Monday, December 30, 2013

New Years Eve Apps: Smoked Salmon & Avocado Tartare

I have made so many different versions of smoked salmon tartare over the years.

I usually fill them into cucumber cups, but I was smitten with these pre-made mini pastry cups and knew I would find a good use for them.

This is a lighter version than my usual, since it has no mayo.

It's zingy and holds up well in the mini shells.

These can be made 2 hours before, but wait till the last minute to dab on the creme fraiche.

Here's how:

6 oz. of good quality smoked salmon, chopped fine
2 tsp French grainy mustard (the kind with the seeds)
1 tbsp capers
1 tbsp minced red onion
juice of a fresh lime
handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
1/2 ripe avocado, cut into small dice
black pepper
1 tsp olive oil
creme fraiche, lime zest and cilantro for garnish

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl and carefully spoon into pastry cups or cucumber cups.

Can be refrigerated at this point (but if using cucumbers, only make an hour before or they will get soggy).

Dot with some creme fraiche, lime zest and a cilantro leaf to garnish.

I wish you all a Happy and Healthy New Year!

Love, S.S.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Home Remedy for a Cough

'Tis the season.
Being around lots of people, kissing and hugging everyone, spreading holiday cheer and holiday germs!

The ugly cold and flu season comes hand in hand with egg nog and mistletoe.
Sorry to be such a killjoy.

I am not sure how you feel about homeopathy, holistic medicine or herbal remedies to treat minor ailments such as the common cold, eczema, toe fungus (ew) as opposed to good old fashioned drugs.

But I am all for it.

I am not a health practitioner or nutritionist, (I just play one on tv), so make up your own mind.

Most medical doctors think alternative medicine is milarchy, as when I mention to them that I am taking an herbal remedy to treat something, they just smile or raise their eyebrows.

I rarely go to a doctor, and never for a cold. I am always surprised when people tell me they are on antibiotics to treat a common cold! In most cases, the body will heal itself.

However, when you have a cough that persists, a fever or something that is just weird (like a big ugly red circle on your nose), then of course, don't be stubborn and try and treat it yourself, go see the doctor.

I had a cold that turned into a miserable cough (that is my pattern). An unproductive, dry cough, that would not let me (or my husband!) sleep. MISERY.

I went to the doctor to make sure I did not have pneumonia or strep throat and I was all clear, just a nasty bout of bronchitis.
Here were his recommendations:



TAKE THE FAMOUS Z-PACK (zithromyacin).

"Why do I need antibiotics if it's viral?", I asked. He said he wanted to be careful that it didn't turn into something like pneumonia and if I were not getting on a plane in a few days, he wouldn't prescribe them to me.

Fair enough. I obeyed and took them. 5 day treatment.

Results: Stomach gut spasms, diarrhea and other fun stuff, like a beautiful filmy yeast on my tongue (HAPPENS EVERY TIME I TAKE ANTIBIOTICS!). (sorry if you came here for a recipe's coming, and yeast is not involved).

Ok, I'm done with the meds, but I still have a cough and can't sleep.

So many friends have given their good advice: Oil of Oregano (which I do take); Jewish penicillin (chicken soup); gargle w/ salt water; a spoonful of melted butter with lemon & honey (yum); a mixture of baking soda and something; stand on your head and do a scissor kick 10 times............the list goes on and on.

My friend Rosemary sent me this remedy from the book Herbally Yours, with old herbal remedies, published in 1982.
Here is the website written by a nurse, and here is a blogger who made it so you can see what it looks like.

I felt desperate, so I made the concoction, hey it was worth a try.

It wouldn't make me drowsy like codeine cough syrup, and I could operate heavy machinery while taking it.

It wouldn't make feel irritable like crack Claritin D does (hate the stuff).

And it wouldn't make my sinuses dry like a desert like Sudafed.

What did I have to lose?

I took a few tablespoonfulls during the day, and I finally got a good nights sleep!!!
For some reason, it helped my cough and all of my other symptons.

Maybe due to the healing properties in ginger, or cayenne pepper?
It doesn't cure you, it just helps in the healing process.

You be the judge, it certainly is worth a try!

Some people want you to use Bragg's cider vinegar and local honey. At the time, I did not have either, and I was sick, so not running out to find these items. I used what I had on hand.

The second time I made this, I used the Bragg's and local Oldwick, NJ honey.

