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Laura Frankel, contributing blogger

Laura Frankel is the former chef and founder of the Shallots restaurants. She has training and extensive experience in both savory and pastry kitchens. After starting a family, she began maintaining a kosher home and found that there was nowhere in Chicago serving the quality of food that she knew she could offer. She opened her first restaurant in 1999 offering kosher fine dining with a produce-driven menu. She opened Shallots NY in 2000 in Mid-town Manhattan. In 2004, she moved her Chicago restaurant to Skokie and created Shallots Bistro.

Laura is the author of JEWISH COOKING FOR ALL SEASONS and JEWISH SLOW COOKER RECIPES. An avid farmer’s market and Green market supporter, Laura gives demos, teaches classes using market produce and gives shopping tours to local groups in Chicago at the famed Green City Market.

Laura is currently the Executive Chef for Wolfgang Puck Kosher Catering at the Spertus Institute for Jewish studies in Chicago Her website is www.cheflauraskosher.com. Before committing herself to her culinary passion, she played both alto and baritone saxophones. She taught and played professionally. Laura has three children—Zachary, 21, Ari, 19, and Jonah, 15—who all love to cook and eat great food!

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I think the concept that best explains how I think about food is the notion of Cucina Povera. This Tuscan concept is one born out of humble and peasant ingredients both afforded in the region of Italy and grown locally. The phrase Cucina Povera means "poor kitchen." The idea is almost more of a technique and way of thinking rather than just a bare cupboard.

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It is hard not to feel festive this time of year with all of the shining lights, decorations, and a general feeling of goodwill toward everyone. It is my favorite time of year. I love the brisk—chilly air and broody—moody sky that December brings. I also love Chanukah.

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Imagine soft candle light, beautiful music, crisp-refreshing martinis, crackling skinned chicken with the fragrance of rosemary and lemon perfuming the air and deep dark chocolate mousse. Your favorite restaurant? No. This is your home kitchen with you at the helm.

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Often lovingly referred to as the “other food group,” chocolate has become an obsession, inspiring everything from recipes, stories, cravings and a host of products from funky-flavored chocolate bars to bubble bath.

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Fridays are frenetic, frantic and leave me frizzled! I run around like a maniac so that I can rush home to make an elaborate dinner for my family and friends. I don’t usually question if I could be doing a better job of “doing a Friday,” I just accept it and run around trying to make it all happen.

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One sure sign that spring has sprung is the plethora of Passover products that start appearing on grocery store shelves. Each year I look forward to checking out what new foodstuffs were invented. Usually these products are meant to counterfeit their non-Passover counterparts. Each year I hold my own personal contest to see what the strangest and most Pesadich-y thing will be.

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I think we are supposed to end Passover feeling unburdened and brand new. I feel neither. Do not get me wrong—I had a great Pesach. The weather was amazing for Chicago in March/early April and we were able to get outside and take walks. We ate great food and enjoyed some fun family time. But I have this nagging feeling that I did not do the holiday the way I should have.

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This is the first time in many years that I do not have to work on Mother’s Day—woohoo! I have been excited for months. I kept cautiously checking the calendar at work, each time confirming with myself that “no one books an event on Mother’s Day.”

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I grew up in a very adventurous household. I did not know it at the time, but we were really different from other families. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and from all outward appearances we were probably very typical. My father was a pretty average suburban dad with one eccentricity—he liked to travel the world with food.

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I recently spent several days in Boston with my son Ari who is a student at MIT (much Jewish mother kvelling). Boston is an easily maneuverable city, unlike Chicago, LA or New York. You can get from point A to point B without much cab fare, train time or stress.

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When the heat is on and you cannot bear the thought of turning on the oven, keep cool with refreshing gazpacho. Gazpacho originated in Spain as an afternoon snack. The true Andalusia version has almonds, bread, grapes, olive oil, vinegar and salt.

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Classic food pairings are like best friends. Meat and potatoes, spaghetti and meatballs, red beans and rice, chocolate and raspberries, tomatoes and basil…I could go on forever. These classic combos enhance and play off each other on your palate often teasing you into wanting more. Ah, tongue titillating bliss.

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Rosh Hashanah celebrates the creation of the world and is a time for reflection and self evaluation. It is also a time for families and friends to gather and enjoy elaborate meals.

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Every year I have a love affair with autumn. The crisp air, colorful leaves, moody sky and my favorite produce filling the markets give me an incredible sense of well being. I also love Sukkoth. I like the whole premise of the holiday with harvests and ingathering, but mostly I like the fact that this is a holiday that does not tell me what to eat, only where to eat it.


I went to help a friend make Roasted Butternut Squash Soup last week. She is always saying how much she loves the soup, but can’t seem to make it without all sorts of battle wounds and horror stories.

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I love Thanksgiving. It is the most American of all holidays. As a Jew, I especially love the holiday—it’s the only time where I can eat a big fancy dinner, pile into the car and go visit friends or just drive around and look at the holiday lights.


