Happy Father’s Day 2015!

On Wednesday evening while heading to yoga, I heard a question come over the radio airwaves on "Delilah," and knew this was something I wanted to share on my Father's Day post. The question was,"What would most women say was the most memorable moment between themselves and their fathers?" Quickly, I figured for most women, it would be the daddy-daughter dance at her wedding. But, for me, it was something totally different, and yet, so meaningful.

Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn - Father's Day 1999

Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn - Father's Day 1999

A few weeks before I got married and moved to Long Island, Dad and I took some Italian cooking classes in Manhattan. At the end of the last class in the series, he and I waited for the express bus to take us back to Brooklyn. I saw him looking at me, and he came over and gave me a huge bear hug, and said, "I'm really going to miss these days with you!" In that moment, we both realized that life as we knew it was going to change forever. So, on 3rd Avenue waiting for that Brooklyn bound express bus, Dad and I hugged it out, and savored our soon-to-be last weekly outing for awhile.

From childhood on, Dad and I used to spend one night a week together doing fun things. My mom was a very smart woman. She encouraged us to spend concentrated time with each other. It gave her a chance to play mah jongg with the girls or get her hair done. But, there were plenty of nights she waited anxiously at home to hear about our adventures. I think it really was a time for Dad and me to bond over food at a recently discovered new restaurant or a movie screening or show.

Today is the 14th Father's Day that we are not together as a family eating my Stuffed Challah French Toast. I miss the time we spent talking, dreaming big, working on projects together, gourmet food shopping, and just being with each other.

Happy Father's Day to you, Dad! You and Mom are cherished and missed each and every day! Please continue to watch over Michael and me! We are doing everything we can to honor your memory by inspiring a passion for food in others!

A Banner Week for Chef Paula

With Gail King at the Hospitality Ball 2015

With Gail King, Long Island Hospitality Ball 2015 #LIHB

Last week was a banner week for me! As press, I interviewed amazing chefs at Long Island Hospitality Ball for "Chef Paula's Cooking With Stars," was featured in a red carpet video by Looking to make a Difference with Gail, profiled in a great article by Betsy Abraham for The Westbury Times, chosen as the first Woman Wednesday by Danielle Reed, covered Ida Siegal's Emma Is On The Air: Big News Long Island Book Signing, helped out at James W. Reed's Celebration of Life, created two "I Love Lucy" Chocolate Parties, and sponsored Richard Brodsky's 5K Aids Cancer Run Walk. And to top it off, I received a lovely note from Maureen O'Connell, Nassau County Clerk! Wow, I feel like I won the Triple Crown!

“A Recipe for Success” Published in Long Island Newspapers

Chef Paula Gottlieb Herman Betsy Abraham of Anton Media interviewed Chef Paula by phone and wrote a beautiful feature on her. You can read the article as published in the Westbury Times here.

A few days later, we were pleasantly surprised when we opened an envelope from Maureen O'Connell, the Nassau County Clerk. Inside was a greeting card with their official logo on the front and inside it said, "Congratulations, I read something nice about you and thought you would like a copy." A small reprint of this article which also ran in the Port Washington Times was enclosed.  Click here to see a printer friendly scan of that card and article.

Vashti’s Banquet

By Paula Gottlieb Herman

Just yesterday, on March 8th, women all over the world were celebrating International Women’s Day. But, six days earlier, at the East Meadow Jewish Center, we were celebrating one very special woman, Queen Vashti. During the reading of the Purim story, we recall how she was summoned to the palace to have an audience with the King, and since she was hosting her own banquet, she refused to leave her guests. Sadly, because of this act of bravery she was sentenced to death, which then paved the way for Esther to become the Queen. Some people have said that Queen Vashti was our world’s first feminist.

For those lucky enough to join our Vashti’s Banquet in person, they were treated to an evening of Persian delights. The décor included a harem tent covered in purple voile curtains and pashminas, complete with throne and plush purple seat cover, silver decorative tray with water pitcher, plants, baskets, and Persian background music. Upon arrival, guests were presented with metallic necklaces decorated with crowns or coins on them, or colorful scarves to wear.