Home Remedy Herbal Cough Syrup: (adapted from Herbally Yours):

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (preferably Bragg's)
2 tablespoons honey (locally produced raw honey preferably)
2 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

Place all the ingredients in a small jar and shake to combine.

Leave at room temperature for a few days or place in the refrigerator for longer storage. Shake well each time, before using. The spices will not dissolve into the liquid. It will not be a thick syrup, it should remain watery.

I actually liked the taste!

Take as needed and have a happy and healthy holiday season!

Thanks Rosemary for the recipe and for delivering the Bragg's vinegar the next day!

Health is wealth.


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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas Traditions, Friends & The Feast of the Seven Fishes

What's the busiest day for Chinese restaurants?

Christmas Day.

Where I grew up in New Jersey, most of the kids were either Italian (Catholic), or Jewish.
We were all friends, and Sundays were either spent at Italian friends' Sunday dinners, or brisket and deli sandwiches at the Jewish kids' homes.

But Christmas was different for the Jewish kids.
We always went for Chinese food and to the movies on Christmas. That's just how it was. Everything else was closed that day, and that was tradition.

However, when I was a teenager, I started getting invitations to my friend's homes for the Christmas holidays.
I was so happy to not have to go to the movies with my parents anymore!

Julie's mother made a gorgeous Christmas Eve dinner with a roaring fire, a turkey with all the trimmings, and lobster and shrimp in silver chafing dishes. She even wore a hostess gown and played beautiful Christmas music while she cooked and served. I was in awe. Why couldn't WE have Christmas dinner like that at MY house?

My friend Natalie's mother was Polish and made delicious perogies and kielbasa simmered in onions for Christmas Day along with the best potato salad in the world.

Missi's mother made a delicious braciole (stuffed rolled flank steak in tomato sauce), a lasagne and other delicious Italian foods on Christmas Day.

Debbie's family made the Feast of the Seven Fishes, an Italian American feast consisting of 7 different fish dishes to commemorate the wait, the Vigilia di Natale, for the midnight birth of the baby Jesus. It is unclear when the term "Feast of the Seven Fishes" was popularized, there are many different theories.

Most of my Southern Italian friends served this feast on Christmas Eve. See Ciao Chow Linda's festa for what she serves.

Well, nothing has changed. I still have the same group of girlfriends since I am 11, and I still get that holiday invitation.

This year we went to my friend Debbie and her sister Patti's home for the Feast on Christmas Eve.

The sisters slave all day in the kitchen and make everything from scratch.

Bacala salad (salt cod)
Shrimp cocktail
Crab cakes
Fried flounder
Stuffed Calamari ("galamad"!!)
Fried Scallops
Smelts (traditional)

A side of broccoli rabe and aglio olio (pasta w/ garlic and oil) on the table to be passed.

Tiramisu and delicious homemade Christmas cookies for dessert and some alka seltzer for me.

It's a wonderful tradition and we are so happy to always be included.

Hope you all had a great holiday.

What are your family holiday traditions?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Last Minute Holiday Appetizer: Brie w/ Cranberry Relish

If you are desperate and need one more quick appetizer for tonight, hurry out to the supermarket and buy a small wheel of French Brie.

Slice off the top rind and place in a microwaveable dish or pie plate.

You can use the leftover cranberry relish from Thanksgiving (it stays for 2 months in the fridge), or some nice fig jam or honey mustard and sprinkle with pistachio nuts or almonds. The world is your oyster.

Microwave for about 30 seconds on medium (depending on the strength of your microwave oven), you don't want the sides to cave, you just want the middle to be soft and oozy.

Decorate with some fresh herbs and serve with crackers.

See, you are the hostess with the mostess.

Have a wonderful Christmas!


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Monday, December 23, 2013

Curried Chicken or Turkey Pie

This is the ultimate comfort food and a great idea for your leftover Christmas turkey & gravy.

This beautiful thing was made with leftover roast chicken and also from my leftover Thanksgiving turkey and roasted vegetables. I know you've been waiting for me to post the recipe!

I have made this recipe in little individual casseroles, but I like the big cast iron skillet effect the best.

There are no rules here, you can use any leftover cooked vegetable you like, but an onion and frozen peas are a must.

Here I had roasted carrots, Brussel sprouts and Yukon Gold potatoes from last night's dinner, along with some green beans w/ shallots.
Throw it all in, the more the merrier (cauliflower and broccoli would be especially good here too).

