Archive | February, 2015

Homemade Nutella You Won’t Want to Throw Off a Roof

27 Feb

photo 2Back in the days when JetSet and I were young coeds, he had done something to annoy his roommates that I can’t now recall (though something along the lines of having done “too much Arabic homework” comes to mind–we were a particularly mal-adjusted group back then). One night when JetSet was off doing something productive while the rest of us just hung out, one of his roommates had had enough and wasn’t going to take it anymore, so he rushed to the kitchen, climbed up to the top cabinet and reached deep into the back-most corner, muttering something about how he was going to “really show [JetSet] this time.” Turns out, my dear brother had been secretly hording jars of nutella back there and eating them when he thought no one would know about it because, as he told us later, “nutella is just too good to share.” The roommate raised it up a la “The Circle of Life” and then discus-threw it off the fourth-story roof deck we were on. A moment of stunned silence came over us: did he really just mess with another man’s nutella?

Why do I share this strange story of totally unfounded angst and really sad nutella waste? Just to say that the Kefs have a long-standing love affair with nutella, so when I say that this sugar-free, dairy-free, vegan version of nutella is the business, I mean it. And also- how awesome does it make JetSet that when someone wanted to exact revenge on him they went straight for his hazelnut heart? That’s about as strong a character reference as I can imagine.

photo 1

One last plea before we get to the recipe: people seem to be calling these paleo-ish versions of nutella one of two things: notella or not-ella. Neither of these are particularly attractive or punny to me–can I make a vote for Filbertella? Hazelnuts are also called filberts (you can read the interesting provenance guesses here) and I just don’t think there’s a filbert on the planet who gets his rightful due. So now…without further ado… I present to you: FILBERTELLA!

Filbertella (or: SugarFree, Vegan, Paleo Nutella)


  • 1 c blanched hazelnuts
  • 1/2 c coconut milk
  • 1/4 c maple syrup
  • 1/4 c unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 TBS coconut oil
  • pinch of sea salt


1. Blache and shell your hazelnuts–here is an easy (but not super quick) method.

2. Put hazelnuts in food processor and blend until smooth (this took about 4 minutes for my machine).

3. Add remaining ingredients and blend until smooth.

4. Store in fridge. Filbertella will thicken in cold– you can microwave for about 15 seconds to thin out before serving.

The Best Nachos Ever (Hint: It’s the Fennel)

24 Feb

FlailKef and GingerKef host an annual Oscar party. I’m not much for the show, but the food is always awesome. This year, SummitKef swept everyone’s ballot by bringing these gorgonzola, fontina nachos with FENNEL and mint.

photo(2)I thought for sure that the mint would be the best supporting actor (clearly those two cheeses took top billing), but the fennel managed a major upset and got all the praise for the night. Do yourselves a favor: make sure House of Cards isn’t the only thing you’re binging on this Friday.

Gorgonzola, Fontina, Fennel & Mint Nachos


  • 8 oz. tortilla chips (preferably unsalted or lightly salted)
  • 10 oz. coarsely grated fontina (2-1/2 cups)
  • 5 oz. crumbled Gorgonzola (1 cup)
  • 2 tsp. fennel seeds
  • 2 Tbs. chopped fresh mint


1. Pour the tortilla chips onto a large rimmed baking sheet.

2. Sprinkle the chips evenly with both cheeses.

3. Crush the fennel seeds with a roller (or a mortar and pestle if you are channeling your inner apothecary). Sprinkle over the cheese.

4. Broil until the cheese is melted, 1 to 3 minutes. Garnish with the mint and serve hot from the baking sheet.

Admittedly-Ugly but Assuredly-Delicious Ginger Curry Cookies

23 Feb

It’s no secret: I don’t spend a lot of time on the photos of the food I make and post here. In my defense, I have gotten way better over the years (my early readers will remember the picture associated with these delicious brussels sprouts as the most egregious example), but I will never be a Pinterest princess. I mean really– who are these people who have time to cook something, stage a photo shoot, edit the images and THEN write a blog post? I am just not about that life.

When I pulled these ginger curry cookies out of the oven and realized that the probably wouldn’t garner 1,000 likes on Instagram, I didn’t sweat it. Sure, these little mamas are never going to win a beauty pageant, but I just love the only-a-tad sweet taste and shortbread-like texture. Ms. Congeniality all the way!

photo(1)If you’re using regular sugar, you may have more success than I did– I switched store-bought candied ginger with homemade pieces sweetened with coconut sugar, and those came out darker and less uniform than their pre-made brethren. But with nary a swimsuit contest in sight, I had no problem knocking back more than a few of these bite-sized treats. This recipe comes to us from our OCNY friend, Johnny Iuzzini, (whose oatmeal chocolate CHUNKERS totally deserved the strange punctuation) via MamaKef, who gave us all his cookbook for Christmas.

