Spring Dinner: Seasonal Pizza and Salad

Endive, Radiccio, Arugula, Pecorino Salad
Asparagus, Leek, Goat Cheese, Prosciutto Pizza
Lemon Sorbet With Lemon-Thyme Syrup & Raspberries 

Spring weather has been gracing New York since February, and finally spring vegetables are here! Monday night I chose a few of the Springtime’s key offerings and put together a delicious and deceivingly simple dinner.

We started with a salad of endives, radiccio, arugula and pecorino. This salad involves nothing but slicing — the endives lengthwise, the radiccio in half and then lengthwise, and the pecorino thin — and tossing — the sliced endives, radiccio and pecorino with the arugula, the juice of a lemon, and a drizzle of olive oil. Salt and pepper and you’re done!

Next we had an asparagus, leek, goat cheese and prosciutto pizza. To make the pizza, I sliced one, whole leek – making use of both white and green – and sauteed half of it in olive oil for 12 minutes. Meanwhile, I broke off the ends of the asparagus spears and cut the edible parts in fourths.  I then stuck the quartered asparagus in the microwave for one minute to cook through a bit. While the leeks continued to cook, I worked on the salad. When the first half of the leeks were done, I removed them fromt he heat and set aside, and sauteed the next half in the same pan, but this time I added a shower of balsamic vinegar.  While this batch was cooking, I rolled my pizza dough out on a floured surface and finished the salad. By the time the second batch of leeks was done, I brushed the pizza dough with olive oil, spread all of the leeks onto the pizza, layered the asparagus on top, and sprinkled chunks of goat cheese all over the pizza. When the pizza had cooked for about 11 minutes in the oven, I removed it and added the prosciutto, and then cooked it for one more minute. So easy, so good!

A few hours prior, I had made a simple syrup with lemon and thyme that I would use to jazz up dessert.  I boiled 1/2 cup of water with 1/2 cup of sugar, and after all the sugar had disolved (about three minutes), I removed the syrup from the heat and added 2 tablespoons of fresh thyme from my thyme plants. I squeeze 1 tablespoon of lemon in and let the syrup sit for about 2 hours before straining, and pouring over lemon sorbet, topped with raspberries. Spring tastes good!

For the recipes and suggestions for what to cook next…

Pumpkin Muffins

If I had to sum up Fall in a food, it would be a Pumpkin Muffin. For as long as I can remember, my family has been baking this easy and delicious treat every time the air starts to cool and the leaves start to turn.

It usually takes us a few months to get our fill, so we’re still making them around the holidays. By New Years, we’ve had just about enough of these muffins, so we tuck away the recipe until next fall (and replace it, of course, with a pile of other baked goods like the Famous Spiegel Orange Cake or the one and only Spiegel Zucchini Bread. Stay tuned for next season).

Slightly sweet, my family’s Pumpkin Muffins make a great breakfast, and go well at the beginning or end of hearty dinner.


Pumpkin Muffins
(Makes 12 muffins. Or serves a familiar family for a few hours)

1 cup of pumpkin (mashed)
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of oil
1/2 cup of buttermilk
2 eggs
1 2/3 cup of flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice

– Preheat oven to 400 degrees
– Mix pumpkin, sugar and oil together and beat for one minute.
– Add the eggs, flour, baking soda and spices and mix well
– Pour into muffin tray
– Bake for about 20 minutes

For healthier variations:
– I often substitute some of the oil with non-fat, plain yogurt.
– I also often use whole wheat pastry flour, and find the best happy medium is using half whole wheat and half white flour.
– Finally, instead of using buttermilk, you can you use whole, two percent or skim milk.

End of the Summer Salads

The weather is officially cooling off and I’ve surrendered to fall, willingly. I’m ready for crisp air, sweaters, apples and foliage. I readily welcomed the opening of Ganso, a new ramen restaurant in Downtown Brooklyn, and found myself happily slurping noodles in steamy bowls of hot and spicy broth last night. I’ve planned a trip to Vermont next weekend to get my full, fall flavor on. But our CSA is helping me hang on to that summer feeling, delivering the end-of-the-summer bounty of corn, zucchini and squash, radishes and tomatoes. So, thankfully, I get a little bit of the best of both seasons, in this sometimes jarring, but more often lovely, transition from summer to fall.

Eating corn on the cob is such a treat in the summer (and it’s obviously quick and easy), so I love to eat corn that way for as long as I can. Variety being the spice of life, however, I also love corn soup and corn salads, with anything from avocado, peach and red onion, to black beans and tomatoes. Lately, I’ve been simmering corn kernels in a few cups of white wine with a generous amount of thyme for just a few minutes, draining the corn, tossing it with salt, pepper and sunflower seeds, and eating it as is or on top of a salad for an amazingly fast and desk-friendly dish. The corn tastes almost buttery with the white wine, and the thyme pairs perfectly with the acidic wine and sweet corn.