The elaborate banquet platters included Pistachio Baklava Bites, Dark Chocolate Fruit Candies with Figs and Dates, Chocolate Dipped Dried Apricots, Dates Stuffed with Walnut Halves, and Persian Mulled Wine. These handmade delicacies were both delicious and beautiful to look at.

In addition to amazing food and drink, Chef Paula, dressed in a harem-chic outfit, led the program with an Ancient Beauty Secrets Demonstration of 3 Harem Body Scrubs or Polishes. Harem girls would spend 12 months getting ready for their audience with the King. They used a variety of beauty rituals to make their skin velvety soft and smooth. So, exfoliating body scrubs and polishes were quite popular.

No Vashti Banquet would be complete without a belly dancer and a belly dancing  lesson. Daniela, Daniela Belly Dance, mesmerized the ladies with her flawless movements, enchanting smile, snake arm gestures, and sword balancing act. Her performance and group lesson were life changing!                                         Photo 2259  (More photos will be posted soon.)

Since we have received countless requests for the recipes we featured at our Banquet, including the ancient beauty demonstration, as well as our gourmet refreshments, we now share them with you. You can make these recipes in your own home kitchen. So, whether you use the ingredients to make your skin smooth, or to make your taste buds do a happy dance, we hope you enjoy them as much as we did!

 

Harem Beauty Secrets & Rituals


Harem Body Scrub/Polish#1                          Photo 2214

  1. Take 1 tablespoon of honey and 1 teaspoon fine sea salt.
  2. Mix the two ingredients together.
  3. Apply over the areas of skin that you would like to treat.
  4. Begin making brisk back and forth massaging movements to exfoliate your skin, and then polish your skin briskly.
  5. Once the process is completed, hop under a shower to rinse.

 

Harem Body Scrub/Polish#2

  1. Take 4 tablespoons of shredded coconut, a few spoonfuls of natural yogurt and 2 teaspoons of brown sugar.
  2. Mix all of the ingredients together thoroughly.

 

Harem Body Scrub/Polish#3

  1. Take 4 or 5 tablespoons of rice flour, the same amount of ground coffee, and 1 cup of natural yogurt.
  2. Mix all of the ingredients well.

Persian Delight Desserts

 

Baklava Bites                                                      Photo 2203

 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 ½ cups walnuts or pistachios, chopped
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 packages (15 count, each) Athens® Mini Fillo Shells
  • Syrup
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

DIRECTIONS:

  1. In a food processor, add walnuts, sugar, cinnamon, and cloves and pulse to combine. Spoon 1 tablespoon of nut mixture into each shell filling 30 mini shells. Bake in preheated 350°F oven for about 10 minutes.
  2. In a small saucepan over medium heat combine the water, sugar honey and lemon juice and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes. Cool slightly and pour a teaspoon of warm syrup over each shell.
  3. Refrigerate filled shells for 4 to 5 hours, then thaw shells for 15 minutes before serving.
  4. *Desserts can be frozen and then thawed for future use.

 

Dark Chocolate Fruit Candies with Pomegranates, Figs and Dates

36 candies (12 of each fruit)

Kosher Key: Pareve for dairy-free dark chocolate (or dairy if using milk chocolate)                        Photo 2205