Ginger Curry Cookies


  • 10 TBS cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 large egg
  • Seeds from 1 vanilla bean
  • 1.5 c plus 1 TBS all-purpose flour (I used Cup4Cup for gluten free)
  • 0.75 c confectioners’ sugar (I used coconut sugar)
  • 1.5  tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp mild curry powder
  • 0.5 tsp kosher salt
  • extra sugar, for rolling
  • 2 large egg yolks, beaten
  • sea salt, for sprinkling
  • 24 one-inch slices crystallized ginger, halved crosswise (I made my own with fresh ginger and coconut sugar)


1. Using a standing mixer with paddle attachment, beat together the butter on medium-low speed until a thick paste forms (about 5 min), then add the egg and vanilla seeds. Mix until combined.

2. in a separate bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, ginger, and curry powder. Sprinkle the kosher salt over the top. Add the dry ingredients to the butter paste SLOWLY and mix on low speed until just combined.

3. Split the dough in half and place between 2 sheets of parchment paper. Shape each half into a thin log that is about 1.5-2 inches in diameter. Cover the log with parchment and using your hands to firm, smooth and form the dough into as perfect a cylinder as you can. Refrigerate until firm.

4. Preheat oven to 350F. Line 2 baking sheets with silicone mats or parchment paper.

5. Use 2 hands to round out any edges on the logs. Use a pastry brush to spread the beaten egg yolk on the surface of the unwrapped dough. Roll the dough in the sugar. Slice it into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Brush the surface of each cookie with beaten yolk, sprinkle a few flakes of Maldon salt on top, and press a piece of crystallized ginger into the center of each cookie.

6. Spread on cookie sheet about 1 inch apart from one another. Bake 15 -16 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through, until the edges are just beginning to turn golden. Cool on the pan for 10 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Nutella Brioche Flower, Bad Pictures, and a Frosty Valentine’s Weekend

19 Feb

Just in case anyone thought I was playing around, I made the most amazing treat over the weekend. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: Nutella Brioche Flower!photo(4)I fell in love with the idea of this when I saw it on Instagram (first, follow me @ChefKefiRN…then, search #FOODWINEWOMEN to be amazed at the stuff people come up with) and decided it would be the Valentine’s Day treat that I would bring to MrKef’s family on Staten Island. I found this recipe and knew within about 15 seconds that it was the one for me: it promised my kitchen would be filled with the “smell of lemon and nutella” (umm..yes, please!) and the woman who narrates the amazingly-instructional video does a dead-on Mrs. Potts and what’s better than cooking with Angela Lansbury, really?

Before you make any judgment as to your ability to make this bread, I implore you to watch the video–it really is not skills intensive at all, especially if you have a stand mixer with a dough hook!

Since this one is full of gluten and full of sugar, I did not taste it, but it got very positive feedback from those who did, and –as promised–the kitchen smelled really amazing. I am looking forward to making all kinds of iterations of this one–a FIG jam tsoureki flower, a s’mores flower, a peanut butter and jelly flower…. the possibilities are endless. I will try the next one with Cup4Cup to see how it fares as a gluten-free brioche (which seems about as oxymoronic as you can get, but a girl can dream).

Next on the docket: Valentine’s Day weekend. MrKef and I are not that into the holiday, but as it’s fallen around a long weekend for the last couple years, we usually try to do something out of the ordinary together. This year, we went up to New York to see our families, a play, and check out a fun hotel. But before all that, we ate our body weight in paella at Guardado‘s in Bethesda. They say the $35 served-still-steaming pallea feeds 2-3, but honestly I think 4 really hungry people would still struggle to make a dent in it! We went for the Valenciana and the Black varieties, as I will order pretty much anything with squid ink, and I highly recommend it.

photo 2(1) photo 1(1)

Moving right along from dimly-lit restaurant photos: frosty, blustery, freezing New York. Every time I go home, I think to myself, “Why don’t I live here?” and then I remember that it can be in single digits for days and days and I snap out of my NY nostalgia pretty quickly.

After a really lovely visit with MrKef’s family, we went to see Disgraced, which is an intense 90-minute play about Islamaphobia and assumptions in America (is anyone surprised that was our Vday pick? I don’t think so.). We both loved it and I would actually really like to go and see it again–lots of threads to tease out. In addition to being reasonably-timed, it is extremely reasonably priced because the Lyceum is such a big theater… and it has Josh Radnor from How I Met Your Mother and the woman who played Jimmy’s mom in Boardwalk Empire. So, really, go see it and we will unpack it all over coffee.

