana
Papaya, carrot, apple
Kale, green grape, parsley
Cucumber, mint, orange
Strawberry, blueberry, beet

What is Brain Freeze? And Yum, Lots of Ice Cream and Sorbet Desserts

Ever wonder, what that ice cream headache really is? That painful, sudden headache that occurs when eating something cold is commonly referred to as brain freeze. It’s caused by rapid temperature changes in your mouth. When you take a big bite of cold ice cream, book vessels in the roof of your mouth constrict to reduce blood flow and heat loss. After you swallow, the vessels quickly rewarm and dilate, increasing the book flow and stimulating nearby by pain receptors. Then the brain sends out pain signals along the largest cranial nerve and you experience pain behind your eyes and cross your forehead, your jaw and the back of your head. To prevent this, just SLOW DOWN. Savor ice cream slowly in small bites. Or I you’ve already pressed a big, cold bite against the roof of your mouth and then swallowed it, drink something cool to slow down the rapid rewarming of your blood vessels. At least now you know what is happening!

M & M Ice Cream Sandwiches
Ice Cream Bon Bons
Ice Cream Tart with Crunch Topping
Watermelon Sorbet
Strawberry Orange Honey Sorbet
Sorbet Tart

Grilling Season is in Full Swing!

Grilling season is in full swing! I’m a bit obsessed and never tire of great grilling foods. One night I grill chicken, another marinated meats, and then break it up with some Cedar Planked Salmon. Don’t forget to watch my how-to video and recipe for Cedar Planked Salmon too.

There are many keys to great grilling success (print my grilling guide for times and temperatures) but one reason I love it and never tire of it, is because I prepare so many different types of chicken and meat on the grill, that all come out with a different flavor profile. Yes, I love traditional bbq sauce too, but that would get boring, night after night. I like to make interesting marinades and use different types of chicken and meat, on the bone, cutlets, full minute steaks, and individual steaks, etc.

So this week, a few successful and fool-proof marinades and a new BBQ sauce too for chicken and meat that will jazz up your grilling repertoire.

Balsamic and Rosemary Marinade
Lemon and Shallot Marinade
Soy and Ginger Marinade
Herb Marinade
Espresso Barbeque Sauce

Cold Summer Soups

Summer is time for fresh fruit, lighter foods and cooler appetizers. I often serve Tuna Tartare, or Smoked Salmon in a Spinach Salad. I also love to serve a refreshing summer chilled soup, like White Grape Gazpacho with Toasted Almonds or Super Flavorful Mango Curry Soup.

This week, I bring you a few more cold soup options. Sweet and/or zesty but all super infused with flavor. All choices are refreshing and make a great summer appetizer.

Try these:
Melon Gazpacho
Cold Cucumber Dill Soup
Tomato and Avocado Soup
Carrot Soup with Cucumber Pistachio Relish
Sweet Summer Fruit Soup

Too busy to bake?

Try these semi-homemade recipes and save some time and still wow your guests.

Sometimes, just sometimes, even the most gourmet cooks must take a break. For some, that means going out to eat at a restaurant or refraining from having guests for a week or two. But for others it means taking a short cut and making items that cheat a little. You know, like Duck Sauce Chicken, or Good Seasons Italian Dressing or store bought dessert. This week, I have a few cheater cookie recipes for you that will remain in your repertoire whether you have all the time in the world or just a few short minutes to pull something together. The cookies taste like they are from scratch but each starts with a little help from a cake mix. Don’t throw tomatoes at me for sharing these with all of you proud cooks! Just try them and then you will appreciate it and use the extra time for other things you enjoy.

Dark Chocolate Espresso Cookies
Luscious Lemon Cookies
Chocolate Raspberry Bars with Almonds and Icing
Anything in The Pantry Cookies

Father’s Day

Father’s Day is around the corner and barbeques are on the schedule. Using the BBQ can be easy and just requires a few great marinades. I love everything made on the grill from chicken and meat, to vegetables, grilled breads and even grilled fruit.

For great marinades, check out these recipes. For condiments, more sauces, and a few side dishes, check out these recipes for bourbon baked beans, homemade pickles, and great slider sauce.

I’m making this BBQ sauce, it’s one of my favorites! I’m also making these burgers and this Dry Rubbed BBQ London Broil. Jazz up your salsa side dishes with this amazing and totally original slaw, Stone Fruit Slaw. I serve it alongside any grilled chicken or meat. It’s super fresh and both sweet and savory.

