Chocolate Desserts; Ethnic Sides; Vegan Fusion; Swedish Christmas; The 'Richest' Fruitcake; Hanukkah

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Laura Avery chatted with Kirk Fink of Casablanca Nursery in Valley Center about his unusual varieties of poinsettias. Monet is a red poinsettia, speckled with bright pink. Jingle Bells is a bright red with pink polka dots. Strawberries and Cream is pink with white striping, and Winter Rose is a beautiful gold variety. At $4 apieces, Kirk's 4-inch mini pots are a bargin.

Laura also spoke with Py Pudwill from Nipoma, about her beautiful berries, which she keeps in "hoop houses" to keep the plants going when the weather turns cold. In addition to the blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries crowding their table, they also have the rare fraises des bois, French wild strawberries, in both red and white. The whitest berries taste vaguely of bubble gum!

Alice Medrich is founder of Cocolat, the groundbreaking San Francisco Bay Area chocolate and dessert company launched in 1977. By the time she'd sold the company in 1990, she'd expanded to seven stores. For having raised the standards of baking by specifying ingredients of a quality and sophistication unparalleled in the domestic baking and candy industries, in 1991 Medrich was awarded the prestigious Wine and Food Achievement Award by the American Institute of Wine and Food. Today, she is best known in culinary circles as the author of award-winning dessert cookbooks. Her Cocolat: Extraordinary Chocolate Desserts is winner of the James Beard Foundation's Cookbook of the Year Award and the International Association of Culinary Professionals Julia Child Award for Best First Book. Her second book, Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts, was also recognized by the James Beard Foundation as Cookbook of the Year. In addition, Medrich's Cookies and Brownies received Food & Wine Magazine's Best of the Best Award for 1999. She is also the contributor of three dessert chapters in the revision of the classic, The Joy of Cooking. Here's Medrich's prescription for New Year's, or any other time when chocolate for breakfast is required. (from Chocolate Holidays: Unforgettable Desserts for Every Season)

Chocolate Blini with Berry Caviar
Yields 18-20 three-inch pancakes

  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 tsps baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 8 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, natural or Dutch process
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp instant coffee powder
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • Butter for the skillet
  • 1 cup cr--me fra--che or lightly sweetened whipped cream
  • 1 pint fresh raspberries, crushed lightly with a fork to resemble caviar
To make the blini: In a medium bowl, mix the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Stir in the cocoa until smooth and hot. Gradually stir in the milk and heat to lukewarm.

Off heat, whisk in the brown sugar, coffee powder, egg and vanilla, stirring until the mixture is completely smooth.

Pour the contents of the saucepan over the flour mixture and stir until the dry ingredients are completely moistened.

Heat a large skillet or griddle over low heat until hot and coat the pan with butter. Pour 3-inch pancakes and cook on low until bubbles form around the edges.

Flip the cakes and cook until lightly colored on the bottom and cooked through in the center.

Serve immediately or keep hot in a 200-- oven, loosely covered with foil, for up to 20 minutes.

Serve with the cr--me fra--che and the berries.

PER PANCAKE (20): 110 calories, 1 g protein, 10 g carbohydrate, 8 g fat (5 g saturated), 32 mg cholesterol, 73 mg sodium, 1 g fiber.

Mark Bittman, author of The Best Recipes in the World, discussed ethnic side dishes like these below. Choonth Wangan (Stewed Apples and Eggplant)

  • 1/4 cup corn, grapeseed, or neutral oil
  • 1 lb eggplant, preferably the lavender kind, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 lb Granny Smith or other tart, crisp apples peeled, cored, and cut into eighths
  • 1/2 cup tamarind paste, homemade or store bought
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 Tablespoon peeled and minced fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • Pinch of ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp asafetida, optional
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • Chopped fresh cilantro leaves for garnish
Put the oil in a large skillet, preferably nonstick, over medium heat. A minute later, add the eggplant and apples and cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant and apples are both quite tender, 15 to 20 minutes.

Gently stir in all the remaining ingredients except the cilantro, along with 1/2 cup water; adjust the heat so the mixture simmers. Cook, stirring gently, until the mixture is thick. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then garnish and serve.

Radish Salad

  • About 16 radishes, sliced
  • 1 celery stalk, diced
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice or 2 Tablespoons sherry or white wine vinegar, or to taste
  • 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 orange, peeled and segmented, optional
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley or cilantro leaves, optional
Toss the radishes and celery with the salt in a strainer and let sit for 15 minutes; rinse and drain. Meanwhile, stir together the pepper, lemon juice, and olive oil.

Toss the radishes and celery with the dressing; taste and add more salt, pepper, or lemon juice as needed. Refrigerate for up to an hour or serve right away, after garnishing with orange segments and parsley if you like.