Total Time: 4 Hours

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 bars dark chocolate, or 3 cups dark chocolate chips
  • 2/3 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 2/3 cup dates, chopped into small pieces
  • 2/3 cup dried figs, chopped into small pieces
  • Double boiler, 2 mini muffin tins, 36 mini muffin cups
  • Line a mini muffin pan with paper muffin cups. Break the dark chocolate bars into smaller pieces and slowly melt over a double boiler. If you don't have a double boiler, you can melt the chocolate in a glass, Pyrex or metal bowl set securely atop a pan of simmering water. Note: to avoid blooming (the filmy layer that sometimes rises to the surface of chocolate after it sets-- it doesn't affect flavor but it's not very pretty), you can temper the chocolate. You'll need a thermometer.
  • Once the chocolate is melted, spoon a little into each cup so that the bottom is completely covered.
  • Spoon about 2 teaspoons of the pomegranate seeds into 12 of the chocolate cups, dividing the fruit evenly between the cups.
  • Repeat with the chopped dates and figs (12 of each) until all of the cups have been filled.
  • Cover the fruit candies with the remaining melted chocolate. Don't be afraid to get a little messy here. Embrace the imperfection. They don't need to look neat and tidy.
  • Leave the chocolates in a cool, dry place for about 4 hours until set. You can speed up the process by placing them in the fridge for about 30 minutes. Over time the chocolate may "bloom" - a process in which the sugar or fat rises to surface of the chocolate and creates a cloudy or spotty appearance. They'll still taste great, they just won't be as pretty. As I mentioned above, you can temper the chocolate to avoid blooming.
  • Keep the pomegranate dark chocolates in the fridge for up to a week. The others can stay at room temperature in a cool, dry place for 2-3 weeks.

Persian Mulled Wine

Ingredients:                                                       Photo 2215

  • 2 cups pomegranate seeds
  • 8 cardamom pods
  • 6 cloves
  • 1 orange
  • 2 sticks cinnamon
  • 2 cups apple cider
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 bottle of fruity Shiraz wine

Directions:

To a pot add pomegranate seeds, peel from orange pierced by cloves, lightly crushed cardamom pods, and cinnamon sticks.

Add apple cider, cover and bring to a gentle simmer. Add honey and continue to gently simmer for 10 minutes.

Add red wine, give it a gentle stir, cover and simmer on low for 10 minutes longer.  That’s pretty much it! Serve mulled wine in mugs or Persian tea cups. Enjoy! This recipe makes about 6 to 8 cups of mulled wine depending on the size of the cups in which they are served.

Rosh Hashanah Feast for the Soul

By Paula Gottlieb Herman

     As you may remember from my first article on Rosh Hashanah last year, I mentioned that my mom died on the eve of Rosh Hashanah 2005, and that it is a scramble to figure out how to make holiday meals like she did, without her or her recipes to refer to. I only have two of her recipes written down, since mom was old school, and didn’t measure anything in the conventional way.

apple bowl with honey

     These days, I am working on projects about family legacy. So, believe me when I say, that this topic is always on my mind. To ensure that your family will still be able to make your signature dishes, please write them down. Go to Staples; buy a 3-ring binder, sheet protectors, page dividers, and start filling it up with your appetizers, main dishes, desserts, and special holiday recipes. Snap a few photos if you are so inclined, make some notations in your handwriting, and create another “Family Bible.”

    A few years ago I did a birthday party for a little girl from the Philippines. While meeting with the family to go over party details, I smelled some delicious aromas in the kitchen, and saw a binder such as this. My client pointed to grandma and told me the food in the oven was hers and that the recipes I was leafing through were also hers. My client made these binders for all of her siblings so that everyone could share grandma’s food now and again in the future. Whether for a birthday, anniversary, or holiday, these family members have the blueprint to recreate some amazing meals to honor their traditions.

       Rosh Hashanah starts our New Year off in the right direction. Just as we tell our kids that they need to eat breakfast to start their day, we can do more to ensure a better year ahead for our families.

    So, I did some research on some of the foods that can be added to a holiday table that might be omens for a good year. While the foods themselves aren’t enough to guarantee that good year, they’re worth considering. These foods are an indirect way to ask for health, happiness, and good fortune.

     I will be adding beets, carrots, couscous with seven vegetables, black-eyed peas, leeks, dates, and pomegranates to my menus. And, to put a new twist on a classic, I’m going to make a honey bowl out of a McIntosh apple. I’ll cut off the top, make sure the apple can stand up by taking a little off the bottom, hollow out the insides with a melon baller or spoon, and paint on a little lemon juice to prevent browning. Then, I’ll pour in some delicious golden honey, replace the apple top until ready to serve, and then dip in some crispy apple slices or soft challah.  From our family to yours, may a healthy and happy New Year be yours for the asking!