I admit to being somewhat of a gastronomic and a culinary discontent. I like to push the envelope and play with an idea or recipe and then move on and do it all over again. The same applies to holiday menus. I love the rituals of the Jewish holidays and the foods, but I do not like the routine recipes that often accompany those dishes. This Chanukah I am thinking outside the box and mixing it up a bit.

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Forget the turkey, goose or other roasted items gracing the holiday table. We Jews have our own tradition for festive meals on Christmas; Chinese food! The history of Jews eating Chinese food on Christmas comes from the late 1800’s when Chinese restaurants were typically the only places open on Christmas (many Chinese are Buddhist) and welcomed Jews who were looking for an outing on the Christian holiday.

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Tu B’Shvat is next week and is the perfect day to reflect on how we might better take care of the earth and its resources. Though the holiday has changed throughout the centuries, Tu B’Shvat can be a day to celebrate the unique partnership between man and nature. It appears that now more than ever we need to be more conscious of everything we do and how it affects the planet.

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The food trend list is not nearly as exciting as the list of movies up for awards, but for those of us in the business and those of us who LOVE to eat— this is important stuff. Here goes foodies— the list for 2011!

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Often lovingly referred to as the “other food group,” chocolate has found its way into our daily lives. Inspiring everything from recipes, stories, cravings and a host of products from funky-flavored chocolate bars to bubble bath— chocolate is an obsession.

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I’m not sure how campers are called to meal time these days. I know most of the kids do not wear watches (they all have cell phones with which they check the time), so I’m not sure of how CHOW TIME is announced.

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It was barely Purim and my phone was ringing off the hook with friends and clients asking questions regarding Passover. What am I making? Will I share recipes? Can I come over and cook for them? Will I come over for a meal (I especially love that one)?

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In celebration of the Royal Wedding, I offer a true Jewish recipe. A trip to London or anywhere in the UK cannot be complete without a pint of beer and a platter of fish and chips.

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Strawberries are my favorite fruit. They are available all year round, but are really only in season in the North and Midwest in May and June.

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It is full blown wedding season and nervous brides and grooms all over the world are tying the knot. Many more are planning nuptials and are making themselves, their families and friends absolutely crazy.

Taste of Chicago, Jewish style photo_th

I have to drive past the Taste of Chicago everyday on my way to Spertus. While I am glad that the taste brings business to Chicago and that vendors have an opportunity to lure locals and tourists with their tasty fare, I have to wonder, what does the taste have for a Jew?

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Every summer when my kids were young, I spent months gathering supplies for my kids to take to camp. In the early years, I actually ironed name labels in all of their clothing and painstakingly labeled all of their sunscreens, bug sprays, flashlights and other camp necessities.

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The market stalls are bursting with produce. It seems as though everywhere I turn there is an abundance of riotously colored vegetables and fruit. The possibilities seem endless—so much food, so little time.

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My son Jonah likes to remind me of my age. He pokes fun at my stories of summer vacations spent running through sprinklers, jumping rope, washing my parent’s cars, and playing hide and seek. He seems entertained when I talk about homework done the old fashioned way, by hand, and when I tell him that I distinctly remember the first time I ate a kiwi.

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Corn smut, Mexican Truffles, Fungus, blight…Call it what you will, huitlacoche is just plain delicious. The fungus spores infect the corn plant much the same way a mushroom spore infects wood.

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Just when you thought you had run out of ideas about what to make for dinner, when you thought you had tried every chicken dish on the planet and you could not possibly face another stir fry, along comes not one, but two, kosher cooking magazines.

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This is my second year as the Turkey Talk expert and I could not be more excited. I have to admit that after the glamour of last year’s Turkey Talk (I had solved all of last year’s frenzy of turkey troubles), I went through a period of withdrawal.

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Each year I eagerly anticipate the proclamation of the New Year’s eating trends. This is a big deal for me as I always like to be up on what is going on in the culinary world. And just like anyone looking to purchase new clothing waits to see what the new “black” is this year, I, as a chef, am looking for direction.

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The New Year for trees is a great time of year to remind ourselves of the importance of eating locally and in season.

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While it is hard not to think of the current political climate when thinking of Iran, Persia was once the center of the spice trade for the ancient world. Animals, textiles, metals, gems and foodstuffs all passed through its ports. Ancient Persia was quite the cosmopolitan empire with influences from India, Egypt, Syria and more.

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I know many home cooks who make elaborate Passover meals for an insane number of family members, friends, and those in their community who do not have their own seders or Shabbat Passover dinners. These cooks create meals that feature course upon course of delicious and complicated food ornately displayed on platters with garnishes garnishing the garnishes.

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The secret to good guacamole is simple: the ingredients should be ripe and really fresh, and each bite or scoopful should burst with flavor. This means no powdered garlic allowed and lots of tasting, to make sure the flavors are well balanced.

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Jews have had a long tempestuous relationship with garlic. The Talmud suggests that men eat garlic on the Sabbath because Friday was the night devoted to conjugal love. This testimonial from Ezra the Scribe: “garlic promotes love and arouses desire."

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We all know that chocolate can bring out the glint in a lover’s eye and that the smooth creamy and sensuous Aztec treat is even good for you, with all of its anti-oxidants and flavonoids, but how do you share the sumptuous chocolaty pleasure when it is blazing hot? There is nothing romantic about a box of melted chocolates.

