Recipes from the Seasonal Chef’s Couples Cooking Class at Hilltop Hanover Farm


Hilltop Hanover in Yorktown Heights is more than just a farm. In addition to community supported shares and u-pick produce, the Hilltop calendar is full of environmental education events, cooking classes and helpful demonstrations for aspiring backyard farmers.

Recently I had the pleasure of attending a couples cooking class at Hilltop Hanover, taught by our own Small Bites Seasonal Chef blogger Maria Reina. My husband and I joined ten other couples in preparing a lovely meal made from seasonal ingredients that included an appetizer, soup, entree and a simple vegan chocolate pudding for dessert.seasonal chef Maria Reina cooking class

The cost of the class was $95 per couple, and we were able to bring our own wine to sip while we cooked (and chatted). Maria gave a short introduction to her planned menu, and each pair took their post at various stations. As any fans of the Seasonal Chef’s recipes each week might expect, every dish was light, healthy and made use of ingredients I don’t usually think to buy, like fresh sorrel and perch filets.

While I chopped away at sorrel, asparagus, onions and spinach for a leafy spring soup, others got to work on chickpeas for hummus. We snacked on the hummus and sliced vegetables and everyone worked together on stirring a big pot of creamy polenta, strained basil oil and drudged and sauteed perch, a special Maria picked up from her favorite fish shop: Port Chester Seafood.

After the soup was simmered and pureed, and the fish done cooking, we made our plates and finished the bottle of wine. The fish was garnished with a drizzle of basil oil and a few sweet roasted tomatoes that Maria prepared at home. As it turns out, her method for this is incredibly easy and those tomatoes are intensely flavorful. She recommends halving cherry tomatoes and sprinkling with salt, oil and a little sugar, then roasting for two to three hours at 250 degrees.

Below are some of the recipes from Maria Reina’s couples cooking class at Hilltop Hanover.

Missed it? There is another cooking class planned for May 16, taught by Krista Espinal, sous chef at Birdsall House in Peekskill. Go to for more information.

Creamy Hummus


  • 1¾ cups cooked, drained chickpeas (from a 15-ounce can)
  • 2 small cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • ½ cup tahini paste
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, or more to taste
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste
  • Approximately ¼ cup water


  1. 1. Peel your chickpeas. Take a chickpea between your thumb and next two fingers, arranging the pointy end in towards your palm, and “pop!” the naked chickpea out. Discard the skin.
  2. 2. In a food processor, break up the garlic for about 30 seconds. Add the chick peas and blend until powdery clumps form, about a minute, scraping down the sides.
  3. 3. Add the tahini, lemon juice, and salt and blend until pureed. Scrape down the sides.
  4. 4. With the machine running, drizzle in water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until you get very smooth, light and creamy mixture. You will need about 4 tablespoons for this volume, but could need slightly more or less.
  5. 5. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more salt or lemon if needed.
  6. Transfer the hummus to a bowl and rest it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, or longer if possible.

Sorrel Soup with Spring Vegetables and Mint

Yield: Serves 6-8

This soup also works well with mustard greens using a garnish to feta cheese. Adapted from Love Soup by Anna Thomas.


  • Olive oil
  • 2 large yellow onions, chopped, about 2 cups
  • Kosher salt
  • 8 oz sorrel
  • 6 oz spinach
  • 4 scallions, white and green parts
  • ¾ cup packed mint leaves
  • 8 oz fennel, about ¼ cups
  • 8 oz asparagus, about 2 cups
  • 3 tablespoons Arborio rice
  • 3 cups vegetable broth
  • 3 cups water
  • Ground black pepper
  • Queso Fresco, garnish
  • Toasted pine nuts, garnish


  1. 1. In a large soup pot cook the onions with a pinch of salt on low for about 15 minutes until caramelized.
  2. 2. While the onions cook prep the greens and vegetables: Coarsely chop the sorrel, spinach and scallions. Trim and thinly slice the fennel. Cut off the tough ends of the asparagus and chop in 2” pieces. Pick the leaves off the mint stems and set aside separately.
  3. 3. Combine all the greens, except the mint, in a pot with the water, broth, 1 teaspoon of salt and the rice. Bring to a boil lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
  4. 4. Turn off the heat and add the mint, allowing the soup to cool for 5 minutes.
  5. 5. Puree with an immersion blender or traditional blender, until smooth.
  6. 6. Season with salt and ground black pepper. Serve with a little crumbled cheese and pin nuts.

Sautéed Lake Perch


  • 1 cup Wondra flour
  • ½ cup fine grind cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • ½ cup clarified butter
  • 4 fresh, skinned lake perch


  1. 1. Mix the Wondra and cornmeal (or flour), paprika, and salt together and set aside.
  2. 2. Heat butter in a large saute pan.
  3. 3. In a small bowl, blend the egg and the half-and-half.
  4. 4. Dip perch fillets in egg wash first and then into the flour mixture.

Almost Instant Chocolate Pudding

Yield: 4-6 servings


  • 1½ cups unsweetened almond milk
  • 12 almond milk ice cubes (see note)
  • ½ cup chia seeds
  • 10 pitted Medjool dates
  • 4-6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (see note)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, to taste
  • Pinch fine grain sea salt or pink Himalayan sea salt


  1. 1. Fill an ice cube tray with almond milk. Freeze until solid.
  2. 2. Add all the ingredients and blend on the highest speed until super smooth. Enjoy immediately or chill in the fridge where it will thicken up even more.


Add the cocoa powder slowly to taste. Some brands will be more pungent than others.

You will want about 1½ of almond milk ice cubes added to the pudding. For my tray, this equaled 12 cubes.

You can skip the almond milk ice cubes and simply add the almond milk. Chill in the fridge the old-fashioned way.

If your dates are firm, I suggest soaking them in hot water for at least 30 minutes before you begin. Drain well.

To turn this into a chocolate "frosty" add more ice cubes to make it super icy.

To make this nut-free, use a nut-free non-dairy milk of your choice.

If you don’t have a high speed blender like a Vita-Mix, pulse the chia seeds in a coffee or spice grinder first, and then follow the recipe.



About Author

Megan McCaffrey is a food writer for The Journal News and contributor to the Small Bites Blog. She has a degree in Digital Media from Fordham University and a fondness for good craft beer. She loves to bake, read cooking blogs and taste all the Lower Hudson Valley has to offer. Megan lives in Ridgefield, Connecticut with her husband and three kids.

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