sweet potato focaccia 2 (2)The days are shorter, the air crisper, and fall is finally here.  Pumpkin season.  The deep orange orbs creep in to the markets in early September, and seem to multiply as Halloween nears.  We are fans of the nutrient—packed seeds nestled inside the squash.  Scooping them out, cleaning them and roasting them make for a tasty snack, but we use so many that cracking the shells is impractical.  Bought in bulk, the seeds are simple to pop into breads, cookies and anything we choose.  Like a late fall sunset, the color of this bread is golden and vibrant.  It pairs perfectly with all fall flavors, and we love it with a bowl of our Cauliflower and Cashew Soup. Toasted leftovers make a simple and satisfying breakfast.

Some would call this a focaccia, but it is one in only the broadest sense.  The mashed sweet potato incorporated into the dough defies the traditional definition, but it is otherwise prepared like one, baked in a sheet pan and coated with olive oil before toppings are strewed on the surface.  The sweet potato adds some moisture, but we add it mostly for its autumnal color, creating the perfect platform for our beloved pumpkin seeds.


Baking Time: 40 minutes

sweet potato focaccia 5


2 teaspoons instant dry yeast

1 1/2 cups warm water

4 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the pan

4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 medium sweet potatoes, roasted, peeled and mashed (3/4 cup)

3/4 cups pumpkin seeds, shelled and lightly chopped


4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled into small pieces

1 tablespoon fresh thyme, woody stems removed, finely chopped

1 teaspoon kosher salt

¼ cup pumpkin seeds, shelled and lightly chopped

1 large onion, thinly sliced, caramelized using 1 tablespoon olive oil


One 10 x 15-inch baking pan, well oiled

  1. In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast on the warm water and whisk smooth.  Add the 4 tablespoons of olive oil and whisk again.
  2. Combine the flour and 2 teaspoons of salt in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the hook attachment.  Pour the yeast and water mixture into the flour, and mix it on low speed to combine.  Beat in the mashed sweet potatoes and pumpkin seeds to form a wet uniform dough.  Continue to mix the dough on low speed for 5 minutes. Transfer it to a clean, oiled bowl, and cover with plastic wrap.  Allow the dough to Sweet potato pumpkin seed focaccia (2)double in size, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours, in a warm place, or refrigerate overnight.  While the dough is rising, prepare the toppings.
  3. After dough has doubled in size, press it on to the prepared pan.  If the dough was chilled, leave the dough at room temperature for about 1 hour before using it.  Working with oiled hands, spread the dough evenly to cover the bottom of the pan.  If the dough resists, allow it to rest briefly before trying to stretch it again.
  4. Allow the dough to rest 15 minutes for freshly prepared dough and about 45 minutes for chilled dough.  Insert dimples into the top by pressing your finger tips into the dough.  Sprinkle pieces of goat cheese, thyme and pumpkin seeds over the top.Carefully distribute cooled onions over everything, and set aside for an additional 15-30 minutes.
  5. While the dough is rising in the pan, preheat the oven to 375° F.   Bake it for about 45 to 55 minutes, until the focaccia is golden brown and firm. If onions begin to darken while baking, cover the focaccia with aluminum foil.
  6. Remove focaccia from the oven and cool it on a rack before slicing.


Muhammara (Walnut-Red Pepper Spread)

muhammara book

Ten years ago, when our nut driven adventure began, we both combed through the troves of recipes compiled by our families.  “Anything with nuts, anything with nuts” we chanted as we flipped through yellowed hand written index cards and indecipherable shorthand notes.  A few stood out, genuine treasures that kindled childhood memories and compelled us back into the kitchen to recreate them.  One of the best was from Andrea’s grandmother, the Muhammara, a red pepper and walnut dip that is redolent with pomegranate molasses and freshly ground cumin.  We made big batches, and along with some sesame coated crackers and sweet nut filled cookies, we packed it up and sent it off to all publishers who were considering our book.  When our book deal was signed, our editor gleefully told us how much she loved it.  We knew it was a winner, and we were right.  With its terra cotta hue and its fragrant flavor, it has gone from dip to chicken salad dressing and has found its way into countless catering menus on the way. You can find the recipe on page 73 of our book.

muhammara trader joes 2Ten years later, the previously unknown Muhammara can be found in half pint containers on the shelves of Trader Joe’s, stocked among the countless varieties of hummus and dips.  And yesterday, a recipe similar to ours has appeared in the Dining Section of the New York Times. (http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1017492-muhammara-red-pepper-and-walnut-spread) Clearly, by most measures, Muhamarra has arrived.  Are we trendsetters, ahead of the curve as nut aficionados?  Maybe.  But we certainly know what delicious is!