Seniors ACE’d It

By Paula Gottlieb Herman

Curious, eager, and full of energy are adjectives that ordinarily describe the li’l chefs I teach cooking to. But, on Friday, May 16th, my li’l chefs weren’t so little.

DSCF2744

After LilChefs.com Special Events was featured in a Newsday article about our President’s Day Lend a Helping Hand Baking Workshop benefiting Ronald McDonald House, I received a lovely call from Adrienne, a senior from a group called ACE which stands for Alternative Cultural Experiences. They were interested in having me do a cooking workshop with their Eclectic Committee. She figured that since I am used to working with kids that I would be capable of working with her 16 seniors ranging in age from the 70’s to 80’s. And she was right!

To put this event together many details needed to be fleshed out. We needed a location that had a meeting room and access to a kitchen. We needed to review food allergies and sensitivities. We needed to create a menu that was doable in a 3-hour timetable and on a tight budget.

Location, location, location. When people use that phrase, they are correct; it is a really important component in planning an event. These seniors weren’t all from one community. They hailed from Nassau, Suffolk, and one from NJ. I reached out to various businesses, churches, and county recreation departments with numerous phone calls and pleas to reduce room rental fees to a more manageable amount. But, I was hitting a wall. So, I turned to my friend James Reed, former Nassau County Deputy Commissioner of Consumer Affairs. I explained what I was looking to do and he automatically came up with a former colleague’s name, Kathleen Foster, who is the Assistant Coordinator of The Senior Citizen Service Project of Nassau County. No one would understand the needs of seniors better than she would.

Kathleen was a huge help in pointing me in the right direction. Her best lead was with Parkway Community Church in Hicksville. Her agency had an event coming up at the church in a few weeks, and she would approach them with the idea. After her event, she emailed me, and recommended that I speak with Pastor Harold Lay (Pastor Hank). When we spoke multiple times on the phone, he was not only willing to host the event at his church, but he reduced the rental fee even further. He, his church staff and board members were absolutely lovely to work with.

Now that we had a location, I arranged for Adrienne and Evelyn, co-chairs of this event, to visit the site so we could see the room set-up, kitchen facilities, etc. We would have access to two refrigerators/freezers, a stovetop/oven, coffee maker, microwave, china, glassware, and utensils. This was going to be amazing! The space would enable me to create a menu with endless possibilities. And Adrienne would have a chance to design beautiful tables for her group to dine.

After our initial meeting at the church, Adrienne gave me a handwritten slip of paper that indicated the food allergies I needed to work around. Some of her group needed to avoid soy, dairy, chocolate, nuts, shellfish, curry, and cilantro. We sat on a park bench outside the church and I created the menu on the spot.

Our appetizers would include Cinco de Mayo Bites (black bean/corn/avocado/red pepper salsa in mini corn tortilla scoops) and Red Pepper Hummus with Mini Pitas. Our main course would be Marinated Salmon with a side of Cranberry Apple Quinoa Salad (dried cranberries/apples/celery/ basil/toasted pecans and vinaigrette). Dessert would be Mini Warm Apple Pies & Mini Pumpkin Tarts in phyllo shells. While the group hoped to have wine with dinner, they would have lemonade, iced tea, and water instead. Parkway Community Church does not permit alcohol on their premises because sobriety is one of the church’s main missions.

With location and menu plotted out, my to-do list included shopping for all the food, designing five workstations with ingredients and tools, and creating cookbooks so that everyone would have a chance to prepare these dishes in their home kitchens after the event. I ended up adding a new appetizer to the menu which is always a crowd pleaser: Pigs in the Blanket wrapped in puff pastry with a little bit of Dijon inside the pastry jacket. I also threw in a new side dish which was Asparagus-Olive Oil, Parmesan & Lemon.

