#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.




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.




Creamy Crunchy Nut Butter Dip #NutSnackoftheWeek

creamy crunchy nut butter

In the fall, we are always looking for tasty ways to use our abundance of freshly picked apples. Sliced and dipped in our Creamy Crunchy Nut Butter Dip, our crisp apples make a great breakfast, mid day snack, or night time treat.

2 cups reduced fat Greek yogurt

1 cup natural nut butter, almond, peanut or cashew (or any you prefer)

4 tablespoons maple syrup or honey

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

½ cup chopped nuts (almonds peanuts or cashews)

Serve with sliced crisp apples

  1. Combine the yogurt and the nut butter in a small mixing bowl and stir well to mix.
  2. Mix in the maple syrup, vanilla and nuts (reserving a few to sprinkle on top)
  3. Serve immediately with slice apples.


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.

Nutcentric Trail Mix #NutSnackoftheWeek

One of our favorite things to snack on is this Nutcentric Trail Mix.   It’s quick, it’s easy and it’s healthy!

nutcentric trail mix

Nutcentric Trail Mix

½ cup lightly toasted sunflower seeds

½ cup  lightly toasted pumpkin seeds

2 cups lightly toasted coconut flakes (large unsweetened are best)

2 cups lightly toasted walnut pieces

1 cup lightly toasted whole almonds

Place all the ingredients in a large bowl, and stir well to mix.

Store in an airtight container or resealable bag and enjoy for up to one week, if it last that long — yum!

California Here I Come

I’m in San Diego giving a book talk.  The Jewish Community Center  of La Jolla has invited me to speak at their Succoth festivities, and at this time of year it seems like the perfect spot to celebrate nature’s mother lode of nuts and seeds.  The Jewish holiday of Succoth is time to acknowledge a bountiful harvest.  An open lattice of boughs and fruits top a temporary wooden structure that observant Jews erect in their backyards, balconies, or even on their fire escapes as my father did when a child in 1920’s New York.  The open nature of the “roof” allows all those who eat in the Succah, as is customary, to look up at the stars, and contemplate the passing of another year on the Jewish calendar. It is a symbolic, ethereal structure that underscores the nomadic history of the Jewish people.  And as nomads, the ancient Jews of the Middle East would surely have scooped up the fallen bounty of almonds, sesame seeds and whatever other morsels they found as they wandered through the desert.  Before cultivation and the rise of settled agriculture, Jews gathered what was plentiful, and as their culture and cuisine evolved, integrated these resources into their daily sustenance.

almond spreadI’m delighted to celebrate in a San Diego Succah. I’ll be demonstrating our chocolate hazelnut spread from the book,made with almonds instead of hazelnuts. The group chose to use almonds because they are a local and plentiful California resource, a sentiment that resounds with the spirit of the holiday.  We will spread it on the fruits of the season and enjoy. I will look up at the sky, and be grateful for another bountiful year.


Hot or Cold: Almond Crusted Chicken; Remembrance of Things Past

Crisp autumn breezes, falling leaves and porches piled with russet-hued pumpkins cause many chefs to trade their summer recipes in for cooler weather fare.  We are tempted this time of year with soups and roasts and braises, hearty dishes served warm that delight us when there is a chill in the air and a frost on the ground.  But there is one summer favorite that gets made all year round, amongst fall’s crimson leaves and winter’s blinding white snows.  It is our almond crusted chicken, a recipe born from a long-ago memory of Cara’s.  This is an adaptation of that memory, always evocative of a certain place.  Summer camp at visiting day was a spot brewing with excitement and joy. Campers hadn’t seen their parents in 3 or so weeks, and every parent wanted to please their kid with treats whose flavors would evoke the feelings of home.  Cara’s parents always brought a crusty baked chicken cut into small pieces and often coated in cornflake crumbs.  Serve cold., on a picnic blanket, she loved it.  Cara waited all year for that crunchy treat, speckled on the outside like a gold rush miners rinsed remains of the day.  Rumors fly in summer camps that plenty of moms still make corn flake chicken, but our summer camp days are far behind us, and true or not,  memories of that chicken still touch us.

This chicken is a current version drawn from and inspired by those old memories.  We chose to soak the chicken before baking in almond milk instead of a buttermilk bath. We flavor the almond milk with lemon and mustard, elevating the tang that the milk imparts.

The lemon zest and tarragon give a zingy, perky touch to the crust.   The almond crust bakes with a flecked golden color, glints of burnished gold, flecks of hay and wheat.  The crunch is even better than the corn flake chicken of old. The flavor is exponentially better.  And we serve this hot as well as refrigerated on the next day.  It looses a little crunch, but if crunch is what you need, reheat the chicken on a flat sheet for 20 minutes at 350° F.  Straight from the refrigerator, this chicken has all the all of the characteristics of our cornflake chicken of youth. crunchy exterior, moist interior, and squishy edges, little crevises that are crispy and get a little soggy at the same time.  We serve this chicken all summer, and curse ourselves for turning the oven on when the outdoor heat was already high.  We’ve learned to enjoy this chicken all year round, especially when the oven can go on without everyone’s complaint about the additional heat in the kitchen.  While as chef-intructors, we teach it as picnic fare in the summer, fall may be the best time for this chicken.  No reservations about turning on the oven.  Great results are found hot as it comes from the oven, or cold and leftover, making it crunchy and squishy, if you like it that way.  And leftovers make a great school lunch!


Yield: 4 generous servings

2 cups almond milk, homemade or store-bought

1 lemon, zest removed with a microplane, then juiced and the juice strained

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

8 pieces (approximately 3 pounds) bone-in chicken thighs, with or without skin

For the Crumb Mixture:

2 ½ cups (9 ounces) sliced almonds

½ cup white or yellow cornmeal, preferably stone ground

3 tablespoons fresh chopped tarragon

2 teaspoons kosher salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 cup all-purpose flour seasoned with salt and pepper

4 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the baking sheet


  1. Stir together the almond milk, lemon juice, and mustard in a large bowl. (Set the lemon zest aside for the crumb mixture.) Add the chicken pieces to the bowl and toss them gently. Cover with plastic wrap and let soak for at least two hours at room temperature or overnight in refrigerator.
  2. Make the crumb mixture: Pulse the almonds in the work bowl of a food processor until finely ground. Add the lemon zest, cornmeal, dry mustard, tarragon, salt, and Almond Crusted Chicken 2pepper and pulse briefly, just until combined. Pour into a bowl and set aside.
  3. When ready to roast the chicken, preheat oven to 400° F.  Drain the chicken and reserve the almond milk. Working with one piece at a time, dredge the chicken in the seasoned flour until lightly coated. Tap off any excess flour. Lay each piece on a cooling rack or a baking pan lined with waxed paper. Again working with one piece at a time, dip the chicken lightly in the reserved almond milk and shake off excess. Drop the chicken into the crumb mixture and toss, pressing the almond mixture onto the chicken to help it stick. Make sure to coat all sides. Repeat with the remaining thighs.
  4. Place the chicken pieces skin side up (or rounded side up if there is no skin) on a lightly greased roasting pan. Drizzle the olive oil over the chicken and bake until the crust is golden and crispy and an instant reading thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thighs near the bone registers 185° F, about 45 minutes. Serve immediately or at room temperature, or refrigerate to save for future use.