Category Archives: Snacks

popcorn, and an ode to my puppy on her birthday

Riley, as captured by the talented Marisa Rebecca

Riley, as captured by the talented Marisa Rebecca

For the last five years, I have shared my home with a West Highland White Terrier named Riley. I would say I’m her owner, but in all honesty, she owns me.

Riley weighs about sixteen pounds. She has white fur (unless she’s been rolling in garbage or dead animals), a black nose, and bright eyes. She’s a small dog to begin with, but when she curls into a ball, she becomes impossibly and adorably tiny.

For the first few weeks of our relationship, Riley was a four-pound puppy.

Adorable sleeping Westie

Adorable sleeping Westie

Things were awkward between us from the start. When I met her, she was sleeping in a pile of urine-soaked shredded newspaper with a bunch of other puppies. That night, I brought her to sleep in my warm and soft bed, which was not soaked in urine.

Yes, my floor used to look like this. Don't judge.

Yes, my floor used to look like this. Don’t judge.

Riley would have none of it. After I fell asleep, she tumbled out of the bed – three feet high, no less than ten times her height – and nested in a pile of textbooks and not-yet-laundered clothing. Within the coming weeks, she would use her needlelike puppy teeth to shred all of those things. And for all of her distaste for sleeping in my bed, she developed a fondness for burrowing into the space underneath the bed. She lay on her back and clawed viciously at my box spring until she’d cleared an opening. Then she burrowed into the mattress, bringing with her all of the scavenged underwear she could carry. I couldn’t reach her under there. Many sleepless nights passed with me tossing and turning as I vibrated with the scratching and clawing of my little puppy destroying my bed from the inside.

Needless to say, it took approximately one year for me to love her. In that year, almost all of my belongings were chewed to pieces. Although Riley was crated when I couldn’t keep an eye on her, she managed to act like a ninja in plain sight. The destruction didn’t sit well with me. I contemplated opening my front door and letting her run away. I contemplated no-kill shelters. I contemplated finding her another happy home on Craigslist. But then I’d melt looking at her little face and change my mind.

We’re friends now. I adore her. She’s the best little four-legged furry thing to come into my life. And although she’s not allowed in the bed, she loves to cuddle on the couch.

Riley and I having a Lion King moment

Riley and I having a Lion King moment

She’s still a little crazy, and a little murderous. She can’t help it. Her breed was originally used as “ratters,” or rather, dogs who viciously murder rodents. She barks at every squirrel and chipmunk. When we had mice in our old Philadelphia apartment, she faithfully slaughtered them whenever possible. But underneath the homicidal maniac is a little sweetheart who would do anything for you to play fetch with her tennis ball, or toss over a handful of popcorn. She loves popcorn.

Fortunately for Riley, so do her humans. When she hears popping, she runs to the stove and will faithfully follow her person from cabinet to couch. Then she sits expectantly and patiently, completely alert, just waiting for a kernel to come flying. Her lightning-fast reflexes know it’s coming before she does. She snatches popcorn from seemingly thin air, crunches it with glee, and then leans back to wait for the next one. She’s adorable, and it’s fun to watch her catch popcorn, so the next one always comes.

RIley gettin' some lovin'

RIley gettin’ some lovin’

If you’ve only made popcorn from microwave bags, I’d recommend you branch out and try stovetop. It’s healthier – no unknown chemicals – and even more delicious. And perhaps you could try feeding it to your dog (in small quantities, of course). She might love it just as much as Riley does.

Recipe: Popcorn for Riley
2 tablespoons of oil with high smoke point (canola, coconut, peanut, grapeseed, etc)
1/2 cup whole popcorn, plus three separate kernels

In a large pot with tight-fitting lid, heat the oil over medium-high. Place three unpopped kernels inside and close the lid. Listen carefully until you hear three pops. Then add the rest of the popcorn. Replace the lid, give the pot a good shake to coat the kernels in oil, and step back.

Soon, you should hear some serious popping. Feel free to shake the pot occasionally; it helps unpopped kernels fall down and get popped.

When the popping starts to slow, turn off the heat. Move the pot off the burner and wait for the popping to stop.

Pour into a big bowl and enjoy. Remember to toss a few kernels to your pup!

Serves two humans, or one popcorn lover and their canine companion.
Recipe: Truffled Parmesan Popcorn for the Humans
2 tablespoons oil (canola, coconut, peanut, grapeseed, etc)
1/2 cup whole popcorn, plus three separate kernels
2 tbsp butter, melted
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated fine (ideal is zested on Microplane)
2 tsp truffle salt
1 tsp black pepper

Follow instructions above to make Popcorn for Riley: add oil and three kernels to pot on medium high. When kernels pop, add the rest of popcorn and shake occasionally.