Our cooking workshop was just a few days away. As any good event planner would do, I kept an eye on the weather. Earlier that week, the weather forecast called for rain for Friday. But by Thursday, it predicted heavy rain, flash foods, and dangerous winds. After teaching two of my after-school classes and then a dinner event, I headed to our local supermarket to buy some of the perishables. Now I had a dilemma. What if the weather predictions were correct? Would it be safe for the seniors to drive to and from the event? I left a message for Adrienne on her husband’s cell to call me back. I aborted my nighttime shopping run and headed for home.

On Friday morning Adrienne and I discussed my concerns, she called some of her committee members, and they were still on board with our evening’s plans. Nothing was going to dampen their spirits! So, with four trunks packed with cooking tools, pots, electric skillet, food processor and nonperishable food, we headed to the church before the rain began. I set up the tables for the cooking workshop and allocated tables for the dining part. Adrienne soon arrived, and while I went back out to buy the perishables, she would be able to set the three dinner tables. In just a few hours, ACE members would be chopping, dicing, and blending their way to a delicious meal!

When my husband Michael and I came back with the groceries, we were blown away, not just by the wind and rain we battled, but by the tablescape Adrienne created. She used disposable black tablecloths, layered doilies, china chargers, black plastic plates, and set a plastic mini solar flower pot at each table setting as a favor. As the flowers would catch some light, they would do a little dance in their spring green pots. Adorable touch!

Not to be outdone, I dressed each of my five workstations with cheery spring green and yellow polka dot tablecloths. Station 1 was where Red Pepper Hummus would be blended in the food processor. Station 2 was for rolling out Pigs in the Blanket. Station 3 was for dicing and chopping Cinco de Mayo Bites. Station 4 was for creating Cranberry-Apple Quinoa Salad. Station 5 was for Asparagus-Olive Oil, Parmesan & Lemon. A recipe on cardstock was at every table along with the ingredients and tools for each item featured on our menu.

At 6:00 PM ACE members arrived, and our cooking dinner party was soon underway. Adult-size chef hats and aprons were at the entrance of our room, ready for each senior to personalize and put on. They all looked smashing in their chef ware!

Adrienne’s husband, Larry, artfully introduced me to the group by reading some of my bio, and I had an opportunity to speak as well. I loved telling them how excited I was to share my food and techniques with them. How thrilled I was that they chose me for this event. I explained that I started my cooking classes and workshops as a way to honor my Dad who passed away. He and my Mom would have been so proud of what we all would experience that evening!

After my orientation about the night’s activities, the seniors divided themselves into teams. Michael and I worked with each group giving out helpful tips, showing them how to use some of our gadgets like the Vidalia Wizard to chop avocados and peppers, a garlic roller to peel garlic, and a Microplane to zest a lemon.

Each of the stations was abuzz with hard work, the sound of laughter, and smiles all around. The Red Pepper Hummus was the first to be plated with its signature coral color and a well of diced up roasted red peppers. It was served in an oblong bowl nestled inside a pretty wicker basket surrounded by mini pitas and whole wheat mini pitas. The Pigs in the Blanket pastry dough was masterfully rolled out onto baking sheets, given a quick paint of Dijon, topped with a cocktail size hot dog, wrapped up, and a quick egg wash before baking. The Cinco de Mayo Bites were colorful and delicious and beautifully presented on my 3-tier servers. Each portion was a perfect little corn tortilla scoop with pieces of avocado, corn, black bean, red pepper, and scallion poking through.

While the Quinoa Salad was being made, the Pigs in the Blankets emerged from the oven and were golden, flaky, and a burst of joy in your mouth. Not surprising, those were the first appetizers to be devoured. The salad combined the pre-cooked quinoa Michael made earlier that evening with chopped apple, dried cranberries, celery, basil, toasted pecans and delicious vinaigrette. For those who couldn’t eat the pecans, their portions were put to the side sans nuts.