Stone Fruit Slaw
Grilled Chicken with Zaatar and Lemon
Grilled Vegetable Salad with Barbecue Sauce Dressing

Secret to Great Cheesecake

The secret to velvety cheesecake is knowing how to handle the batter. Gently folding the beaten eggs into the cheesecake batter will give you an even, smooth, creamy texture.

A few other keys to success:
- Spring form pan: ideal for the soft texture of traditional cheesecake – removing a cheesecake from any other pan is nearly impossible.
- Overbeating incorporates too much air, which produces a cheesecake that puffs in the oven, then falls and cracks as it cools. Overbaking produces cracks in the top of a cheesecake and a texture that becomes dry and crumbly where the filling meets the crust.
- Water Bath method: This will help your cheesecake bake slowly and evenly. The water bath ensures the outer edge of the cake won’t bake faster than the center. Place your curst-lined springform pan on a double layer of heavy-duty foil. Bring edges of foil up and mold around sides of pan to form a watertight seal. Place pan into a roasting pan and after adding the cheesecake filling, pour enough boiling water into the roasting pan to reach halfway up the sides of the springform pan. Bake for 60 minutes. Turn off oven, let stand in over for 60 minutes. Remove from water bath, cool as directed.
- Pressing matters: Press the crust into the pan and 1 ½ inches up the sides. Use your hand or the bottom of a measuring cup.
- Room temperature ingredients: Make sure the cream cheese is softened before incorporating with the sugar. This helps create a silky smooth batter. Cold cream cheese will give you chunks in your batter.
- Fold in beaten eggs: Don’t overbeat the eggs or it will incorporate too much air.
- Give it a shake: Check you cheesecake for doneness by giving the pan a gently shake. A perfectly cooked cheesecake will still have a shaky, jellylike center, giving the illusion that it’s not done baking. Chilling the cheesecake will set the center and help develop the lush texture.
- Releasing the cake: Run a knife around the edge of the cheesecake before unclipping the sides of the springform pan. Cool the cheesecake completely on a wire baking rack before chilling for at least 4 hours. It will solidify in the fridge.

Make It Yours Cheesecake

Reflections on Mother’s Day


Yes, I know Mother’s Day was last Sunday but I’m still on a high from the warm text messages, sweet cards, and thoughtful gifts my kids prepared. I’ve officially become one of those moms that saves notes and cards and really appreciates the sentiments that could be shared everyday but get reserved for what America designates as the day to appreciate mom. Who cares, I’m in. It was a real mom day for me, mother-son brunch in the morning at school, a few baseball games and carpools and then a barbeque with family. Food was terrific and stay tuned because I tested lots of great marinades that I’m posting for Father’s day and yum, they are delicious. On top of the activity, I’m still appreciating the fantastic and personal gifts my kids showered upon me. First, a new Nike running cap. I love those light-weight caps that are great for exercise and a summer day. A gorgeous necklace with lettering, “LOVE” on it, so cute and trendy, and of course a cookbook that I had my eye on, Fresh From the Farm, by Susie Middleton (these summer recipes are going to make some great summer recipe posts!). Scary how well my kids get my simple pleasures, a bit of exercise, a sparkle of jewels, and cooking. Gosh, I love them!

How to Wash, Store, and Cut Fresh Herbs


Herbs need to be handled with care in order to keep them bright, fresh and fragrant. They also need to be handled with extra special care to ensure proper kashrus. For the kashrus part, check with your local rabbi about washing and checking each variety. For the fresh and fragrant part, I’m here to help you. Just follow these simple tips and you will have fabulous flavors to use in so many recipes!

Washing: Wash herbs in cool water, swishing them gently to release the dirt and grit. Use some kind of soap, vinegar or whatever your Rabbi recommends to take care of bug issues. Lift the herbs from the dirty water so that you do not pour the released grit back on the herbs. Rinse them again with cool water. Dry herbs with a salad spinner. Do not squeeze them. Check them thoroughly for bugs.

Storing: Wrap washed and dried (it’s important they are stored dry) herbs loosely in a damp paper towel and refrigerate in a heavy-duty zip-lock storage bag or plastic container, left slightly open for air to get in. Most herbs will last about 4 – 5 days in the fridge, longer for stronger herbs like thyme and rosemary. Basil is best stored at cool room temperature, with its stems submerge in a glass of water.

