hand-crafted chocolate bars

March 23, 2015
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I think I finally found my purpose in life: making real chocolate bars. Just like the craft bars they make at Dick Taylor or Dandelion. Pure, dark, rich, slightly bitter and mildly sweet chocolate that is made with only two ingredients, cocoa and sugar. No soy lecithin, artificial flavors, or any other crap that industrial chocolate makers put in almost every chocolate bar on the market today, even in the fancy ones. The kind of chocolate that makes milk-chocolate people change their minds about dark chocolate. (Before we discovered those two brands my husband would only eat milk chocolate.)

Recently, I see more and more hand-crafted chocolate bars everywhere. They are not cheap, but they are worth their price (ranging from $4 to $12.) Theo is another brand that I love. It’s not hand-crafted, but it’s organic and fair trade, and is relatively cheap ($4 for a 3 oz. bar) compared to the other bean-to-bar chocolates. Continue Reading…

Mushroom & lentil soup

March 20, 2015
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Who makes soup when it’s eighty-something degrees out? I do. For some odd reason I was craving soup. Luckily, the weather in Los Angeles gets much cooler in the evenings, so my guests didn’t think that something was wrong with me and my culinary choices when I served this soup. However, they were a bit shocked when I said it needed parmesan. Normally I’m the one who says, “It doesn’t need any cheese.” But it’s good either way.

I adapted this recipe from Green Kitchen Stories, one of my favorites food blogs. I really wanted to make this soup with Chanterelle mushrooms, just like in their recipe, but (a) I didn’t have any, and (b) I would need to take a mortgage to buy a pound of chanterelles. Okay, I’m exaggerating, they’re not that expensive, only $42 a pound. (In Los Angeles you can find them at the LA Funghi vendor in the farmers market.) I don’t mind investing in them once in a while, but I wouldn’t use them for soup. Continue Reading…

Vegetable tagine with chermoula sauce

March 4, 2015
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It’s weird, and I’m not sure how it happened, but for someone who grew up in a Moroccan home, I only discovered chermoula sauce in my early twenties, after I moved to New York City from Tel Aviv. The first time I had a dish with this sauce was at Mogador. Not the city in Morocco (where my grandmother was born and lived in until she moved to Israel.) I mean Café Mogador on St. Marks Street in the East Village. Before kids, this place was our (my husband’s and mine) second home. Our apartment was only eight blocks away from it. We ate most of our meals there, sometimes twice a day.

At Mogador I started to embrace and connect to my Moroccan roots. (When I was a teenager, we moved from a small town in the Negev of Israel, to the northern part of Tel Aviv, where the majority of the population was Ashkenazi Jews. Being the only Moroccan family in the neighborhood, as a teenager, already embarrassed by almost everything about me or my family, I tried to hide my Moroccanness.) I remember I was amazed at how the people in New York thought that north African cuisine is sophisticated, while for me it was trivial and barbaric.

The Chicken Tagine with chermoula sauce at Mogador was one of my – and millions of others’ – favorites dishes. Although my mother cooked and braised many dishes with the same ingredients, she somehow never ground them into a paste. (Maybe it wasn’t a dish from her region; I keep forgetting to ask her.) I wish she had, because grinding the herbs and spices together makes such a big difference in the flavor. The dish gets an amazing depth and aroma that happens only when you process them into a paste. Continue Reading…

Vegan chocolate mousse with roasted bananas and peanut butter

February 6, 2015
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I knew it. I knew she wouldn’t approve this recipe. 

Really, Shelly? Avocado? Come on.

Why not? Avocado is a fruit. In South America they eat avocado with sugar, so why can’t it go with chocolate?

It doesn’t matter how many years of experience I have as a cook, my older sister continues to distrust my ability. Just once I would love to hear, “It’s probably delicious. I would love to try it. You’re crazy but you’ve travelled the world, you have eaten in countless restaurants, and you practically live in the kitchen, so you must know one or two things about food!”

I love my year-and-a-half-older sister. She is my best friend. Over the years I’ve learned to take her skepticism with a grain of salt. She is a great cook and a foodie but she has rules about food and always has. It’s weird, though, because my sister is generally open-minded. She knows so much and is always happy to learn new things, but when it comes to food, she can be so uptight. Just like my mother used to be years ago.

