Beyond Baklava


Baklava may still be considered exotic, but it has become a household name – you know, those layers of delicate phyllo sandwiching crunchy walnuts or pistachios dripping with rose water-honey syrup. The smell, the crunch, that sweetness – need I say more? But… what other Middle Eastern sweets crossed over? Have you ever heard of Basboosa? S’finge? Sohan? Those are respectively, from Egypt, Morocco and Iran.

Most of these mouth watering sweets have a few things in common, mainly they do not require a mixer and they do not need to be refrigerated. Mixers were non existent in the not so far past of the Middle East and refrigeration was hard to come by… They utilize what was familiar or easily accessible: lemons, nuts and rose water to create such deliciousness!




My friend Sima is from Shiraz in Iran and her cooking is legendary. In the Minnesota land of hot dish we bonded over saffron and cardamom, elaborate meals and cultural exchanges. She followed the sun to establish her family and catering business in San Diego, but left her mark on the Minneapolis culinary landscape. One of the easiest and most delicious sweets she taught me how to make is the Iranian candy Sohan.

Think of delicately crunchy caramel almond brittle, flavorful with rose water and saffron. Unique, fast and stores well – Perfect for a quick company fix! The ingredients can now be found at most grocery stores, even the rose water and saffron. So live dangerously (and sweetly) – try your hand at making Sohan!


32 small pieces

1.5-cup sugar
4 tablespoons honey
6 tablespoons canola oil
2 cups unsalted slivered blanched almonds
½ teaspoon ground saffron
4 tablespoons rose water
5 tablespoons unsalted, roasted, finely chopped pistachios


Prepare a cooling surface by spreading a piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet. In a heavy saucepan combine the sugar, honey and oil together over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring often. To the pot add the slivered almonds, and continue stirring for additional 2 to 3 minutes, the mixture should turn golden and become smoothly incorporated.

Combine the ground saffron and the rose water in a small bowl. Add the mixture to the syrup and stir occasionally with a wooden spoon until the mixture reaches a deeper golden brown color (about2 to 4 minutes more). A candy thermometer takes the guesswork out of this process: mixture should be between “soft crack” stage, at 285° F, and “hard crack” stage, at 302° F.

Mixture will be very hot! So carefully place one teaspoonful of the mixture on the parchment paper at 1-inch intervals. Top immediately with the finely chopped pistachios.

Allow the candies to cool thoroughly, and then remove them from the paper and store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Adapted from The Gilded Fork & Sima Ross

One more Passover dish…


Sick of Matzah yet? Hang in there – just a couple more days left! At this time of the holiday I always pull out a special recipe, which was shared by my dear friend EllenSue. This cheesy, spinachy, dish for a crowd is filling and hearty enough to be the main dish in a meal. EllenSue got this recipe from her 89-year-old mother, Esther, who is a famed cook and baker in our community.

So, you can see, this recipe comes with credentials…

Hints for success:

  1. The cheesy goodness of this dish is achieved by using 4 different cheeses: cottage, mozzarella, feta and Munster. So don’t skimp!
  2. Make sure to squeeze out as much moisture from the spinach as you can: wrap the thawed spinach in a towel and wring out the liquid. Crumble the spinach over the mixing bowl to ensure even distribution.
  3. Cover the dish after 30 minutes with a piece of greased tin foil – or you will have a sticky mess on your hands when you try to unwrap the pan.
  4. Cook the dish for the full length of time and let it rest for 5-10 minutes before cutting – or else – again, you will have a gooey mess on your hands…
  5. Wrap any leftovers – they heat beautifully!
  6. Let me know how it turned out and enjoy!



For Passover and all year round

  • 1 c. farfel softened in hot water (start with this and add everything else afterward)
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 8 oz. feta cheese, grated
  • 16 oz. cottage cheese
  • 4 oz. grated mozzarella cheese
  • 3 T. melted butter or olive oil
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • Pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. onion powder

12-14 Slices of Muenster cheese

2 tomatoes sliced into thin circles

Mix all cheeses, farfel, eggs, spinach and seasoning in a large bowl until well combined.



Pour the mixture into a greased 9” x 13” pan.


Top with slices of Muenster cheese and top that decoratively with slices of tomato.


Bake at 350 degrees for 30 – 45 minutes. When the top is turning golden

brown, cover with greased foil and bake for an additional 15-30 minutes

(Bake for 1-hour minimum).

Cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, slice into squares and serve immediately.

Ma Nishtana: How different is this night?