While the seniors were eating and enjoying the apps, I headed into the kitchen to bake the 18 marinated salmon steaks. Initially I was going to make fresh salmon with a variety of marinades, but knew that the frozen Seasoned Grill Wild Alaskan Salmon I buy from Morey’s is always flavorful, uniform in weight, and amazing. I laid them out on my baking sheets, set my oven timer, and baked them for 30 minutes. One of my ACE chefs, Dan, asked me how I would know when the salmon was cooked through. I pulled out my handy dandy meat thermometer, showed him that when inserted into the thickest part of the fish and reaching an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit; it would be ready to serve. A shout out to Chef Chuck for making sure I had a few Cinco de Mayo Bites while slaving over the hot oven!

ACE members gathered at the dinner tables and conducted their monthly meeting while the salmon baked and I blanched the asparagus tips. They are such an impressive group of professionals, professors, teachers, engineers, artists, etc. They have been together for 30 years. Originally started as a film forum by 10 couples, these ACE seniors meet monthly and serve on different committees such as the Eclectic Committee, Current Issues, Printed Word, Film & Theater, and Art Forms.

The timing was perfect for when their meeting ended and my asparagus needed to be finished off. Some of the seniors jumped up to zest the lemon, shred the Parmesan, and make the oil dressing. I was so thrilled with their helpfulness. Chef Allen, your bright smile and work ethic were duly noted!

Pastor Hank joined us for dinner and we all savored the meal we made. The flavorful salmon, crunchy quinoa salad and verdant asparagus melded on the plate. I so enjoyed being invited to dine with our guests as opposed to feeling like the hired help. This was our dinner event that we all put a lot of sweat equity into creating for each other!

Our final course was the dessert course. We would end our special evening on a sweet note. Since I wasn’t sure if the group would still want to be involved in doing dessert after preparing five dishes, I had a back-up plan. I purchased a cinnamon crumb coffee cake to go with the fruit platter they brought. But, they were still raring to go. I redressed the Hummus station, and now set with an electric skillet, diced apples, cinnamon, brown sugar, and raisins, we got to work on the Mini Apple Pies. Simultaneously Michael worked with a few chefs to make the Pumpkin Mousse which combined pumpkin puree, whipped topping, cinnamon, and instant vanilla pudding powder. Piping the apple and pumpkin fillings into the mini shells with a dollop of whipped cream made them look very polished.

Desserts, coffee, tea, and amazing conversation ended our cooking party experience. Three months of planning, 16 animated seniors, a wonderful church host, and we came up with the perfect recipe for success. While Adrienne found me through an article in Newsday, it seemed that another chef named Barbara met me two years earlier at her school when I was hired to do a jam workshop with her summer campers. In passing she asked if I would be open to the idea of working with seniors. Well, if I knew then what I know now, I would have said yes right on the spot. As far as I am concerned, these seniors are Aces in my recipe book!

Li’l Chefs Are Shining Stars on Presidents’ Day Weekend 2014

By Paula Gottlieb Herman

Thank you to all the li'l chefs and their supportive families who participated in our 2nd Annual Lend a Helping Hand Baking Workshop with LilChefs.com Special Events on Sunday, February 16th! We are also so grateful to The Ronald McDonald House of Long Island for giving us this amazing opportunity to provide delicious treats to their families, as well as the informative house tours they led. A special shout out to Tara Conry, Newsday reporter, for seeking us out and spending 2 1/2 hours capturing the event for Monday's printed edition and Long Island Now blog. Click here to see the full article and community comments from around Long Island.

In honor of Presidents' Day Weekend, our menu consisted of baked goods that were red, white & blue.  But, that didn't include the use of food dyes and additives. Instead we used farm fresh blueberries, strawberries, milk, eggs, vanilla, and white chocolate chips. Each of the two groups had 90 minutes to mix, measure, and fill up baking trays with batter to create such items as Strawberry-White Chocolate Mini Muffins, Blueberry-Orange Mini Muffins, and Chewy Cherry Bars (in honor of George Washington).