When my mother and sisters lived in New York we used to eat a lot together. When they came over to my house, I would hide some small details from them. I never mentioned that I used spelt instead of bread flour to make bread, or olive oil instead of canola oil or butter in the cake. And I wouldn’t dare to make Moroccan food for them. I knew that they would disapprove when they saw how I twisted the traditional recipes. I always let them eat first, then, one hour later, I would expose the truth. Why one hour? I’ll tell you. If I were to tell them right away, they would take back the “It’s delicious!” They would say, “Yes, I did taste something that didn’t belong,” or, “It’s good, but if you made it with regular flour, it would have been much better.”

In the last couple of years, my mother has become my biggest fan. She eats everything I cook and always compliments me. She doesn’t doubt me anymore. She always tells people, “En al ha ochel shel Shelly! – Nothing is better than Shelly’s food!” She claims that after a month in our house, eating my food, her bad cholesterol level dropped dramatically. 

My sister doesn’t admit it, but I know she would love to eat my food everyday. I know she can be skeptical but she loves me very much. I know she would get over the avocado. Everybody does.  Continue Reading…

Sweet potato salad with tahini paste

February 3, 2015
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The first time I had this salad was at a Thanksgiving dinner with our beautiful – literally beautiful – friends, Isa & Serge, who are incredible hosts. I’ve know Isa since the time we lived in Mallorca. She was one of the editors who worked on a huge film project with my husband. I met Serge in LA four years ago, while he and my husband worked on a project together. (Serge is a director and photographer.)

Two years ago, when Isa moved to LA, my husband and I made the shidduch between them. So now, not only do we get points in heaven for making a match, we also get to be invited to delightful meals. I’m always impressed by Serge’s cooking, even if it’s a simple tomato pasta. 

Since that Thanksgiving I have made this salad four or five of times (at some point I started to get sick of sweet potatoes in general; I have been eating them every day for a month to improve some digestion problems.) Once, I served it as a side dish at a big dinner with friends, and other times I made it for lunch.  Continue Reading…

Braised chickpeas with amaranth (GF + Vegan)

January 27, 2015
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There’s a traditional Moroccan fish recipe that my mother, and the rest of the Moroccan Jews around the world, without exception, make every Friday for Shabat dinner. It’s basically a whole fish (such as branzino or sea bass) cut into pieces, braised with garlic, spicy peppers, cilantro, and oil mixed with paprika. I’ve never met any person who grew up in a Moroccan home that doesn’t get nostalgic about this dish. And they all think that their mom makes it the best. I don’t think my mom makes it the best; I know she does. Sometimes they add carp roe to the dish. As a kid, I loved the tiny eggs more than I liked the flesh of the fish. As any tiny fish roe, like caviar or tobiko (flying fish roe), they have a delicate, smoky flavor and a crunchy texture, even when cooked. Continue Reading…

Quick herb omelet

January 8, 2015
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“No iPad today.”

“But why not?”

“Because you don’t use your brain anymore.”

“Yes I do.”

“Not enough.”

“Okay, so can I use the computer?”

“No, Daddy said no electronics today.”

“What if I clean my room or take the garbage out, can I use it then?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I told you already.”

“It’s not fair! It’s so boring, there’s nothing to do.”

“I don’t want to hear any complaints. You didn’t want to go to the library or to the beach.”

“I don’t want to go anywhere, I just want to stay home.”

“So stay home. But I don’t want to hear anything about you being bored.”

“But I am bored.”

“Play outside, make a comic book, write a poem, cook something, just stop complaining, it drives me nuts.”

“Okay, I’ll cook something.”

Goddamn you, electronics! Continue Reading…

Rice bowl with swiss chard, barberries and pistachio (GF + vegan)

December 10, 2014
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Before I say anything about this rice bowl/salad, I want to confess.

Hi, my name is Shelly and I am addicted to TED talks.

It started after I turned forty a few months ago. I didn’t mind turning forty, not at all, but my mind did. It started to feel foggy and confused. It asked a lot of questions and was worried about the future, more than usual.

To deal with the overwhelming thoughts and doubts, every evening I turn on the Roku and watch people talk about their powerful inventions,  journeys, research & discoveries; about the universities and schools that they founded; about the art projects around the world that made a difference; about education revolutions, and more.

After I watch five talks (and sometimes more), I feel high, and extremely motivated. I think to myself, “You can change the world, too!” But then, at night, in bed, I ask myself, “But how? How exactly are you going to change the world?” Then I fall asleep with a burden in my throat.