After all the popping has stopped, open the lid and melted butter, Parmesan, truffle salt, and black pepper.
Close it and toss vigorously.

Enjoy with a fine film and a canine companion at your side.

shrimp tostadas recipe

Shrimp tostadas are what happens when you’ve got a little bit of extra shrimp in the fridge and you are dying for an afternoon snack. They’re what happens when there are a few amazing handmade corn tortillas left over from the market, and when you’ve got an avocado and a tomato that are just dying to be eaten.

They’re an amazing snack, if a little bit naughty. Hey, my excuse? It was a Sunday. If you’re adverse to pan-frying a tortilla, perhaps bake it instead. Just keep it at 250 or so and let it bake until crunchy. But I would recommend the whole shebang.

Shrimp Tostadas for Two

1/8 lb medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tbsp vegetable oil, separated
Large pinch salt
Large pinch chipotle chile powder
Large pinch cumin
Large pinch paprika
2 corn tortillas
1 avocado, diced
1 tomato, diced
1 shallot, minced
Fresh-squeezed lime juice, to taste
Cilantro to taste
Salt to taste

In a small bowl, mix the shrimp, 1 tbsp vegetable oil, salt, chile powder, cumin, and paprika. Allow to rest.

In another small bowl, toss together the avocado, tomato, shallot, lime juice to taste, and salt to taste. Garnish with cilantro.

In a heavy saute pan over medium high heat, heat the vegetable oil until very hot and shimmering. Fry the corn tortillas, one at a time, until crispy on both sides. Turn as necessary. Drain on paper towels.

In another preheated saute pan – or the same one, wiped clean of excess oil – cook the shrimp on medium-high heat, stirring as needed. They should be done in just a couple of minutes.

Assemble the tostadas: place half of the shrimp on each fried tortilla. Top with a scoop of avocado mixture. (The rest of the avocado salsa, you ask? Eat it with tortilla chips).

israeli spinach fritters recipe

A few months ago, we learned how to make latkes like a Jewish grandma. Now we’re going to move down a generation and you can learn how to make delicious spinach fritters like a Jewish mom, or at least, the way my Jewish mom did.

Here’s the thing about spinach fritters. They’re made out of spinach, which pretty much means that you can eat as many as you want and call it a healthy treat. They’re green, after all. In the scale of healthy, green overrides fried, every single time.

Here’s the other thing about spinach fritters. They don’t sound very appealing. If I had discovered them on my own, in recipe form while browsing blogs or a magazine, I would not have taken the initiative to make them. But I discovered them because they appeared in my house, on a platter next to some potato latkes that my mom made, and from the first bite it was true love. Everyone else who’s tried them has agreed. Initial hesitation is followed by eyes widening in enjoyment, and then reaching for another fritter. They’re delightfully crispy outside, yielding and yummy inside, what’s not to love? And did I mention they’re green? That means healthy!

They’re pretty simple to make. For me, the first step is always finding bulk baby spinach. I like to use at least two pounds of spinach for this, and buying eight pre-packed grocery store bags at $3 each isn’t how I roll. This most recent batch was inspired by spinach for $1/pound at the farmer’s market.

So you start with fresh spinach (I guess you could use frozen and thawed, but I’ve never tried). It gets sauteed it for a few minutes, just until it’s wilted.

Drain it, chop it. Then, stir it into a simple binding mixture: eggs, matzo meal, scallions, cumin, cayenne, and salt.

You’ll form the mixture into little patties and pan-fry them, turning once so you get crispy spinach exteriors.

My mom always served these with potato latkes when she was feeling ambitious in the kitchen. Fortunately for us, that was often. They work well as a side dish for steak, or if you’re like me, as a meal onto themselves. Because they’re green, and therefore healthy – or so I tell myself. Whatever they are, they’re surprisingly delicious.

Recipe: Israeli Spinach Fritters
adapted from Joan Nathan. serves 2-4 as entree, 4-6 as appetizer

1 lb spinach
2 eggs
1/4c scallion, sliced thin
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne
1 tsp salt
pepper to taste
1/3 c matzo meal
Grapeseed or vegetable oil, for pan-frying

Wash, drain, and saute spinach until wilted. Drain and chop roughly.

In a large bowl, stir together the remaining ingredients (except oil). Add chopped spinach and mix everything together well.

Heat a large cast-iron or saute pan over medium-high. Add oil to coat the bottom of the pan. When oil shimmers, drop in spinach balls. Around a tablespoon of mixture works well. Flip after bottom browns. Cook in batches, replenishing the oil as necessary. Drain on paper towels if desired. Eat hot and enjoy!