Passover, like many Jewish holidays commemorates a historical event as well as a divine commandment. Its main focus is the Exodus – the Israelites departing Egypt, leaving behind slavery and moving towards nationhood. For years, our family has celebrated this holiday and observed it. We clean our home of any leavened bread and abstain from eating it. We hold a Seder dinner, a ritualized dinner, full of symbolic foods and acts, joined by friends and family. Every year, one of the great highlights of the evening is the singing of the four questions. This song asks: “How does this night differ from all other nights?” outlining that we eat and act differently to remind ourselves that we were once slaves in Egypt.


This year, however, this question has additional meaning. This Seder night will not only be different than all other regular nights but also different than all Seder nights. With our kids spread out pursuing their lives, their academic careers and traveling on a school trip overseas, we decided to embrace change. Change IS good. We will be spending the holiday in Naples, Florida with my mother in law and probably have a most unorthodox Passover. We will be attending a Seder meal at a synagogue on Marco Island, whose name I don’t even know and whose affiliation I am not familiar with. To all that I say: “Life, surprise me!”

And yet… Some things remain the same. Yes, I do have a nostalgic heart. Passover will not be complete with out chocolate Matza and Matza ball soup; ingredients for which will be included in packages for my kids. I will still make my Yemenite Haroset and ship it as well. I am enclosing some links and recipes for you to explore. Please share: What is your favorite Passover food and why?


Yemenite Haroset ready to be sent to my girls


Pretty packaging makes it extra special



A box full of goodies


Though this holiday is pretty labor intensive, I love how it brings the family together; love its unique foods, rituals and stories. May your Passover be full of joyful family moments! Chag Sameach!

!חג שמח



  1. Yemenite Haroset:
  2. Matzo Ball Soup:
  1. Quick and easy Chocolate Matzo Dessert

Serves 4


4 regular matzos, dampened with warm water and wrapped in kitchen towel

1/2 cup Nutella, (or other chocolate spread)

Add on:

1/2 cup Minced dried apricots

1/2-cup cranberries

1/2 cup toasted pecans

1/2-cup currants

1/2 cup toasted pine nuts

Powdered sugar

Chocolate drizzle.


Unwrap the matzos and make sure they are soft and pliable, but not wet. Spread 2-3 tablespoons chocolate spread on one whole matzo.


Cranberries and chocolate spread on Matza


At this point, add any selection of toppings you like and fold the matzo in half, or roll it end to end and then slice into bite size pieces. Sprinkle powdered sugar, or drizzle with melted chocolate for garnish.


Rolled Matza




Chocolate cranberry matza with powdered sugar

Consume immediately. Who can wait?



Testing… one, two, three…


One of the things I love about what I do is playing the part of the mad scientist/researcher/chef. Experimenting in the kitchen is a creative process of combining flavors, smelling and tasting, fishing around on the Internet and of course, documenting, documenting….

Over the last few weeks I have been asked by the friendly folks at Nordic Ware® to develop recipes for their Waffle Dipper™ pan.

What is a Waffle Dipper™, you may ask? Think of a stovetop waffle maker, with wells in the shape of wide sticks meant for dipping.

The obvious recipe of choice is, well, waffles, right? But that’s a little boring, isn’t it?

So, out came the cookbooks, the laptop and my camera. (Documenting – remember?)





First, since I am a sucker for bold flavors, I thought: how about a spicy waffle? Combine a little golden corn, some crunchy-spicy jalapeno and can’t forget some melting cheese! Plenty of recipes online to experiment with and the one I settled on was a variation on 3 recipes that I liked the best. This version brings out the sweetness and crunch of corn, with some pleasant heat and a sunny yellow color. Try it with black bean or tortilla soups, chili, or breakfast with maple syrup and eggs. (See recipe below)




Next came a sweet version: since I love pumpkin, I figured why not take my pumpkin muffin recipe and see how it fares in the Waffle Dipper™? Not one of my great ideas… The batter was way too soggy: by the time the inside cooked the outside was a messy burnt crust. So, back to the drawing board I went. After some more experimentation, I finally settled on Pumpkin Spice Chocolate Chip Waffles. Delish! A little spice, a little sweetness and mini chocolate chips – great flavors together! Serve with whipped cream, maple syrup, chocolate syrup, or berries. If you are in a decadent mood – you can opt for all the above… perhaps a birthday treat? (See recipe below)




Finally, a note about the pan itself (back to documentation): The Waffle Dipper™ is really well made – right here in Minneapolis! It heats up quickly, requires minimum greasing, is light and easy to handle and cleans up beautifully with just warm water and soap (dishwasher not recommended). A recipe for sweet waffles is provided on the sleeve, which worked really well too. Since I can’t help myself, I also tried alternating that recipe (I know, what can I say? I just can’t help it…) I omitted the sugar, added minced smoked salmon, minced chives and dill, and Voila! I had a Northwestern waffle. (Homage to my daughter who lives in Seattle…) Add a dip of Greek yogurt and sour cream with the same herbs and you’ve got a playful and tasty appetizer!