Following the play, we met up with JetSetKef and his FIANCEE, KimmieKef. They are being totally Amish about their engagement status (MamaKef says it still isn’t “official” until it’s on Facebook), so I am not even stressed that I am grinding JetSet’s gears by not taking the time to find the accented-capital E to correctly use the word fiancée above. QueijoKef joined us and we recreated this amazing evening. But first, we took a selfie:

photo 3Once all that fun was over, MrKef and I headed back to the VERY highly-recommended Paper Factory Hotel in Long Island City. Very hip, reasonably priced (on a Sunday night, anyway) and super close to the subway, we had a blast at this place–especially in the Mediterranean/Latin American fusion restaurant, Mundo (grape-leaf-wrapped halloumi and yucca fries, anyone?), and at the PINGPONG TABLE. Check out MrKef’s moves:

photo 2 photo 1Whew, that was a long one. Finally we come back full circle: the recipe!

Nutella Brioche Flower


  • 3c + 3TBS bread flour or all-purpose flour (I used all purpose)
  • 6 oz room-temp milk
  • 3 TBS sugar
  • 2 oz butter, melted
  • 2 room-temp eggs, beaten lightly
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp dried yeast
  • Nutella (I used about half a jar and it was a little too much) or whatever spread you’d like
  • 1 TBS milk + 1 TBS water (for glaze)


  1. Whisk together the yeast, sugar and milk. Set aside for 10 minutes.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, salt and lemon zest. Make a well in the center and add the butter, beaten eggs and yeast/milk mixture. Mix to a soft dough–if you’re using a standing mixer, just use the dough hook on med-low, otherwise just use your hands (this dough is not particularly sticky).
  3. Knead the dough for 10 minutes by hand or 4 minutes by mixer.  Shape dough into a ball and place in a lightly-greased bowl. Cover and leave in a warm place until the dough has about doubled in size (about an hour). I always use the microwave for this.
  4. Cut a circle 12″ in diameter out of parchment paper and place on a baking sheet. If you haven’t watched the instructional video here yet, do it while the dough is rising.
  5. After the dough has doubled, punch it down for any air bubbles and knead it for another 3-4 minutes by hand or 1 minute by mixer. Divide the dough into 4 pieces and form each piece into a ball.
  6. One at a time, roll out each ball  into a circle measuring about 10″ in diameter. The dough should be about 1/8″ thick. Do not be intimidated- this is a study dough and you can do this without very good pastry skills (like me!)
  7. Place the rolled-out dough onto the parchment circle and use a flat spatula or knife to spread an even layer of nutella, leaving a small border at the edge. It really doesn’t have to be a very thick layer, or the center of your flower will look a bit too nutella-heavy.
  8. Repeat with the remaining balls of dough but do NOT spread nutella on the top of the final layer.
  9. Leaving a small circle at the center, cut the dough in half, then quarters, then eighths, and finally sixteenths.
  10. Take a pair of adjacent segments. Lift and twist them away from each other through 180°. Lift and twist through 180° again, then twist through 90° so that the ends are vertical. Press the edges together firmly. Repeat this process for all pairs of segments.
  11. Cover with lightly-oiled plastic wrap and leave in a warm place for 1-2 hours. Preheat the oven to 360F.
  12. Mix together the water and milk. Brush the brioche with the glaze and then bake for 20-25 minutes, or until center begins to turn golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

Homemade Donuts (or: Paczki–the Perfect Snow Day Project)

17 Feb

If you are anything like me, about a week ago you hit the point where winter has you responding to anything–good news, bad news, no news– like this:


So while all y’all are enjoying a snow day and I’m trekking into the hospital, I’m reminding myself of those random perfect, sunny Tuesdays that I get off in May while everyone else is  chained to a desk doing the bidding of The Man in some soulless, windowless, 9-5 situation. In other news, we live in a beautiful world and winter is wonderful in its own way. Did y’all believe that? Me neither. #ComeOnSpring.

ANYWAY– it’s Fat Tuesday, which means one thing to MrKef, GrandmaKef, and large swaths of the Midwest: PACZKIS! I made this recipe a few years ago and am still amazed at how easy and fun it was to make donuts–the perfect snow day project!