All photos are mine.

How To Make Potato Latkes Like a Jewish Grandma

In this post, we will learn how to make potato latkes like the Jewish grandmother you never had. In other words, I will show you how to enjoy delicious treats, minus the lectures, nagging, and guilt trips. What are potato latkes, you ask? Short answer: the best part of being Jewish. Long answer: kind of like a cross between hash browns and pancakes. They are crispy, delicious, and amazing. If you’ve never had them homemade, or never had them at all, now is the time to change that.

Here’s what you need:

The little pebbly bits in front are white peppercorns.

Now that you have the ingredients, let’s get started. Potato latkes consist of two parts: the potato/onion mixture, and the binder that holds the shredded potato into cakes. It’s best to start with the binder because when you’re done grating potatoes, you’ll be tired of prepping and eager to begin frying!

Crack the eggs into a bowl. Add matzo meal, salt, and pepper (be sure to grind it first!).

Whisk it all together with a fork until it looks like a loose dough. Next, it’s time to prepare your potatoes. First you peel them. Some people choose not to peel their potatoes. You definitely should. Potato skins are delicious, but not here; they’ll give your latkes an earthy, gritty taste.

The next step is to shred these bad boys! You could be lazy and use a food processor. However, this is simply not as awesome as doing it by hand with a box grater, which produces finer strands of potato and therefore better texture after frying. Be careful with the grating! Traditional Jewish latke recipes call for Jewish knuckle skin and Jewish blood. For this batch, we substituted Ecuadorian blood courtesy of my boyfriend’s thumb and they tasted fine. You, however, might not want to donate DNA to your own latkes. It’s a personal choice. Anyway, grate the peeled onion using the same holes on your box grater. No photos were obtained during this process as both of us were crying too hard.
When you’re finished grating, you need to combine the lemon juice, onion and potato with your binding mixture of egg and matzo meal. You could use a big wooden spoon, but I’d recommend to just use your hands. They’re going to get messy anyway. The mixture is going to get juicy as the salt hits the potatoes. That’s all right for now. Just make sure everything is well-blended.

Here’s where it gets fun. Dig out your biggest skillet and heat it up. On my stove, the best setting is a little bit over medium; that’s a good place to start if you’re new to this. You’re looking for heat that cooks the latke through without burning the outsides. After the skillet is good and hot, add oil; not too much, but make sure it covers the bottom. Once it’s shimmery, you’re ready to begin.
Grab a small handful of the latke mixture. By this point, things will be nice and wet in there. Squeeze as much liquid as you can from your handful of potatoes. It’s important to get the water out for two reasons. The first is your safety. If a wet latke hits your hot oil, it will splatter, creating a mess and potentially burning you in the face. Also, if it’s too wet, the latke will steam to a soft finish instead of frying up into a crispy and delicious disc.
At this point, you can feel free to pitch the of potato directly into the hot oil. If you want to get serious about your latkes, you can put a little bit of thought into the pancake you form them into. I love the contrast between soft, creamy interior and crispy exterior, so I make thicker potato discs for my latkes. Xavier loves super crispy latkes, so we make flatter ones for him. You can experiment to figure out what you prefer. No need to be too much of a perfectionist, though. Little strings of potato hanging off the sides of the latke will create delicious fried bits in the end – they are desirable!
Fry the potato cakes, letting each side turn a nice crispy brown before flipping.

I prefer to place my latkes on paper towels to blot off the extra oil, then sprinkle them with a final dash of salt.
Enjoy! You have now reaped all the benefits of having a Jewish grandmother, without the hassle.
I do this mostly by feel and sight, as you should eventually do too – cooking is an art, not a science! But learning how the proportions should feel is important, so here’s a recipe, loosely based on Joan Nathan’s:
Your Jewish Grandma’s Potato Latkes
serves 2-4, depending on how many you eat straight from the skillet

2 large eggs
1 large onion
1 lemon (juiced)
1/2 cup matzo meal
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper (I use white, you can use whatever you want)
4 large potatoes (Russet are best)
Oil for frying (Grapeseed, vegetable, and canola are my favorites)
In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Add salt, pepper, and matzo meal.
Peel and grate the potatoes and onion. Squeeze out excess water. Put in bowl, add lemon juice, then mix everything together.
Heat oil in frying pan over medium-high heat. Add balls of potato mixture to hot oil and fry until brown on both sides, turning as necessary.
Traditionally, these are served with applesauce or sour cream. I like them as is. Your choice.
Special thanks goes to Xavier for helping me with potato prep and photography! All photos are ours.