Try these yourself and let me know how you did, or better yet EXPERIMENT and share those results with me!

Print Recipe
Jalapeno Corn Waffle Dippers: Makes 12-141-cup fine yellow/or blue corn meal
1/2-cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2-cup corn kernels (fresh, frozen or canned-drained)
1 large jalapeno, minced fine, stem and seeds removed
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4-cup cheddar cheese
1 Tbs. brown sugar
1/2 cup melted butter
1-cup whole milk
1 tbsp. canola oil
1 egg

Preheat your waffle dipper according to directions.

Combine the corn meal, flour, baking powder, corn, jalapeno, salt, cheese, and brown sugar in a medium bowl and stir to mix. Whisk together the melted butter, milk, oil and the egg in a separate bowl until well combined. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and stir gently until just barely combined. Spray waffle dipper with cooking spray and then cook in waffle iron according to Nordic Ware’s specifications.

Serve with chili, black beans, Tortilla soup or even as an appetizer with guacamole.


Pumpkin Spice Chocolate Chip Waffle Dippers

Makes 20-22 dippers

2 large eggs
1-1/2 cups buttermilk
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½-tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground ginger
½ tsp. ground allspice
¼ tsp. nutmeg
3 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
½ cup mini chocolate chips


Optional Toppings: whipped cream, powdered sugar, choice of nuts, berries, Chocolate and/or maple syrup.

Combine the eggs, buttermilk, unsalted butter, vanilla extract, and pumpkin puree in a large bowl and whisk until well combined. In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients: flour, spices, sugar, baking powder and soda, and salt.

Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, folding gently. Add chocolate chips and mix them in.

Preheat Waffle Dipper according to directions. Spray the Waffle Dipper with cooking spray, place 3 tbsp. batter into the wells, close with top and flip pan over.  Cook for 2 minutes on first side, flip over and cook for 1 ½ more minutes.

Serve with your choice of optional toppings suggested above.


Chocolate chip – pumpkin spice pudding cookies


PS last

Crazy times at home: kids back from college, holiday meals, shopping, cleaning… I need a glass of nice chardonnay, just thinking of it. So, when things are hectic I look for a quick and foolproof cookie recipe that will be easy to make and stay moist and soft for a few days. Ahem, allow me to introduce: Chocolate chip – pumpkin spice pudding cookies.

The addition of pudding makes for a softer crumb that stays tender and moist a lot longer than your everyday cookie dough. Many variations on cookie recipes with pudding float around on the Internet. Some of my favorites are Vanilla pudding Snickerdoodles, Double chocolate chip cookies and these pumpkin spice cookies. The pumpkin-spice pudding is sometimes hard to find. My sister in law, Lee, found them for me at the Wal-Mart by her house: it tends to be a fall seasonal item. I just stock up when I find them!

This recipe is based on the blog, with the addition of chopped pecans. Here we go…

Chocolate Chip – Pumpkin Spice Pudding Cookies
Adapted from Chef in Training
Makes about 3 doz cookies

PS Ingred

Continue reading →

Sweet and Tangy – Not Your Everyday Caramel


Caramels: Golden, soft, chewy concoction that believe it or not, leave me personally completely unmoved. Too sweet, too single dimensional for me. Now, if you introduce an additional flavor, say cayenne, bourbon or such – then my interest is piqued…


Two Red Bowls is a beautifully photographed blog that introduced me to Apple Cider- Crème Fraiche Caramels. ( Apple cider reduced down to syrup. Tangy crème fraiche and golden caramel – I had to try them!

The ingredients can mostly be found in your pantry and your local grocery store: brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, granulated sugar, butter, apple cider and crème fraiche (French style sour cream: thick and tangy).


Continue reading →

Light the Menorah – It’s Hanukkah!


Israeli doughnutsweet_potato_parsnip_latke


Hanukah is right around the corner and the wheels are in motion in my home: my girls start arriving soon from the West Coast, invitations for our annual extended family party are out, Hanukiot and candles have been brought up from the basement and menus have been planned for an intimate family brunch and Shabbat dinner. I LOVE this time of year and can’t wait to have my kids all under our roof again!