The Nutella King Has Passed

nutellaMichele Ferraro changed my life, although he never knew it.  Mr Ferraro was the creator of Nutella, and he passed away this weekend, on Valentine’s Day.  Born of post war necessity, Nutella was created when chocolate was scarce, and it made good business sense to combine it with abundant hazelnuts.  The resulting spread became a world wide taste phenomenon, and it was the start of a confectionary empire that made Mr Ferraro one of the richest men in the world.

I first tasted a homemade version of Nutella when I worked as a prep cook in the kitchen of Kibbutz Urim, in Israel.  I was a teenager who had little exposure to sweets, and that chocolate- hazelnut spread was a kibbutz staple.  Made by the bucket full, it was kept in the kitchen and served at every breakfast, ready to  schmear on bread or toast. Its exotic flavors opened culinary worlds to me, and creating it for the hungry hordes introduced me to large scale food preparation.  At the time, I had no idea that making Nutella from scratch would sow the seeds of my future as an avid consumer of all things delicious, and for my career as a chef.

So many years later, a version of that homemade spread appears in our cookbook In a Nutshell: Cooking and Baking with Nuts and Seeds, published in August 2014 by W. W. Norton.  As great and as universal as commercial Nutella is, our easy -to- prepare homemade version has remarkable depth of flavor.  We use it as a spread as I did in the kibbutz days, but also as a base for ice cream, as a topping for waffles, and as a dip for pretzels or fresh fruit.  I believe our recipe would have made Mr Ferraro proud.  Its inspired combination of chocolate and hazelnuts piqued my interest in all things culinary, and for that, I thank him.

Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

2 cups blanched hazelnuts, toasted

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

1/3 cup Dutch process cocoa powder

2 tablespoons hazelnut oil or canola oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon salt

  1. In the work bowl of a food processor, process the hazelnuts until a paste forms, about 2 to 3 minutes. Stop the processor, scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula and continue to process for 3 additional minutes.  The hazelnuts will have the texture of sand, with a little remaining graininess.
  2. Add the confectioners’ sugar and cocoa and pulse repeatedly until everything is well mixed, about 1 minute. Drizzle in the oil and add the vanilla and salt.  Process until the spread is smooth, about 5 minutes.  Using a spatula, place it in a clean airtight container and refrigerate for up to one month.

Recipe reprinted from In A Nutshell: Cooking and Baking with Nuts and Seeds by Cara Tannenbaum and Andrea Tutunjian. Copyright © 2014 by Cara Tannenbaum and Andrea Tutunjian. With permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

“Featherlight” Peanut Butter Pancakes

Rosa Parks PancakesRosa Parks, the famous civil rights activist, loved peanut butter in her pancakes.  Her forthright thinking and no nonsense attitude  changed the racial landscape of the 1950’s south, bit by bit.  She was a complex woman, full of keen observations of her place and time.  Many of these thoughts were recorded in hand written letters and notes scrawled on stationery, or scribbled on scraps of paper in pencil or pen. After some legal wrangling, her papers were purchased and are now on loan to the Library of Congress. As an archivist pours through the boxes of papers, a clearer picture of our country’s figurehead of integration has emerged.  Her family walked a fine line between abject poverty and a more genteel down- at – the – heels lower middle class existence.  Money was tight, ethics were paramount, and Rosa liked to cook.

On the back of a small brown envelope, the kind you would get cash in from a withdrawal at the back, is written a recipe in Rosa Park’s hand, for ” featherlight pancakes”.  Here is it:

Featherweight Peanut Butter Pancakes, by Rosa Parks

Makes about 18,  4-inch pancakes

1 cup flourRosa Parks Pancakes in process

2 tablespoons baking powder

Pinch salt

2 tablespoons sugar

1 egg

1/3 cup peanut butterRosa Parks pancakes 3

1 1/4 cup milkRosa Parks Pancakes 4

1 tablespoons oil or melted butter

  1. In a small bowl, mix all of the dry ingredients and stir well: flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.
  1. In a separate small bowl, mix the egg and peanut butter until well combined. Whisk in the milk and oil until smooth.  Fold and stir in to the dry ingredients.
  1. Bake on a warm (275° F) lightly greased griddle until golden, and flip, cook until firm. Serve warm, with maple syrup and more peanut butter, if you choose.