Baking delicious muffins and bars for the families staying at The Ronald McDonald House of Long Island was only one piece of this puzzle. It was also so special to see our families from Oceanside, Manhasset, Plainview, and Commack arriving with non-perishable food to donate to the house pantry. Another highlight was having the kids decorate a get well poster with their own original artwork as well as stickers I provided with inspirational words like "Love," "Believe," "Missing You," and "Inspire." Continuing the spirit of paying it forward, we also donated silver tone decorative platters, baking trays, and cooling racks to the house for future li'l bakers to use and to display their masterpieces on.

Teaching these kids about volunteerism at such young ages was so important to me. These are the life lessons of giving back my parents instilled in me. I remember some of our Thanksgivings spent at the Bowery Mission in Manhattan making holiday dinners for hundreds of people down on their luck. I also remember my Dad and I dedicating our time on various weekend mornings to clean up our community in Brooklyn with H.E.L.P. (Highway Environmental Litter Project). Working as a team to provide meals or to beautify a park was very rewarding and meaningful to us!

Now, here I am encouraging these young chefs from ages 6-13 to be passionate and excited about baking for other families. When finally allowed to sample a muffin or bar of their choice, Chef Isabella, 9, said the muffin “was the best thing she ever ate.” I heard moms and dads say how proud they were of their kids and that after this positive experience, they will do more baking with them.

But, my best moment during the four-hour event came between the first and second session when I was alone resetting the kitchen while the next group toured the house.  I noticed a little toddler in her dad's arms eating one of our Strawberry-White Chocolate Mini Muffins. When I walked over to them, she was smiling, giggling, and loving every bite. Dad said that she just ate three of them, and he was thrilled, since she hardly eats anything these days. They are from Belize, and his daughter is set to have open heart surgery later this month. It made me so happy to know that the recipe I showed the kids how to make brought this little warrior some comfort even if for just a few fleeting moments.

Our muffins transcended language, culture, and geography. Their flavor or texture or perhaps their compact size made a beautiful little girl and her dad, who are far from home, forget their issues and connect in a very special way. I made sure to give them a copy of our LilChefs.com Special Events’ cookbook that we created for our volunteer bakers. Now, they will also have access to all the recipes we baked at the house that day.

I hope that when they are back in Belize, the family will recreate our recipes in their home kitchen, remembering the sweet time we shared together. I know when I bake my next batch of Strawberry-White Chocolate Muffins I’ll think of them.  I’ll also lovingly remember the li’l bakers who mixed, measured, and created trays of yummy treats not for themselves but for others who “deserve a break today!” (McDonald’s slogan from 1971).

 

2nd Annual Lend A Helping Hand Baking Workshops

  • Date: Sunday, February 16, 2014
  • Pick One of Two Sessions:
    • 10 am – 12:00 pm or
    • 12:00 pm – 2:00 pm
  • Ages: Children ages 6-16
  • Price: $10 per child ingredients donation. (Also, please bring non-perishable food items for Ronald McDonald House Pantry).

Click HERE to REGISTER NOW

  • Event Address:
    • The Ronald McDonald House of Long Island
    • 267-07 76th Avenue, New Hyde Park, NY 11040
  • LilChefs.com Phone: 516-338-0552

Click HERE to REGISTER NOW.

Description: Come crack some eggs, sift some flour, and mix up some patriotic treats for the families staying at The Ronald McDonald House of Long Island. Volunteer bakers from ages 6-16 will feel proud to whip up some delicious desserts that will put a smile on the faces of children undergoing medical treatments. Workshops will start off with a tour of this gorgeous house that was recently renovated by a team of interior designers, and then end with a 90-minute baking session led by Chef Paula.

February 17th is President’s Day, so let’s create some goodies fit for a President. How about some chewy cherry bars in honor of George Washington? If you have a patriotic dessert recipe or a great idea for one, please email us, and maybe we’ll feature it. Advance payment and registration required. For more information call or email Chef Paula today. Space for this baking workshop is limited.

