Jewish Christmas Cookies: Rugelach

You read that right – I am making Jewish cookies for Christmas this year.  Why not?  I love rugelach and have wanted to make my own for awhile……and I am oh-so-happy that I gave it a go.  So, I’ve been trying to make some things ahead of time for Christmas, including cookie dough.  Last Saturday I invited my friend, Lisa, over for a day of rugelach making, wine drinking, and catching up – my kind of way to celebrate the holidays!

Okay, back to the rugelach.  I’m actually not sure it’s correct to call it a cookie, I think it’s more likely a pastry.  It has 6 ingredients: flour, sugar, salt, butter, cream cheese, and jam – the cream cheese makes it so rich and delicious!  I looked around at different recipes and decided to use this one from, except that I sprinkled sugar on top instead of nuts.  Some varieties have raisins, chocolate, or nuts as fillings, but I enjoy the raspberry jam filling – I just heat it up first and strain the seeds through a fine sieve.  Okay, first step is to get your food processor out and process the flour, sugar, and salt.  Then add big hunks of the butter and cream cheese and pulse until it comes together.  Easy enough.

Then separate the dough and wrap it in plastic and let chill for an hour and a half before rolling out.

Once chilled, roll out the dough, spread with jam, roll up and then chill again (I froze most of the logs at this point – then you can have rugelach anytime!).

Lisa spreading jam.

Once chilled again, cut and bake.

The result: a not-too-sweet tender pastry that melts in your mouth.  Mazel tov and Merry Christmas!



Rum, vanilla – what’s not to love about this cute little pastry?  I have mentioned before that I do not have a sweet tooth, however, one of my exceptions is canneles.  A cannele is a French pastry whose origins can be traced to leftover crepe batter that was cooked in little copper tins, creating a chewy, caramelized exterior, with a creamy, moist interior.  I have tried about 4 or 5 different recipes I found online, and I wasn’t happy with any of them.  Finally I found a great recipe from the wonderful chef, Jacques Pepin, from his cookbook Chez Jacques.

This, by the way, is one of my favorite cookbooks in my collection – wonderful recipes, great stories, and beautiful pictures and paintings, all by Jacques.  Here is the recipe that is in his book.  Recipe notes: I use 1 ½ tsp vanilla and only 2 T of rum,  I add a pinch of gray salt, I brush melted butter inside the molds, and only fill up to within ¼ inch of the top.  The batter is very inexpensive to make, however the silicone molds can get a little pricey.  I have one mini (I just prefer mini things) cannele mold (holds 18), and I’m getting another one this weekend – the reason being is that they take awhile to cook in the oven, so making batches of them with one mold isn’t very realistic.  If you live in LA, you can buy the large and mini cannele molds at Surfas Restaurant Supply – you can also buy large canneles in their café.  If you live in LA and love to cook and have never been to Surfas, please go there immediately (great kitchen stuff, amazing café, and really good cooking classes)!  Also, Hotcakes Bakes on Centinela makes good canneles, if you’re looking to give them a try, which I hope that you do.

Tacos and Mojitos!

Carnitas Tacos

I’m back, my fellow foodies!  My family and I were off to Scotland for a wedding, then a family reunion in New York, and after that we bought a house and moved.  Life is just getting back to normal and I’m so anxious to cook again!  We recently had a Housewarming +Plus+ party – celebrating our house, summer birthdays, surviving Carmageddon, among many other happy things.  I absolutely love Mexican food and I thought tacos and mojitos would be fun party fare.  Here is the full menu (I admit, perhaps I went a little overboard):

Carnitas (recipe follows)

Potatoes and Poblanos (recipe follows)

Red Peppers and Onions (sautéed peppers and onions in olive oil with salt and cumin)

Grilled Tomato Salsa (recipe follows)

Grilled Tomatillo Salsa (recipe follows)

Smoked Gouda Cheese Dip (a mix of shredded gouda, mayo, goat cheese, jalapeno, cilantro, and scallions – it’s my copycat recipe from whole foods)

Chili con Queso Dip (cream, chilies, cheese, a bit of cornstarch – can’t remember exactly how I made it)

Sweet and Spicy Pepitas (a combo of salt, brown sugar, chipotle powder, and melted butter, mixed with roasted pepitas)

Guacamole (thanks Janette and Joanne for bring amazing guac!)

Red Rice (rice cooked with onions, diced tomatoes, and veg stock)

Fresh Corn and Black Bean Salad (recipe follows)


Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Buttercream frosting(recipe follows)

Rhubarb Crumble with vanilla ice cream (recipe follows)

Mango Blueberry Ice Pops (TJ’s mango passion fruit juice and blueberries in ice pop molds)

Mojitos (made with the mint in our backyard – recipe follows)

For the taco bar fixins’, I had flour and corn tortillas, queso fresco, shredded jack cheese, crema, chopped onions, and chopped cilantro

Pork Shoulder


I adapted this recipe from a Costco cookbook years ago….I’ve made this tons of times and it is foolproof!

6-7 pounds boneless pork shoulder (best price at Costco)

1 large onion, cut into a few large hunks

3 garlic cloves, smashed

1 T kosher salt

2 ½ cups water

Cut pork into 3-inch chunks.  Place pork, onion, garlic, salt, and water in a Dutch oven.  Cover tightly, bring to a boil and cook slowly for 2 ½-2 ¾ hours, or until pork is fork tender (stir occasionally).  Shred pork and let cool in juices.

Variation: BBQ Pork – add BBQ sauce and serve with sandwich rolls and coleslaw.

Variation: Hawaiian Kalua Pork – add 1 Tablespoon of liquid smoke along with the pork in the directions above.