And…what would Hanukah be without the aroma of fried food, right? So, this year I have already experimented with traditional and apple cider sufganiot, veggie latkes and even apple cider caramels.

Thinking ahead, I was hoping to offer latkes and sufganiot through my new venture ZeCooks LLC. So, the bad news first: the logistics do not work and at this point I will NOT be offering these items. The good news? I am offering you some links to great recipes and sites.

  1. Bon Appetit magazine sufganiot
  2. For Pareve sufganiot: Use margarine instead of butter in this recipe
  3. Rainbow latkes – What Jew want to eat blog
  4. Sweet potato latkes
  5. Classic latkes
  6. Parsnip latkes
  7. Pulled brisket latkes
  8. Food52 Sweet Potato Parsnip Latkes with Feta and Leeks

Enjoy exploring these recipes and let me know what you think!

Happy Holidays to all of you and your loved ones!

Flour Power


Yes, Halloween is over, but some would say that there is still a scary villain in your pantry: Wheat flour! It has been blamed for our round bellies, our mushy brains, our indigestion and our obesity. (Check out The New Yorker comprehensive article “Against the Grain”

So, guess what? I am a wheat eater. I know – how terrible. However, I did hear that one of my Favorite bakers, Alice Medrich ( is coming to town, courtesy of Cooks of Crocus Hill, talking about her book Flavor Flours. In it she explores new ways to bake with non-wheat flours.


Our local food celebrity, Sue Zelickson moderated the conversation with Medrich, with her familiar humor and deep knowledge. Sue asked how this book might differ from other non-wheat books. Medrich, who was funny, smiley and warm, explained that rather than seeking to mimic wheat flour’s behavior in baking, she explored the different flours inherent flavor and texture. She explained that the recipes were developed to utilize and highlight the specific characteristics of each of the flours.

Sue Z

In the gorgeous Roth Distribution teaching kitchen (, Medrich proceeded to prepare a lemon cake made with corn flour. A couple of great tips she shared (which I use quite often) was how to use cream of tartar to stabilize whipped egg whites and how whipping sugar with the egg whites creates firm and glossy results.


We were then treated to 3 samples: Lemon cake made with corn flour, ginger cookies made with oat flour and a plain cake made with wild rice flour. The latter was a challenge presented to Alice Medrich by a local Mill City Farmers’ Market vendor of artisanal flours – That was my favorite! Nutty and light, the cake was delicious.

Baked Goods

So, What is my take away? Interesting flavors and textures – I will try some of these recipes since I have had quite a few requests for gluten free baked goods. However, bottom line is that these recipes still use good-old granulated sugar. Gluten free they might be, but those who are seeking a healthier version of sweets, might not be satisfied. My personal point of view is that I’d rather eat a tiny sinfully delicious, buttery and sugary treat than a whole pan of … you know what. But, I am moving with the times…

Your input is needed!!


Thanksgiving is around the corner and the consistent message from all of you has been an interest in premade meals, specifically kosher-meat meals. Below is a list of possible Thanksgiving items. Please provide your input!!

Possible Thanksgiving items:

All items kosher


  1. Herb roasted turkey breast
  2. Braised honey garlic turkey breast w/ fennel
  3. Garlic, Silan (date syrup), paprika roasted turkey breast
  4. Rosemary & Dijon mustard roasted turkey breast


Starch Sides (all items Parve, except where noted)): 

  1. Honey rosemary mashed sweet potatoes
  2. Spice roasted sweet potatoes
  3. Dried fruit & fresh herbs quinoa pilaf
  4. Roasted garlic mashed potatoes
  5. Smashed onion and dill potatoes
  6. Meat stuffing: sage, dried apricots and Italian sausage


Vegetable Sides (all items Parve):

  1. Maple roasted Brussels sprouts
  2. Caramelized roasted carrots w/Italian parsley
  3. Sage roasted butternut squash
  4. Roasted dilled sugar snap peas
  5. Mixed greens w/grapefruit and dried cranberries (honey-Dijon vinaigrette)
  6. Mixed greens w/cherry tomatoes, toasted pine nuts (balsamic-basil vinaigrette)


Desserts (all items Parve):

  1. Spiced pumpkin pie
  2. Pecan pie
  3. Pecan choc. Chip pie
  4. Chocolate chip pie
  5. Pear cardamom tart
  6. Apple Cranberry Crisp
  7. Molasses cookies
  8. Frosted brownies