Chopping: Chops herbs using a very sharp knife (a dull one will mash and bruise them). Strip the leaves from the stems, using a slice-down-the-stem motion. Pile the herbs on a cutting board. Lift and lower the knife to chop through the herbs, pivoting the blade across the pile as you chop, stopping to gather the herbs back into a pile as you go.

Use fresh herbs in salads, dips, to finish chicken and meat dishes. Or try basil in these recipes, or cilantro in these dishes. Like rosemary? Try these recipes with fresh rosemary, or use thyme in these choices, and I like these recipes with fresh chives.

The Secret Ingredient Sweet Banana Bread

I’ve been making banana bread for years and I feel like I just discovered the trick! The sweet secret that no one knows about is about to be revealed. You see, I’ve been working on a recipe for Shavuos for roasted banana and walnut ice cream and I roasted a lot of bananas. So many that I used the extra to make a banana bread and voile, best banana bread ever!

The other cool fabulous thing about roasting bananas is that they don’t need to be overripe to use them. Overripe bananas are sweeter than the just ripe version. When you roast them it does not matter how ripe they are. Roasting bananas causes the natural sugars in the fruit to melt into thick, caramely syrup, adding a rich, deep flavor to traditional banana bread. Try it! You’ll be hooked. Plus the extras are amazing in vanilla yogurt, homemade granola, on sweet potatoes, or just licked off a spoon.

A few banana bread pointers:
- Roasting bananas make them super sweet and soft; you can mix them right into the batter. But beware; the roasting process makes the peel very black and ugly. No worries, they are delicious on the inside.
- Grease the bottom and sides of the pan. Just grease ½ way up though. This will give the loaf a slightly rounded top.
- Mix dry ingredients in one bowl and wet in another. Combine them gently. The batter should be just moistened, thick, and lumpy. Over mixing makes a heavy, uneven loaf.

Roasted Banana, Banana Bread
Dark Chocolate Raspberry Banana Bread

Welcome back to GKC!

Thank you for the tremendous support for Passover! The comments, questions, and responses made it all worth the effort! I hope your seders and meals were as delicious and impressive as ours were. We loved preparing old favorite recipes with so many new Passover recipes that are now new favorites. Your input and support keep the site fresh, alive, and keep the writers inspired to create new recipes and make great content in the coming year. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Marshmallow Making

Small bakeries and sweet shops are loaded with this food trend, flavored homemade marshmallows. They come in all different colors and flavors and have a terrific appearance. Airy, fluffy, tall, and coated in powdered sugar, these are irresistible to kids and adults. I can’t decide how I feel about them but I’ve enjoyed testing and tasting all different varieties. Add color and flavors as you like, i.e. a dap of pink with strawberry extract, or green with 1 teaspoon coconut extract and the zest of a lime, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and finely ground cookie crumbs for cookies flavored. If you are every going to try these home-made, Purim is the perfect time.

Soft and Chewy Homemade Marshmallow

Homemade Gift Ideas

Most people do a lot of wrapping and buying for Purim Mishloach Manot. After all its hard to make something homemade to give out to a large number of people, deal with challenging kashrut issues, and still run around and get to all of your children’s friends houses. I’m still an advocate for doing something homemade and fun and skipping the impressive but expensive store-bought baskets. Trust me, these will be much more memorable.

Creamy Caramel Sauce
Wine Nut Bar Mix
Herbed Finishing Salt
Carrot Dip
Sesame Kiddush Cookies

KFWE 2014

I didn't think this event could be bigger or better or include more wines, drinks, and food, but KFWE 2014, did all of those. Thousands of people, winemakers sharing their visions, successes, and love for wine, and restaurants and food trends being tasted. KFWE 2014 was a huge success and Royal Wines did an amazing job. One of the best parts of the event is meeting up with readers to get to know you in person, sharing wine favorites with other writers and friends, and catching up with fellow bloggers and chefs. So thank you to all of you and I enjoyed my time with you.

KFWE Friends

KFWE Friends

KFWE friends

KFWE friends

Now on to wine! I felt the entire evening was filled with fragrance. Yes, the food smelled great, but I really mean that the wines have become so aromatic; you can almost taste their depth and flavor just by smelling them. My senses were so profoundly pleased. Second, I am thrilled that some of my favorite Israeli wines, Psagot, Tulip, and Flam (and Napa winery Covenant) have introduced mevushal wines. Although not always popular, I'm excited about it because it's much easier to serve them at simchas, and bring them as gifts.