Click HERE to REGISTER NOW

Hot Diggity Dog!

By Paula Gottlieb Herman

Happy 2014!

My idea of the perfect New Year's Eve dinner starter may not include French champagne and Russian caviar, but to me, it is equally rich in flavor and texture. I'm talking about gourmet Pigs in the Blanket.

As part of my contribution to a New Year's Eve party menu, I decided to make those delectable li'l smokies, wrap them in a layer of puff pastry and Dijon mustard, and a sprinkling of sesame or poppy seeds. I purchased three different brands of weenies to work with. My goal was to see which kind made the biggest impact on the guests. Would it be the ones claiming to be all natural without nitrites or nitrates (Trader Joe’s Cocktail Pups), the kosher kind that was lower in fat (Hebrew National 97% Fat Free) or the standard cocktail franks (Nathan's Famous Beef Cocktail Franks)?

We set up a workstation that included parchment lined baking trays, flour dusted rolling pin, mats, silicone brushes, a pizza cutter to cut the dough into strips, some egg wash, Dijon mustard for the pastry, and bowls of Whole Grain Dijon and ketchup for dipping. Initially, it was just my husband Michael and I putting the piggies in their blankets, and then three pre-teen and teen-aged party guests asked to join in the fun. So, I handed out disposable chef hats and aprons since we wanted to avoid hair falling in food and fancy party clothing getting dirty.

Each of us had a job to do on our assembly line. Michael brushed the thawed Pepperidge Farms Puff Pastry with a thin layer of Dijon, then cut them into strips measuring 1.5" wide x 3.5" long, dried the franks with a paper towel to prevent sogginess, pricked them with a fork so they didn't explode, and handed them off to the girls. Our team then carefully wrapped the dogs in their pastry jackets. At first, a few looked more like mini egg rolls, since the dough was stretched out a little too much. But then, we all got the hang of it, and the rest were outfitted beautifully in their pastry coverings. I was in charge of quality control and the final steps of production. I had to check that each one was properly sealed, line them up on a tray seam side down, and painted on egg wash before a sprinkling of sesame or poppy seeds. We baked the individual trays for about 20-25 minutes at 450 degrees until the crusts became golden brown.

Our test kitchen was abuzz with guest predictions on which doggies would come out the best. Some liked the idea of having an uncured dog, some preferred less fat, some wanted sesame seeds, and some desired no seeds. When I purchased the Trader Joe's Cocktail Pups, I did so knowing that they wouldn’t contain nitrates, and would be the right cocktail size. I had no idea how greasy (but delicious) they would be, oozing out golden oil from the tender pastry, as well as the only variety needing to be blotted before plating. The Hebrew National ones were full size franks that required slicing into thirds. Initially, I was concerned that by cutting them, they would be dried out on the ends, but they baked wonderfully. None of us missed the extra fat, but I did miss the look of the rounded tips poking out of their jackets. Instead, since they were sliced, they had a slightly squarish appearance. The Nathan's Famous Beef Cocktail Franks did not taste or look greasy (though they really were loaded with fat), but were the right size to begin with. With so many choices to pick from, it is entirely up to you which kind you use for your next party. In this contest for best Pigs in the Blanket, there really was no clear “wiener” (hot dog pun)! If I could design my own perfect frank, it would be all beef, low fat, all natural and cocktail size.

While many of us have tried Pigs in the Blankets wrapped in crescent rolls, baked off some frozen ones from big box stores for convenience, this time, there was a bonus using the Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Sheets. The flaky pastry with a hint of Dijon was a perfect accompaniment to the hot dogs that met everyone's criteria--full of fat, lower fat, no nitrates, with seeds, without seeds, with grainy mustard, or with ketchup.

We made just about 100 of these li'l beauties, and there were only a few stragglers left on the trays before the main entrees were served. So, overall, these dogs any way you slice it, were finger food stars this New Year’s. I really hope my parents, who are up in heaven, got a kick out of seeing us making one of their favorite party apps. I know I sure did!