Finding a recipe like this amongst Rosa’s writings is of interest in so many ways.  First, she had the inclination to cook, or by writing down and keeping the recipe, the desire to cook even when her activism was at a peak. The recipe seems so current, even though it was written in the late 1950’s, we just had to try them.  Yum…their name “Featherlight”, became clear, light and delicate with a surprise of peanut butter within.  Rosa was a  visionary, understanding and working to change the racial make up of the south.  And she seems to have been a visionary in the kitchen, mixing kitchen staples affordable to most anyone in the south,creating a special breakfast treat.  February is Black History month, and February 4 was Rosa Park’s birthday.  A fitting tribute, and celebration of both.



#Family Culinary Traditions

IMG_5333I’m lucky to have friends who honor their family’s culinary traditions.  We are still nibbling on the few remaining Polvorones made by Madeline Dominiani for Christmas this year.  Madeline is the true keeper of her mother’s culinary history.  Hailing from Gilbratar, Madeline’s mom would first soak Spanish almonds in warm water and then laboriously slip off their skins one by one.  The blanched almonds would then be lightly toasted in the oven.  While the almonds were set aside to cool, flour would be carefully browned in the oven as well.  The toasted almonds would be ground to a crumbly paste in a mortar with a pestle and then mixed with the golden flour. Madeline now grinds the almonds in a coffee grinder kept for just this purpose, the mortar and pestle left behind as historical artifact.  In goes sugar and lard, and the dough is then shaped into thick discs that beautifully hold their shape in the oven.  The finished cookie tastes steeped with history, the lard gives an indefinable depth, and all of the toasting just elevates the simple flavors.

My favorite tradition of the Polvorones is the first thing you see when Madeline presents these treats.  Each cookie is neatly swathed in white tissue paper, twisted at the ends, and the ends are trimmed into fringes. The unwrapping of every one is like a delicious and festive gift.  The making of Polvorones is an honored custom in Madeline’s household, and it has been taught to the succeeding generations.  I am the lucky recipient of these morsels at the Christmas season, and hope to be for years to come.

Candied Almonds; #NutSnackoftheWeek

candied almonds

Every year at the holidays, my cozy kitchen looks like a bakery.  I make cannoli, cookies and lots of different candies in the week leading up to Christmas.  First on my list is the treat that keeps the longest, the Chocolate Covered Almonds.  I started last night with a one pound batch of nuts, working through the first steps and expecting to dress them in their chocolate coats over the weekend.  I parked the tray on the counter corner and went to bed.  This morning as I left the house, I noticed that the almonds were half gone, nibbled away by my family while I slept. It made me smile, knowing that sneaking a taste, or a little more, is one of the things that makes the season so special for my kids.  On my way to Trader Joe’s planning my next batch of almonds, I realized that leaving the chocolate coating off the nuts creates a crunchy, caramelized sweet that is just as yummy as those that are fully prepared.  Here is the simplified version of our recipe from In A Nutshell.  Leaving off the chocolate outside is a break with tradition for us, but my family seems to love them just they way they are.
3/4 cup granulated sugar

3 tablespoons water

1 pound natural almonds


Equipment: 1 baking sheet, lined with a silicone sheet, or lined with parchment paper

1. Place the sugar and water in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Bring it to a boil, .  Add the almonds and stir constantly.  The sugar will begin to whiten and crystallize. Continue cooking and stirring until the sugar begins to remelt and caramelize on the almonds.  When almost all of the sugar is melted (as shown n the picture), you will begin to hear the almonds popping slightly.  Transfer them to the prepared pan.  Spread in a single layer and cool. Break apart with a spatula if they stick together.




Cornmeal Pumpkin Seed Short Bread

pumpkin seedsThis yellow hued shortbread is great in the fall.  We serve it along side crumbly cheeses and autumnal fruit.  Its main ingredients, cornmeal and pumpkin seeds, are both native foods of the Americas.  Together we believe they make the perfect  Thanksgiving Day nosh.  Make the dough days ahead, and slice and bake them before the turkey goes in the oven.  They are just spicy enough to whet your appetite for the magnificent meal to come.come.

1 ¼ cups all purpose flour

1 ¼ cups stone ground cornmeal

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

1 teaspoon sugar

¾ cup roughly chopped pumpkin seeds

6 ounces (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch pieces

2 large eggs, lightly beaten


2 rimmed cookie sheets, lined with parchment paper

  1. In a medium bowl, stir together flour, cornmeal, salt, pepper, sugar and pumpkin seeds.
  1. Using your finger tips, rub the butter into the dry ingredients, until no chunks of butter remain, and the mixture has the texture of sand.
  1. Add the eggs, and stir until the dough holds together.  This may take just a little squeezing,
  1. Cut dough in half, and using 2 sheets of parchment paper, wrap each piece into a cylinder, about 1 inch in diameter and 7 inches long.  Twist the ends tight to hold the shape of the cylinder.  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or until dough is firm enough to slice.  Freeze for longer storage.
  1. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350° F
  1. Slice the crackers in to 3/8 inches disks, and place on the prepared sheets one inch apart.
  1. Bake 10 to 12 minutes until the crackers are slightly golden brown around the edges.  They will firm as they cool on the pan on the rack.