I’ve also been enjoying trying bok choy in different ways. I’m used to simply stir-frying this leafy, Chinese cabbage, but yesterday I tried it raw, tossed in a salad of julienned yellow squash, radish and cucumber, with a light vinaigrette of dijon mustard, lemon juice and a dab of light mayonnaise. It made a great side salad to some homemade turkey burgers, and a great lunch, topped with my white wine simmered corn!

For the recipes to these end of the summer salads and what to cook next

Lemon Yogurt Tea Cake

This lemon yogurt cake is the perfect partner for a hot pot of tea and a lazy afternoon, or the perfect tea party treat to share with friends. Made with all-purpose flour and half as much almond flour, the cake is thick and moist, but not at all dense. The zingy lemon of the icing brings out the subtle lemon flavor of the cake itself. It’s definitely one of my favorites!

The Slow Cooker Chronicles: Mediterranean Lamb

Yesterday I christened my slow cooker, my newest kitchen appliance and an instant best friend. I madeLamb Shanks with Lemon, Dill, and Feta, an easy and delicious recipe from Food & Wine.


Minimal preparation, plus five hours of slow-cooking at high heat, and the lamb shanks were so packed with flavor and so tender, that I might never cook anything outside the slow cooker again.
It’s perfect for a lazy Sunday when you can enjoy the aromas wafting from the pot – especially if you live in a pint-sized, New York City apartment and the aromas fill your entire home.

Along side the lamb, I served healthy and light sides to even out the rich flavors of the meat: Whole-Wheat Orzo tossed in Olive Oil and seasoned with Salt, Pepper and Oregano, and an Israeli Salad – my favorite.

The slow cooker will undoubtedly become a reliable companion for me as the winter encroaches on the joys and great tastes of summer fruits and vegetables, and outdoor grilling. Stay tuned for the next slow-cooked meal, and check out yesterday’s recipe here.

Homemade Granola

Homemade granola is one of those things that takes very little time and effort, but yields very worthwhile results. Making granola can be as simple as combining ingredients in a bowl, and then baking them on a baking sheet. The fun part comes when you get creative – or in my household, precise – with the ingredients you choose: any combination of oats, nuts, fruits, seeds, oils and sweeteners.

I started making granola because I was finding it very difficult to please a certain somebody with the granola I was buying at the store. It was either too sweet, too fruity, or contained too many ingredients. After disappointing Goldilocks too many times, I decided to try my hand at my own granola. It needed to have nuts (but not too many), only have a hint of sweetness, it could maybe have some dried fruit (but preferably not raisins) and seeds were ok, so long as they weren’t too small. And if I used cinnamon, it would have to be subtle, not overwhelming.

I ended up with a very quick, but very rewarding granola, made of rolled oats, chopped almonds, sunflower seeds, a hint of cinnamon, a larger pinch of ginger, dried cranberries, all tied together with honey. All it took was mixing all of ingredients, except for the cranberries, in a bowl, spreading the mixture out on a baking sheet, and baking it at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. I like trying various combinations, but this simple one seems to please every time.

For my latest batch, I used extra ginger powder and molasses instead of honey, for a somewhat winter-seasonal granola. I also added a handful of pecans and extra sunflower seeds, which I roasted separately, coated in more ginger, so that those clusters would be particularly zingy, but so that the whole granola wouldn’t be overwhelmed with ginger. It’s going fast!

For the recipe and other granola variations

Mad Men Party: Deviled Eggs & Onion Dip

In honor of the two-hour premier of Mad Men tonight, some friends and I are doing what everyone else is doing: gathering for a Mad Men party, with cocktails and era-appropriate snacks. It’s just too much fun to pass up. I couldn’t resist this perfect opportunity to make one of my favorite appetizers: deviled eggs. I also made a caramelized onion dip, which I’ll serve with whole-wheat pita chips.

I’m excited to get to the party and see what else is in store; and mostly I’m excited to see what Don, Peggy, Joan, Pete, Betty, Roger and Sally are up to! If you need a Mad Men-inspired snack for tonight’s premier, these two appetizers are simple to make and totally retro-fabulous.

Ina Garten’s Macacroni and Cheese (Or How I Won My Boyfriend Over)

If I didn’t win my lovely boyfriend over with my wit and my charm, I won him over with homemade macaroni and cheese. I made it once, and now I have to make it on a regular basis, otherwise my lovely boyfriend might not think I’m so lovely anymore! I kid. But he really, really likes it. Anyway, my favorite recipe belongs to the queen of the Hamptons herself: Ina Garten.  She has a classic recipe that you can modify to cook in a cast iron skillet instead of the oven, to save some time or if it’s just too hot to deal with the oven.