The little bit of good quality curry powder is what sets this pie apart from the others, it gives the cream a richness without using more than a tablespoon of butter in the entire dish.

I used to add flour to the cream mixture to thicken it, but why waste the calories, I promise the sauce will be thick enough.

There's no bottom crust either, so you are saving calories here too (yeah, I keep telling myself that).

My Curried Chicken Pie:

1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, defrosted
1 yellow onion, diced
olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1-2 cups of shredded leftover roasted chicken or turkey meat
2 cups of leftover cooked, roasted or steamed vegetables (carrots, potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, leeks, anything!)
1/3 cup of leftover gravy
1/2 cup of frozen peas
1/3 cup of half & half or heavy cream
1 tsp curry powder
sea salt & pepper
1 egg, beaten for the top

In a large, heavy skillet, saute the onion in a tbsp butter and about a tablespoon of olive oil on medium heat, until yellow and soft.

Add in the vegetables, frozen peas, leftover chicken or turkey and gravy and simmer about 2 minutes.

Slowly add in the heavy cream or half & half (if it looks like there is not enough sauce, add in more cream) and add in the curry powder.

Simmer for another 5 minutes until sauce is nice and thick and the consistency you like.
Season w/ sea salt & black pepper.

Spoon this yummy mixture into a large buttered pie dish, casserole, cast iron skillet, or individual gratin dishes.

Roll out the puff pastry to fit over the top of whatever dish/pan/casserole you are baking the pie in, and drape over the mixture, tucking in the sides of the pastry if you can.

Cut some vent holes in the top and brush with egg wash.

Bake in a 375F oven for 40-45 minutes until the pastry is puffed and golden brown.


See you in a few days, after the holidays.

We can diet Jan. 2.

Merry Happy. :)

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Friday, December 20, 2013

Holiday Apps: Devils on Horseback

This is a genius appetizer.
Who doesn't love salty and sweet?

I love Medjool dates and can always find ways to use them, besides just popping them in my mouth or mixing in with my yogurt.

Trader Joe's sells a nice container of plump ones that are as good as any I have found.

This recipe will not work well with regular California dates, because you need big ones that you can split open and stuff.

These little beauties are known as "Devils on Horseback", the origin dating back to the Normans, some story about the cavalry men wrapping themselves in bacon...............makes no sense to me.

You can stuff the dates with brie or gorgonzola, but I find that is too rich for me, so I chose small pieces of good Parmigiano Reggiano.

Wrap in some nice smoked slab bacon (like the Normans) and the perfect holiday appetizer is born.

Here's how:

Split the Medjool dates down the center, making a pocket, and remove the pit.

Stuff a small piece of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese in the center and close the date back up.

Wrap in a slice of bacon cut to fit the size of the date and seal tightly.

Place the dates, bacon seam side down on a foil lined baking tray.

Bake at 400F for 15 minutes, bacon should be nice and crisp.

Transfer to a platter and stud with toothpicks.

Let cool 15 minutes before serving, these babies stay nice and hot!


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Delicious Roasted Eggplant Dip w/ Tahini

This is a twist on Baba Ganoush, that wonderful Middle Eastern Eggplant dip.

I took a recipe from the book PLENTY and made it my own by roasting a head of garlic to nutty sweetness, instead of using raw garlic, which can sometimes have a bitter aftertaste.
I also added a dash of cumin (my favorite dried spice in the world).

During the holiday season all the dips seem to be laden with fat & calories.

This is a healthy and delicious alternative to that sour cream and onion mix that you planned on serving (who are you?).

This is very pretty for Christmas or New Year's, and I will be making it again in the summer with my garden's fresh eggplants and bell peppers.

I am an eggplant lover, as you know, and this was the yummiest version of eggplant dip I have had.

Roasted Eggplant Dip w/ Tahini: (you can double the recipe if you are having more than 4 guests because 2 people could eat the whole batch!)

2 large Italian eggplants, cut in half the long way
2 red bell peppers, seeded and sliced
olive oil & kosher salt for roasting
1 whole head of garlic, unpeeled
1 tsp dried cumin
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
3 tbsp tahini
pomegranate seeds and fresh cilantro for garnish

Lay the eggplant halves on a heavy baking sheet and make X scores in them. Brush the eggplants w/ olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt.