Warning…Contains Nuts


The subject of nuts for a cookbook always evokes questions.  How did you get interested in that?  Why nuts and seeds?  How did you chose them?  And the most commonly asked one, what about nut allergies, and the people with them?

When we began our research for the book we addressed this question.  We spoke to experts , scoured the literature for information.  And our decision to not address allergies in any way came clear.

Nut allergies are serious and the lives of individuals with these allergies could be threatened by making any recipe in our book.  There are no substitutions for nuts here. Sadly, those with nut allergies need to skip the book all together.

As nuts have ascended to culinary stardom they also have been demonized, sometimes with good reason.  Since we have been on the road promoting the book countless people have told us that they would love to have us come and speak, the book is beautiful the say, but they work in a nut free facility.  We understand the abundance of caution, respect the nut free facilities, and steer clear.

On this most recent trip to California I checked into my hotel and was greeted at the front desk with a warm chocolate chip cookie nestled in a paper bag.  On the front was an emblem, not dissimilar to the bold no smoking signs we are so used to.  It stated…”Warning: contains walnuts”.  I was happy to find them in my cookie, and I’m relieved that an early warning system keeps those with allergies safe.


More Than Waffles

Hazelnut Waffle DemoI pulled in to in the supermarket lot, parked, and swung over to the long line of shopping carts.  Flipping down an infant seat, and dropping in my overfilled shabby bag, the ad at the far end of the cart caught my eye.  Nutella topping a waffle.  A few berries scattered artfully on top.  And it was only yesterday that we were making hazelnut sour cream waffles with a schmear of homemade chocolate hazelnut goodness, spreading the love at a cooking demonstration designed to introduce and promote our book, In A Nutshell: Cooking and Baking with Nuts and Seeds.

Homemade Nutella is a snap to make, deceptively easy.  Just whiz 5 ingredients (Dutch process cocoa, confectioner’s sugar, chopped hazelnuts, vanilla extract and canola oil) together in a food processor or a Vita Mix blender, as we did in our demo. It keeps for a week or even longer tightly closed in the refrigerator.  The flavor is massive in comparison to the commercial stuff.  Sandy in texture, dark in color and deeply rich in flavor, we love to eat it many ways.  The two best ways come quickly to mind.  First is licked right off of a spoon.  Next is how we prepared it at the demo, same as the advertisement I spied in the supermarket cart: spread on a piping hot waffle.

We made waffles of substance to pair with the spread.  The Hazelnut Sour Cream waffles are both dense and crunchy.  Made in a Belgian waffle maker, they have deep cavities that are easily filled to their brims with the spread. Both hazelnut flour and chopped pieces of hazelnut keep the texture just right: light yet firm with a little golden crust on the outside. The combo is Hazelnut Heaven.  We hope for the day that many folks exchange their trips to the frozen food isle with dusting off their waffle irons and whirring up their blenders.  Our Hazelnut Sour Cream waffles with homemade chocolate hazelnut spread make an easy to prepare breakfast or snack that outshines the commercial combination in every way.




Pumpkin Pie Spiced Pecans #NutSnackoftheWeek

pecans pumpkin pie spiced

4 tablespoons sugar

3 tablespoons water

3 tablespoons canola oil

2 cinnamon sticks

6 whole cloves

Two slices freshly peeled ginger, about ¼-inch wide

4 cups pecan halves

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoons sugar

½  teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ tsp ground ginger

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

  1. Preheat the oven to 300° F
  2. In a small saucepan, mix together the 4 tablespoons sugar, water, oil, cinnamon sticks, cloves and ginger. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook until the sugar is fully melted about 2 minutes.  Set aside and allow it to steep for about 10 minutes.
  3. Place the pecans in a large bowl. Strain the syrup over the pecans to remove the cinnamon, cloves and ginger.  Toss to coat the nuts completely.
  4. Transfer the pecans to a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment and lightly coated with non-stick spray. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until they begin to brown. During the baking, take them out of the oven 2 or 3 times to stir so they bake evenly.
  5. While the pecans are baking, mix the salt, 1 tablespoon of sugar, cinnamon, ginger and cloves together, and set aside until ready to use.
  6. Remove the pecans from the oven and immediately toss them with the spice mixture. Cool the nuts completely in the pan on a wire rack.  The pecans can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 week.