Dr. Will Clower reported that the "Not One Ounce" campaign now has over 700 members. Although the focus is not to gain any additional weight through the holidays, members have already lost more than 250 pounds since October. The average weight loss is about 3-4 pounds per person, though there are a few lifestyle changing rockstars out there who have lost 8 or 9 pounds.

This week Dr. Clower suggested that when going home for the holidays or hosting others at family gatherings to be especially beware of inertia. He recommended that we change our habits and munch on unsalted nuts and fruits like apples or tangerines instead of M&Ms.; When we do eat chocolate, he suggested we stick to the dark stuff, which has more cocoa and less overall fat.

Bo Rinaldi, cookbook author and vegan chef, wished us a merry holiday with nary a bird or roast in sight. His website offers a vegan Shepherd's Pie recipe, made with tofu, fresh vegetables, and potatoes. He also has a Cashew Pine nut Cheesecake that he says is 'ambrosia'. If you're ever in Kauai and want to have a healthy meal, try Bo's Blossoming Lotus restaurant, and look for his upcoming book, Vegan World Fusion Cuisine, which celebrates the restaurant's food.

Catarina's Lundgren, co-author with her husband of Swedish Christmas, gave us some ideas for a smorgasbord and introduced us to glogg.

Joan Nathan, "the doyenne of Jewish-American food," has written nine cookbooks and is a regular contributor to the New York Times. She is also the author of the acclaimed Jewish Cooking in America, which in 1994 won both the James Beard Award and the IACP/Julia Child Cookbook of the Year Award. Her Jewish Holiday Cookbook contains nearly 400 recipes covering both the major and minor holidays, distinct cuisines from several countries, and food history that is both interesting and well researched.

Romanian Fried Noodle Pudding
Joan says that "Potato latkes may not be essential to Hanukkah, but cooking with oil is." if you want a change from potato pancakes, she suggests this Romanian fried noodle pudding below, "which goes well with sauerbraten or roast goose."
Serves 4-6

  • 8 ozs fine egg noodles
  • 2 Tablespoons pareve margarine
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 6 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Cook the noodles according to the directions on the package and drain. Transfer to a large bowl and add the margarine, blending well. Set aside.
  2. Saute the onion in 2 tablespoons of the oil until golden. Add the onion to the noodles. Add the eggs and salt and pepper to taste. Mix all the ingredients well.
  3. Heat the remaining 4 tablespoons of oil in a large, heavy frying pan. Add the noodle mixture and let it brown on the bottom and sides, taking care not to burn it.
  4. When it is browned on one side, place a large plate over the pan. Turn it over onto the plate and then slide it back into the pan to brown the other side.
Potato Latkes
Joan explained that "latke" is the Yiddish word for pancake, which the Jews living in the Pale of Settlement in the 17th century probably adapted for Hanukkah. "Because their daily diet consisted of potatoes and bread, they wanted to include a special dish cooked in oil to symbolize the main miracle of Hanukkah." Latkes can be eaten plain or fancy, with sugar, applesauce, sour cream, or even chicken soup.
Serves 8-10
  • 10 medium russet or baking potatoes
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2 large or 3 medium eggs
  • 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, bread crumbs, or matzo meal
  • Salt and white pepper
  • Vegetable oil
  1. Peel the potatoes if the skin is coarse; otherwise, just clean them well. Keep them in cold water until ready to prepare the latkes.
  2. Starting with the onions, alternately grate some of the onions on the large holes of the grater and some of the potatoes on the smallest holes. This will keep the potato mixture from blackening. Press out as much liquid as possible and reserve the starchy sediment at the bottom of the bowl. Return the sediment to the mixture.***
  3. Blend the potato mixture with the eggs, flour, and salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Heat 1 inch of oil in a frying pan. Drop about 1 tablespoon of mixture for each latke into the skillet and fry, turning once. When golden and crisp on both sides, drain on paper towels. Serve with yogurt, sour cream, sugar, or applesauce.
***The steel blade of a food processor or the grating blade are less painful ways of grating the potatoes and the onions. The blade makes a smooth consistency and the grater a crunchy one.

Joseph Antonishek, the food and beverage director of the L'Ermitage Hotel in Beverly Hills, has put an unbelievable price on dessert. The fruitcake he sells at the hotel's Jaan restaurant goes for $180 per slice. It's soaked in Richard Hennessy cognac, a luxury item the restaurant normally sells for $165 a pour. In this case, it's paired with the fruitcake, a drunken wedge laden with apricots, walnuts, dried cherries, pecans, and a few secret ingredients Joseph is keeping to himself.