On the same baking sheet, lay the red peppers (you can also leave them whole), next to the eggplant and drizzle w/ a little olive oil.

Drizzle some olive oil on the garlic head and wrap tightly in a little tin foil packet (I love the old school word "tin foil" instead of aluminum foil!). Place the foil packet on the baking sheet with the other vegetables.

Roast everything at 425F for about 35 minutes, until the peppers and eggplants are getting charred.

When everything is cool enough to handle, scoop out the eggplant pulp with a spoon, it will come out easily.

Peel and chop the peppers and push those yummy roasted garlic cloves out of their skins, using your fingers. Place all together in a bowl and add in the lemon juice and cumin. Mix and taste for seasoning. The dip will most likely need more salt.

Place 3 tbsp of tahini (sesame seed paste) over the top and swirl into the dip gently. Decorate the top with fresh pomegranate seeds and chopped cilantro.

Enjoy with pita chips and try not to eat the whole thing!


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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Ottolenghi's Cod Cakes in Tomato Sauce

As you can see I am trying to make every recipe in this book.

I've had this recipe bookmarked from Ottolenghi's book JERUSALEM for a while now (you still don't have the book yet?), and since wild cod was on sale at my fish market, I bought enough to make this dish for company.

This is the perfect Christmas Eve dish if you're doing the Feast of the Seven Fishes (which I am invited to!).

This is a time consuming recipe, it took about 2 hours, from start to finish, but it was worth it and exceeded all my expectations and more!

The sauce was amazing, and the cod cakes were PERFECT!

So far everything in their cookbooks have been excellent. My goal is to eventually make everything in the books!
Now that's really putting a cookbook to good use!

I followed the recipe to the letter, and my cakes were firm (I've heard that before!), and did not fall apart, like some reviewers mentioned. The recipe says that the cakes should be loose, so if you find them falling apart, then refrigerate them for 30 minutes to firm up.

If you are making this for Christmas Eve, I suggest you to make the cod cakes earlier in the day and keep them in the fridge until ready to fry, this way you will have time to prepare your other dishes, if serving.

The sauce is the easy part and reminded me of my Grandmother's stuffed cabbage sauce, because of the sweetness and the lovely spices.

Your kitchen will smell wonderful while cooking this dish!

Try and find sustainable cod from a reputable fish monger (not frozen from China from Trader Joe's......a gentle suggestion).

Cod Cakes in Tomato Sauce: (adapted from Jerusalem)
Serving suggestion: Serve with bulgar, rice, or couscous, or alongside sautéed spinach or Swiss chard.

Serves 4

For the Cod Cakes:
3 slices of white bread, crusts removed
1.5 lbs. wild cod (sustainably sourced), halibut, hake or pollock fillet, skinless and boneless
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1/3 cup flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1/3 cup fresh cilantro finely chopped
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
2 large eggs, beaten
4 tbsp olive oil

For the tomato sauce:
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp ground coriander
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup white wine
14 oz. can chopped tomatoes
1 red chili deseeded and finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 tsp sugar
2 tbsp fresh mint leaves for garnish
salt and black pepper

First make the tomato sauce. Heat the olive oil in a 10" skillet that has a lid, and add the spices and onion.

Cook for 8-10 minutes on low, until the onion is completely soft. Add the wine and simmer for 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, chili, garlic, sugar, ½ tsp of salt and some black pepper. Simmer for about 15 minutes, until the sauce is very thick, taste to adjust the seasoning and set aside.

While the sauce is cooking make the fish cakes. Place the bread in a food processor and blitz to form breadcrumbs. Chop up the fish very finely (I chopped mine in the food processor, with 2 pulses) and place in a bowl with the bread and everything else, apart from the olive oil.

Mix well and then, using your hands, shape the mixture into compact cakes, about 2cm thick and 8cm wide. The mixture should make 8 cakes (I got 9). If they are very soft, refrigerate for 30 minutes to firm up.

Heat 2 tbsp of the oil in a frying pan and sear the cakes for 3 minutes on each side, so they get some nice golden color.

Place the seared cakes gently, side by side, in the tomato sauce. Add enough water to partially cover the cakes, about 1 cup. Cover the pan with the lid and simmer on a very low heat for 15-20 minutes.

Turn off the heat and leave the cakes to settle, uncovered, for at least 10 minutes before serving warm or at room temperature. Sprinkle with fresh mint.


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