I cherish the few Barefoot Contessa‘s cookbooks that I own. Actually, I cherish all of the cookbooks I own. But Ina’s are special- they set a mood of summertime. Summertime filled with garden dinner parties, fresh squeezed lemonade, and beautiful friends dressed exclusively in white linen. Thank you, Ina, for bringing me summertime all year-round. (And thank you for helping me seal the deal with my lovely one.)
xo
Alison

Anise at All Hours: Fig Bars With Red Wine and Anise Seeds

As soon as I read this recipe in Food & Wine, I knew I had to try it. I love grown-up versions of childhood staples, and as I wrote in my last Anise post, I’ve recently discovered that my taste buds have grown up to like a little licorice flavor. So this adult fig newton recipe called my name.

I tried it one Saturday afternoon and was really pleased with the outcome. The boiled-down red wine and figs made a sweet and sophisticated syrup which, when processed, resulted in that familiar, fig-newton filling. The wine and the anise seeds brought new layers of flavor to the fig filling, initiating it into adulthood; it was, quite literally, bittersweet.

I’m definitely going to make these fig bars again. And onward with my adventures with anise! Stay tuned for another sweet treat (anise biscotti) and an anise-flavored cocktail.

For this fig bar recipe, see here.

Gingersnaps and a Christmas Tree

I was feeling under the weather last Saturday night, so I stayed in, turned on the Christmas tunes, and made Gingersnap cookies. With the sweet aroma of our newly bought Christmas tree mixing with the smell of ginger and cinnamon coming from the oven, our apartment literally reeked of Christmas. All week I’ve been eating these perfect cookies and catching wonderful whiffs of the tree, really revving my christmas engine.

Find the recipe for these classic Gingersnap Cookies below. They make great party favors or potluck offerings, layering neatly in a cookie tin and traveling well. They also stay fresh and delicious for a whole week if they last that long! They’re easy to bake, hard to screw up, chewy in the middle, a little crispy on the edges, and best when consumed alongside a fragrant Christmas tree. Happy holidays!

Gingersnap Cookies

(Makes approximately 24 cookies)

3/4 cup of butter

1 cup of sugar

1/4 cup of molasses

1 egg

2 cups sifted flour

1 teaspoon ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon cloves

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

– Cream butter and sugar

– Add molasses and unbeaten egg, and beat all together well

– Add all other ingredients and blend

– Roll balls of dough in sugar and bake on greased cookie sheet at 350 degrees: 10 minutes for chewy cookies, 12 minutes for crunchy cookies

Curried Crab and Apple Salad with Watermelon and Avocado

Watermelon salads have been on trend for a while now, and they don’t seem to be going out of style any time soon. There’s something so summer about watermelon – I can hardly think of a more refreshing fruit – which makes it the perfect ingredient in a seasonal salad each year when the temperatures rise and we start to crave all things crisp, sweet and juicy. Inspired by a recipe in Food and Wine for Curried Crab and Watermelon Salad with Arugula, I made my own watermelon salad Monday night with curried crab and apple, avocado and, of course, watermelon, over greens. It was simple but felt sophisticated. I served the salad with a lemon zest basil pesto over whole wheat orecchiette, topped with yellow cherry tomatoes for a wonderful summer dinner.

For the salad, I started by heating vegetable oil in a pan with curry powder and chopping a quarter of a granny smith apple into cubes. I cooked the apple in the oil until soft, for about five minutes, and then removed it from the heat and stuck it in the freezer to cool down quickly. Next I cubed watermelon and avocado and tossed that over some greens, which I had seasoned with salt, pepper and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. After about five minutes I removed the cubed apple, which had cooled enough, and tossed it with the crab meat. The crab and apple mixture went over the greens, watermelon and avocado, and an easy, elegant salad was ready.

Anise at All Hours: Blackberry Jam With Anise & Cloves

Do taste buds change as we get older? I can’t speak with any scientific authority, but from personal experience I can say that my taste for certain flavors has developed over the years, and my taste for other things have curbed. Whatever may be going on biologically, I imagine that isolating the biological forces from the societal ones (I’m sure I love coffee so much because I need to in order to function) would be tricky. In any case, over the years I’ve discovered a liking for things that I used to scrunch up my nose to. I discovered a love for olives, walnuts, plain yogurt and most recently, anise.

Anise is an herb with aromatic seed-like fruit, aniseseed, which tastes like licorice. It’s similar in flavor, but different than star anise. I was first introduced to anise when I went to India. I’d seen it in Indian restaurants – sitting in a dish to take on your way out after you had finished your meal – but I had never given it much thought, let alone tried it. When I was India, I was told it was good for digestion (somethingI heard a lot and came to love). I began taking a little bit, here and there, and the licorice flavor that I had always hated started to grow on me.