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Rosh Hashanah is my favorite holiday for so many reasons. Each year for the holidays families and friends often gather together to share meals. After the candles are lit and blessing are recited we enjoy a beautiful service called Yehi Ratzon, which means "May it be Your Will." This service is one of the most special parts of the holiday for me. Most of prayers during the holidays take place in the synagogue. This symbolic and fun service takes place in the home, around the table with family and friends.

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Jonah is the last of my three boys/men to go off to college. I started worrying and grieving about two years ago. The thought of an empty nest terrified me. But, two years is a long time, I told myself, and I put off thinking about it. Sure, the reality crept in every now and then as I watched him tower over me and mature, but denial is a powerful thing to a mother.

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I was recently surprised to hear a friend tell me that she does not celebrate Thanksgiving. We were schmoozing over coffee and I asked about her plans for the day. She ticked off the usual expected items like: sleeping late, eating breakfast in pajamas, watching football, etc. I did not hear any mention of turkey or family and friends coming over. So I mentioned it. “Oh, I don’t celebrate Thanksgiving,” she said.

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This year to commemorate Chanukah, I am breaking out of my usual latke habit and shaking things up a bit with savory and sweet fritters. Fritters are defined as a wide variety of fried foods, usually consisting of a portion of batter or breading which has been filled with bits of meat, seafood, fruit, or other ingredients. Sounds good, right?

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I love winter's crisp, cold air and the way the sunlight casts shadows. I enjoy the long dark nights and I especially love to cook during the winter months. I hunker down in my kitchens and bring long cooked soups and stews together with aromatic herbs, dried mushrooms and root vegetables.

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Instead of the usual box of chocolates and the cliché soufflés and cakes, give your heart's desire a gift that is from your heart and good for theirs.

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Passover is a holiday filled with tradition. Families gather, familiar recipes are brought out from generation’s old cookbooks, and family favorites are brought alive in the kitchen. I remember learning how to make some Passover “classics” and was reading a recipe for matzoh balls and when I asked about chicken fat, I was told that no one does that anymore, “we use vegetable oil.” The problem with that is that the vegetable oil for Passover is cottonseed oil.

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Spring has sprung in Chicago. Buckingham Fountain was turned on this week and the city is alive with buds budding and blossoms blossoming. Green City Market opens next week and I am beyond excited!

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It is high summer now and the heat is on. This delicious dish is quick, easy and needs only one pot. My favorite artichoke dish is a perfect summer side dish or salad. The artichokes are braised in fruity olive oil, white wine and lots of lemon. I add a small spicy chili to braising liquid to add a bit of kick to the dish.

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Before you start preparing your favorite chicken soup, brisket with all the trimmings and other standard Rosh Hashanah fare you might want to check the calendar. It is still SUMMER and still hot!

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December is usually one of my favorite times of the year. Crisp-blustery air, twinkling lights, and everyone in a good mood. There are parties, excitement, tempting sales at the mall, and an air of anticipation.

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Ever walk by the fish counter and see the whole fish sitting there in the case and wonder what do you do with that? Wish you could pull off a big “ta-dah?” Like Indian flavors and tired of going out for them? This dish is for you!

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I have fun and delicious recipes to help you celebrate Purim and fulfill the mitzvot. My brittle with delicious pistachios and sea salt makes a fun gift or treat for your mishloach manot (Purim baskets) or your own celebration.

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Polar vortexes and mountains of snow be damned, full speed ahead to spring and the holiday! We Chicagoans have been through a lot and we deserve a delicious and full flavored Passover. My theme for all the food this year is CLEAN recipes. No hidden ingredients and no faux or ersatz substitutes. Just pure, scrumptious flavors.

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When I had my restaurant in New York, I would take a break outside on 55th street and Madison Avenue. I watched, day after day, 2 hot dogs carts at lunch time. One cart was a kosher cart and one was not. I saw long lines form at the kosher cart as people would wait traffic light changes just to get to the kosher cart.

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Who doesn’t love that first smear of honey dripping slowly off a crisp apple slice? Well, this year I am saying, ‘Put down the Honey Bear and try the honey from Israel.’ I am not talking about honey from bees; I am referring to Silan or date-honey.

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I want Chanukah this year to be a WOW! I am potato-ed out and frankly the thought of another sweet potato latke is as about as exciting as last year's Thanksgivukkah. HO-HUM!

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We Jews love our food memories. We have our stand-by recipes that remind us of holidays, family, good times, and bad. And horseradish—maror in Hebrew—is one of those foods. I can’t even look at the root vegetable without the familiar smell taking me to Passover.

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Short days and crisp nights herald the holiday season. I am always excited this time of year. The lighter fare of the summer is over and I crave heartier flavors.

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Every year, friends and family gather to celebrate the miracle of an event that happened in ancient times. After the Maccabian revolt, there was only enough oil in the temple to last one day. Miraculously, it lasted eight. All around the world, Jews gather to celebrate the holiday for eight days. We also gather to eat, for what would a Jewish holiday be without food?



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