I think I’ve watched every single talk about education and creativity. They’re my favorite. When I hear a good talk, or if I am impressed by a speaker, I applaud the TV in envy and say things like “Well done, girl!” or “Bless you, mister!”

When I told a friend of mine about my obsession with TED and my desire to be one of those people that make a difference, she said something very sweet and comforting. She said: “Your food makes a difference. Look at me. Since I met you, I eat so much better.” She also reminded me that I do make a difference in the lives of my children and husband. I felt better.

For now, I quit watching them. I decided that I don’t need more motivation. I need to do. (I still hear them sometimes on KCRW when I’m driving.)

By the way, one of my favorites talks is by Geena, a courageous model from the Philippines, whose story is beautiful and inspiring. (I’m not telling you about her story; I don’t want to spoil it for you.) Continue Reading…

Roasted plantains & Mexico, Playa Del Carmen

November 3, 2014
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The first time I visited Playa Del Carmen was fifteen years ago (f&#$ I’m getting old!). After I moved to New York and lived there for six months, I had to leave the country and come back in order to extend my stay (I was on tourist visa). In New York I met an Israeli girl who had just gotten back from a month in Playa. She said it was an inexpensive heaven. She also mentioned that her friend Natalie is still there and that it would be easy to find Natalie because Playa is so small, if I am interested in going.

The next day, I walked into an STA travel agency (remember travel agents?) and booked a roundtrip ticket to Cancun (which is about a one-hour drive from Playa).

Old hotels Playa

The shit-hole and the upgraded bungalow

In my first night in Playa I stayed in a cheap hotel, an ex-brothel – the one that the Israeli girl had stayed in and recommended but neglected to mention that it was a complete shit-hole. The next morning, I left the zero-star Blue Water hotel and looked for something more “fancy”. Back then there was only one four-star hotel in town, which I couldn’t afford, or cheap, extremely basic hotels. The bungalow I found in Zula hotel was ten dollar more than the first shit-hole, but ten times nicer and was actually charming in its own humble way. The bed was like a giant swing, it hung from the ceiling on heavy ropes and was covered in a mosquito net. The only bummer was the shared bathrooms that were inconveniently located outside of the room, but the charm and tranquility of Playa made this a trivial detail. After I moved myself to Zula and had breakfast (don’t remember what I had, probably some tropical fruits), I began to look for Natalie.

Natalie couldn’t be found! Instead, I found Brian, a sweet and handsome American boy, who was at the end of his six-month trek through Central America. Brian jumped at my offer to sleep at my “fancy” bungalow and act as my bodyguard/boyfriend for the next five days. Fifteen years ago, people knew how to rely on their instincts – I didn’t need to Google Brian to know that he was one of the good guys.

Eventually I did bump into Natalie, who had been partying in Tulum, but we didn’t click like I did with sweet Brian. Who needs a Natalie when you have a Brian?!?

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Fifteen years later, I came back to Playa with my more handsome (than Brian) husband and sons and my best friend (Gab), who came from Israel with her husband and two sons. We all stayed in a cozy, five-star house in Playacar (PaseoUxamel) that we rented through god-bless-you-Airbnb.

Playa is no longer the small, humble town I remembered, it’s a big, fat city now, still charming, though. It’s definitely more expensive now than it was back then. I felt like my wallet was being milked all the time,  we were constantly accosted by people who wanted to sell us something. Nevertheless, we had amazing time together. Continue Reading…

Stuffed dates dipped in dark chocolate

September 14, 2014
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Would it be terrible idea to send you dates stuffed with walnuts in your lunchbox?

Beyond terrible! Dates look like cockroaches.

No they don’t! They look like a dried fruit. Wait… but what if they are covered with chocolate?

No, it doesn’t matter, they’re still dates. Dates are embarrassing!  

I can’t argue with that. If my mother had tried to send me one of those Moroccan marzipan-stuffed dates in my lunchbox, instead of the ever-popular choco (Israeli chocolate-milk-in-a-plastic-bag), I would be absolutely mortified.

Did I really think that covering the dates with chocolate would make them look less hostile and more appealing to my kids?!? The only way to make snacks more appealing to store-bought-snack-deprived children would be to commercially package them in some kind of noisy wrapper. They always claim that they are the only kids in school, who don’t have a real snack. A “real snack,” ironically, means “in a crinkly bag,” like potato chips, Doritos, or a yucky, overly-sweet granola bar.  Continue Reading…