Paczki Fit For a Polish Prince*


  • 2 c whole milk
  • 4 1/2 tsp instant yeast (2 Fleishmann’s envelopes)
  • 1/2 c PLUS 1 TBS sugar
  • 5 c all-purpose flour
  • 4 egg yolks PLUS one whole egg
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 c unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • A whole lot of canola oil, for frying (you will need at least enough to fill a wide, deep pot up to 2 inches)
  • 1 1/2 c berry jelly–try and find one that is smooth and without too many chunks to make filling easier
  • 1 c powdered sugar, for dusting

1. In a small saucepan heat milk to between 110 an 115°F. Pour warmed milk into a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Dissolve yeast in milk. Add one Tablespoon sugar and two cups of flour. Mix until consistency of pancake batter then cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot to allow yeast to activate. Let rest for 30 minutes or until starter is very bubbly.

2. In a medium bowl combine egg and yolks. Whisk until light and frothy, about 4 minutes. Whisk in 1/2 cup sugar, salt and vanilla.

3. Slowly stir cooled melted butter into yeast starter until combined. Then slowly incorporate egg mixture until just combined. Fit mixer with dough hook. Stir in flour, working 1/2 a cup in at a time until a soft dough comes together. Note: this dough is very sticky.

4. Spray a large bowl with cooking spray and transfer dough to bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise until double in size. About an hour.

5. Turn out dough on a very generously floured surface. Dust surface of dough with flour then punch down dough to about half an inch high. Using anything hard and round (I used an empty tomato sauce jar, a wine glass would also work), cut out doughnuts. Carefully transfer doughnut rounds to parchment lined baking sheets. Cover sheets with a clean dish towel and set in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.

6. Pour canola oil into a large dutch oven to a depth of 2 inches. Heat oil to 360°F. Once oil reaches the proper temperature use a heat resistant spatula or shallow strainer to carefully drop doughnuts in, one at a time, cooking a maximum of 3 at once. Cook doughnuts until a warm, deep brown on one side, then using heat resistance tongs turn the doughnut and cook the other side until it reaches the same degree of doneness. Remove from oil letting any excess oil drain off then transfer to a wire rack for cooling. Test your first doughnut to make sure that the insides are completely cooked, if not adjust your cooking time accordingly. Let doughnut cool.

7. Prepare a wide and shallow bowl with powdered sugar. Fill your pastry bag with your favorite preserves and fit the bag with a filling tip. Pipe filling into pączki then dip each side in powdered sugar until covered. (Chef Kefi, RN Editor’s Note: the filling was the messiest part for me–I ended up filling from the top to make this a big easier, but separate one or two paczkis for practice specimen!)

*A story for another time.

Wired Cycling- Cycling. Training. Seriously.

11 Feb

I’ve been on a pretty serious running hiatus lately–just before Christmas I had a little ache in my foot that went from “hmm, maybe this is the beginning of plantar fasciitis” to “IF YOU DO NOT TAKE THE PRESSURE OFF THIS PLANTAR FASCIITIS-RIDDEN FOOT RIGHT NOW IT WILL QUIT YOU FOR GOOD.” I’m back to feeling nearly 100% but, in the meantime, I’ve been logging some serious miles on the spinning bike.

So the other night I headed over to my old neighborhood (which was awesome well before it had an arch) to check out Leticia Long’s Wired Cycling studio. True to form, I got there with about 1 minute to spare so I got changed quickly in the ample, clean bathroom and stowed my stuff in a cubby. I was THRILLED to see these brand-spanking new FreeMotion bikes–I’ll fight someone in order to claim one of the two my gym keeps in its spinning room.

The studio itself is gigantic by spin room standards–no back splash of your neighbor’s sweat here. All the bikes are equipped with ANT+ computers, whose data is available to you both on the bike computer and on two giant screens that are displayed at the front of the studio. The data measures your rank in the class via RPM, Watts, and another metric called “energy” that I couldn’t quite figure out (calories maybe? who knows). I swore I wasn’t going to get all into the rank thing, but then I stayed in second place for the whole dang class and I just wanted to beat bike 15 so badly… but I might as well have been riding a huffy trying to chase Lance Armstrong right after a blood transfusion. Nothing doing.

To say I loved this class is a vast understatement. I try to take the info a bike computer provides to put together a challenging bike workout for myself, but Leti (as she’s known to the flock of regulars) makes an art form out of this. She put together 45 minutes of sprints, hills, and drills that really challenged me and was great at translating the why behind each portion’s place in the class and in a bigger training picture. There was no choreography or knee-killing “jump” drills, just the kind of researched, reasoned series that after about 10 minutes I knew was going to be the real deal.