*The pork can be frozen for up to 1 month.  Defrost in the refrigerator and gently reheat.


I adapted this from a cooking class I took a while ago.

12 poblanos (also called Anaheim chilis)

1 onion, diced

5 potatoes, baked, peeled, and diced

About1 1/2 cups heavy cream

First you need to char the poblanos.  I did this easily on my gas grill.  When the skin gets all black, put them in a bowl or on a tray and cover with a dish towel.  When they are cooled, peel off the black skin (do not rinse under water) and stem and seed the peppers; then dice.  Heat some olive oil in a large skillet and cook the onions until translucent.  Then add the poblanos, and potatoes and heat through.  Then add the heavy cream and lots of, you guessed it, salt.  The heat of chili peppers varies greatly, so you will want to adjust things to your taste.  This is an absolutely delicious taco filling with some queso fresco and cilantro – truly outstanding!

Grilled Tomato Salsa


For the salsas I just charred tomatillos and tomatoes on the grill, along with jalapenos, garlic, and onion.  I whizzed these up in the food processor with some lime juice, salt, and cilantro.  Tomatillos are a revelation.  I just bought some seeds and will be growing them in my backyard soon…


Corn is in season and it’s so sweet and delicious!  So I cut the kernels off the cob and sautéed them in a little olive oil.  I let them cool for a bit then added some black beans, lime juice, scallions, cilantro, and salt.

Vanilla Bean cupcakes with Buttercream frosting


These are my go-to vanilla cupcakes, courtesy of Martha Stewart.  I use vanilla bean seeds in place of the extract and make sure not to overcook them – I usually check them for doneness a couple of minutes before the recipe says to.  Also, Martha’s Buttercream frosting recipe is always delicious – I use organic butter, not just because it’s better for the environment, but it also tastes better.


I’d never had rhubarb until a couple of years ago, when I decided to give it a try – now I’ll do (almost) anything for rhubarb!  I got this recipe from Oprah’s website and made 2 changes: I added ½ cup of oatmeal to the crumb topping – I like the taste and texture it adds, and I reduced the granulated sugar down to one cup (I don’t like things overly sweetened).  This was a HUGE hit at the party – I can’t tell you how many people came up to me and said, “I didn’t even know I liked rhubarb!”  That’s why I love food and cooking for other people – it can unexpectedly bring joy into your life and then you can share that joy with others!


We have a ton of mint growing in our backyard so, of course, mojitos came to mind.  I searched online for Mojito recipes for a crowd and got some great ideas and here’s what I mixed together:

Makes 24

Lots of mint leaves

3 cups freshly squeezed lime juice

3 cups mint simple syrup (recipe follows)

6 cups of light rum



Put mint leaves in a pitcher and add just a bit of lime juice to make the muddling a bit easier.  Muddle the heck out of those leaves.  Then add the rest of the lime juice, simple syrup, and rum.  Guests should fill their glass with ice, pour mojito mix halfway up and then fill the rest with seltzer.  This is so refreshing that you have to remind yourself not to down too many too fast on a hot summer evening. (Perhaps that is the reason I forgot to take more pictures!)

Mint Simple Syrup

A bunch of mint leaves

2 cups water

2 cups sugar

Put the mint leaves and a little of the water in the bottom of a saucepan.  Muddle the heck out of the mint.  Add the rest of the water and sugar and bring to a boil and stir occasionally until the sugar is dissolved.  Take off the heat and cool completely.  Strain and chill.

Good food helps make a good party, but great friends are what make a party wonderful!

Norm and Cindy – great friends!

Vanilla Bean Salted Caramels

Vanilla Bean Salted Caramels – yum!  I recently made these for a yard sale we had, benefiting our friend who is fighting cancer.  The yard sale was a huge success for them, as was the bake sale table we had as part of it!  This caramel recipe is adapted from Ina Garten’s recipe – I use gray salt instead of fleur de sel, and only half the amount, I added vanilla bean (which I think is essential – you can get them for a great price at Costco during the holidays), and my process and final temperature are a little different than her recipe.   I know caramels can sound daunting, but if you like caramel, you must try this recipe.  It took me a few different recipes and a few different tries, but now I can make this with my eyes closed – the key is to not walk away from it!  And it costs very little to make, so practice away!

Vanilla Bean Salted Caramels

Makes about 60 candies

1 cup heavy cream

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces

½ teaspoon French gray salt

Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/4 cup light corn syrup

1/4 cup water

Line bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, then very lightly oil parchment.

Heat cream, butter, and gray salt in a 2-cup glass measuring cup in the microwave for 1 ½ -2 minutes, until hot.

Add corn syrup and water to 3- to 4-quart stainless steel saucepan, then add sugar.  Turn the burner to medium heat and boil, without stirring but gently swirling pan, until mixture is a light golden caramel (this step is crucial – make sure the caramel is very light because it is darker than it appears on the surface, and it will also darken after the cream mixture is added).  Do not walk away from this caramel because it will darken very fast.  If sugar crystals are forming on the sides of the pan, brush them down with a little water (this is what recipes always say, I find it unnecessary).  Carefully stir in cream mixture with the candy thermometer (make sure to scrape out any salt that settled on the bottom of the cup), (mixture will bubble up) and simmer, stirring frequently, until caramel registers 244°F (for a soft caramel) on thermometer, about 10 minutes (keep a close eye on it). Pour into baking pan and cool about 2 hours. Cut into 1-inch pieces, sprinkle with some gray salt if you like, then wrap each piece in a 4-inch square of parchment paper, twisting 2 ends to close.