Jonathan Hadju from Covenant Wines

Jonathan Hadju from Covenant Wines

Here are some of my favorites from the evening. Covenant Winery poured their 2011 Chardonnay, called Lavan. It's perfectly balanced, easily savored and enjoyable. All their wines are on my best pick list and winemaker Jonathan Hadju is always fun to chat with. They released a mevushal wine with nice fruit overtones and a terrific smell. I'm sure it will be a big hit. I loved the Capcanes Rose, which is new for them and a big popular trend in wine. The Peraj Habib Cabernet is a wonderful accompaniment to a meat meal and pairs nicely with ribs or hearty Shabbos chicken.

Jacob from Psagot Winery

Jacob from Psagot Winery

My favorite Israeli wines included Psagot (welcoming 2 mevushal bottles, both are terrific). It's always wonderful to catch up with wine maker, Jacob. Last year we visited the Psagot winery in Israel and had a fantastic time. In addition to their mevushal wines, try their Cabernet Franc and Edom wines, well balanced, super flavorful and silky and smooth. I love the Tulip winery (I tried their new wine called Black Tulip, yum, divine) for many reasons. First they make great wine (also try their Just Tulip wines, they are priced well and very enjoyable), also, they grow and process their wines in the Valley of Hope in Israel and hire disabled adults to work at the winery. Chesed and winemaking, now that's a combination I'm excited about.

A few others you must check out, Flam, Yatir, and Bazelet. I enjoyed Flam's Rose, it's dry and not too sweet and their Classico, is superb. Yatir's Forest is worth the splurge any day and their Syrah is silky and smooth and pairs with anything from fish and chicken to pasta. I met winemaker Yoav Levi from Bazelet in the Golan. This is a new winery for me and I was totally impressed. Not only were the wines delicious, but also zesty, dry, and well balanced. And what's interesting about the wines is that they have a naturally high alcohol content, just above 15%. Now, that's a Kiddush wine. Both the merlot reserve and cabernet reserve are great wines to try.

I've been reading about Shiloh's chardonnay (they didn't have it L but I loved the Barbera. Also, new for me were the 1848 wines. My favorites were the 2009 Reserve (fabulous!), Cabernet Franc and the Merlot. Although I buy it often, I enjoyed the Goose Bay Pinot Noir. This wine has nice hints of cherry and oak and a little spiciness too.

Herzog Cellars new Cabernet Basin

Herzog Cellars new Cabernet Basin

And of course, the Herzog Wine Cellars shared some wonderful wines. Just released Herzog Cabernet called Basin, where the grapes are grown in a region in Northern Napa called the Basin. It's a rich and warm wine that's full of flavor. Both the Clone 6 and the Alexander Valley Cabernets are always enjoyable and a favorite gift to bring to others. Be sure to check out the Chenin Blanc too, its very well priced and is good for many palates.

Ari White slicing brisket and showing us veal pancetta

Ari White slicing brisket and showing us veal pancetta

Ari White slicing brisket

Ari White slicing brisket

Silver leaf caterers kale salad

Silver leaf caterers kale salad

Were you wondering if I tried any food? It's me, so of course I did! Ari White, the pit boss from Texas Roadside Smokehouse won rave reviews from all, serving 18 hr. Oak and Apple Smoked Brisket (the bbq sauce was a perfect combination of sweet and smoky and the brisket was soft enough to cut with a fork) and in conjunction with superstar caterers Gemstar catering, veal pancetta and lamb bacon (I'm not kidding!). Both melt in your mouth awesome and memorable. Silverleaf caterers served a crisp and on trend Kale Salad with Roasted Squash and Pomegranate seeds (I definitely trying to recreate this one at home!). Etc. Steakhouse in Teaneck shared a wonderful Pink Peppercorn Crusted Rib-eye. I loved the spicy pepper, with the sweet taste of pomegranate and the hints of citrus. It was a nice surprise from a restaurant I have not yet tried (I'm definitely making a trip to Teaneck to try it out though). Jose Mareilles, the owner and chef from Le Marais is always delightful and a pleasure to see. He sure knows how to make a great hanger steak.

What will they think of and bring for us next year? I love the opportunity to taste and experience wines from around the world all in one place. I love to see the latest and best food trends incorporated into kosher restaurants and chef's repertoire. KFWE 2014 was wonderful. Please join me next year!