Some other reasons to love everything about Wired:

  • Leti runs an 8-week winter training cycle of 2-hour classes on Sunday morning that is developed using real, live training science (I’m a sucker for evidence-based anything). If I ever don’t work 8 weekends in a row, I am ABSOLUTELY going to be enrolled in this.
  • Wired provides gel seats for people who want a great workout without the butt burn later.
  • The pricing is unreal. Your first class is $5 (!). Single classes are $15 (half of Soul Cycle, for what it’s worth). If you buy a 10-class pass, they are less than $12.50 a class.  Leticia also made a big point of telling a regular to buy a cheaper pass rather than pay the drop-in fee– my point is that this is a woman who’d rather provide a quality community of accessible fitness than make a gimmicky buck (ahem… Soul Cycle…).

I have only two cons, and they’re small ones– looks like all the classes are 45 minutes, and I usually prefer longer rides (though if they’re all 45 minutes like Leti’s Monday class, then it’s really a question of quality v quantity, and Leti wins) and my class was called a “HipHop/R&B Ride” but it was heavier on Chris Brown pop, who will just never make it to into my definition of either of those genres… but if you’re focusing on the music at Wired, you’re probably doing something wrong.

Anyway, I can’t wait to go back. Thanks so much to Leti and everyone at Wired for creating such an awesome space!

Further Proof that God Loves Us: Gluten-Free Spanakopita

10 Feb

Years and years ago, I watched this video of someone making gluten-free phyllo dough–truly, God’s work. Despite how easy he makes it look in the video, I have neither the patience nor the pastry skills required to roll out that dough into fine sheets and usually end up with a doughy mess.

Enter Emily, of Goldilocks Goodies. I first met Emily through a mutual friend at a birthday party, and later ran into her at an awesome gluten-free happy hour she organized for local businesses. The point here is that Emily is not only a giant in the local gluten-free scene; she’s also a big supporter of other women entrepreneurs, and that is just awesome.

ANYWAY, back to the life-changing product at hand. Right before Christmas, Emily teamed up with Kat from Baklava Couture (another DC-area woman who’s work is as awesome as it is enviable) to make gluten-free baklava, which earned enthusiastic approval from ChampagneOnlyKef. This got my little wheels turning, and I asked Emily if she would sell me a batch of gluten-free phyllo. Because she is the loveliest woman alive, she had a batch ready for me within a couple days.

For the first few days after I picked up the dough, I would just open the refrigerator and bask in the knowledge that I was staring at my heart’s fondest dream. I finally took this baby for a spin last night, and I am so excited to share the results!

photo(3) This dough is awesome. Though It is not the paper-thin phyllo gluten-eaters know and love, and doesn’t quite produce the signature flakiness of spanakopita, Emily has gotten us as close as humanly possible. I am sure of that. Eaten immediately from the oven, it has almost the taste/texture of very thin puff pastry dough (which is also really delicious but not really in the style of spanakopita). However, eaten the next morning it has EXACTLY the texture of next-morning spanakopita!

!!! !!! !!!! REAL NEXT-MORNING SPANAKOPITA GOODNESS !! !!! !!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

If I knew had to use emojis, I would totally add some Greek woman doing backflips to all that overpunctuation.  Seriously–those of you who have a 90-year-old Aunt Stella who cooks enough for an army every time you visit know all about the morning race to the breakfast table to snag the last piece of leftover spanakopita. And if you don’t, well… now you have a thirty-something Aunt Emily who can help simulate that experience. Thank you, Emily!

Gluten-Free Spanakopita


  • 4-5 sheets of gluten-free phyllo dough from Goldilocks Goodies
  • 3 TBS olive oil
  • 1/2 white onion, minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 leek (white part only), minced
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 4-5 c fresh spinach
  • 4-5 oz feta, crumbled
  • 1/4 c cooked rice


1. Preheat oven to 425F. Use olive oil to lightly grease a small casserole dish (I used a 10×6 glass one, or you could use more than one piece of dough for a layer to fit the dish you have) In a deep pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and saute until fragrant. Add garlic and leeks and saute 2-3 more minutes, until mixture is tender.

2. Add lemon zest and juice. Add spinach and cook until just wilted. Remove from heat. Add feta and stir until well combined.

3. Pour mixture into colander or strainer and press out as much liquid as possible.

4. Carefully place your first piece of dough in the pan. Put about a quarter of the spinach mixture on top of the dough and all of the rice. Spread evenly. Repeat for another 2-3 layers (just dough and spinach, no more rice). For the top layer, use two pieces of dough on top of each other to finish. Lightly grease the top of the pie with olive oil and slice as desired, going through only about half of the pie’s thickness.

5. Bake at 425 for 17-20 minutes, or until top is golden brown. Definitely let cool to let flavors come together–if possible, refrigerate overnight and enjoy the net day for that awesome leftover spanakopita taste.


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