Years passed, and I never really sought out the flavor on my own. But last year, one of my friends got really into, and really good at, making jams, and she invited me over to make jam with her one afternoon. She had everything set up: we were making blackberry jam with star anise (yes, the star one, but still that licorice flavor), cloves and cinnamon. Jam really is the gift that keeps on giving. Granted, I’ve intentionally been savoring this delicious, homemade spread, but I still have some in my fridge after all this time. The anise flavor is subtle, and pairs really nicely with the tangy blackberries, the sugar and the spicy cloves and cinnamon. I love spreading it on lightly buttered toast. It makes breakfast taste special. And it inspired me to try anise at other times of the day. Stay tuned for an anise-flavored midday treat.

Apple Cider Caramels and Why I’m Smitten Too

Everybody is smitten with Smitten Kitchen, the gorgeous, wildly popular food blog, recently turned best-selling cookbook, from Deb Perelman. I’m no exception. Smitten Kitchen’s recipes are accessible, beautifully presented and oriented towards fresh produce. Confessional in tone, as Leslie Kaufman from the New York Times puts it, the blog is approachable, even for beginners. Perelman is self-taught and cooks in a real, New York-sized kitchen, which is encouraging to those of us who often have to pass on recipes for lack of counter space.

I haven’t gotten my hands on the cookbook yet, but at the end of October Perelman published on her blog what she says is her favorite recipe in the book: apple cider caramels. What could be more perfect for a holiday gift?

With list upon list holiday food gift suggestions, it’s hard to know where to start. I’ve seen some great ideas in Food & Wine this year, like these homemade mulling spice packets; HuffPost Taste put together some great ideas for longer-term projects; and there’s not overlooking Martha Stewart this time of year. I also love a good, old-fashioned pound cake as a gift, but this year I wanted to try something new — something I’ve never attempted before (which doesn’t really narrow it down, since I’m such a novice). When I read Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for apple cider caramels, and then found it it was one of her favorite recipes, I knew I had found the ticket.

They’re every bit as amazing as she describes. Melting butter and dissolving brown sugar into the spicy apple cider, reduced to a syrupy consistency, produces the most heavenly aroma. Wafting through my little apartment, the smell of cooking caramel was enough to make my mouth water. Be careful to heat the caramel to the correct temperature (if you want softer caramels, closer to 252 degrees; harder, a little hotter). In a Smitten Kitchen-style confession: the first time I attempted these caramels, the consistency was too runny because I didn’t get the temperature hot enough).  Find this fabulous recipe here. Happy Holidays!

A Hurricane’s Caramel Corn

With Hurricane Sandy raging outside our windows last night and the Internet recently down, I, like many, thought it would be a good occasion to try out some recipes. I’ve never made caramel popcorn, and it turns out it’s really easy (which may or may not be a good thing, since I’ll now be tempted to make it at the drop of a hat). Crunchy, salty, caramel goodness to keep us company as we hunkered.

The destruction is massive, the “region crippled,” and it’s not over yet. It’s no time for making light of the situation. But when life gives you popcorn (with nowhere to go, and a long list of movies you’ve been meaning to watch), make caramel corn. I hope everyone is as safe and sound as they can be!

For the recipe and what to cook next

Crunchy Caramel Corn
Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart

4 tablespoons butter, plus more for baking sheet
1/2 cup popcorn kernels, freshly popped
1 cup cashews, coarsely chopped (optional)
3/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
Coarse salt

– Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
– Butter a large rimmed baking sheet
– Place popcorn in a large bowl or keep in pot it was popped in
– Mix in cashews
– In a small saucepan, bring butter, sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 4 tablespoons water to a boil, stirring constantly.
– Once boiling, quickly, drizzle popcorn with sugar syrup and toss
– Spread popcorn evenly on prepared baking sheet.
– Bake, tossing occasionally, until golden and shiny, about 40 minutes.
– Let cool about 10 minutes

What to do with leftover caramel? Well, you didn’t put enough on the popcorn, first of all. But if you did make too much caramel, drizzle it over apple slices, ice cream or pancakes. I think I’m making pumpkin pancakes next!

Mussels With White Beans and Chorizo

On Monday night I tried out a recipe I’ve had my eye on for a while: mussels with white beans and chorizo from Food and Wine magazine. I had chorizo-style spicy smoked chicken sausage on hand (which I use often in pasta – it’s got a great chorizo flavor), so I used that, and added some chicken stock when I felt the mussels needed a little more liquid.

Other than those two, basic modifications, I followed the recipe closely and took the suggestions of commenters who recommended adding a little more than the called-for pinch of crushed red pepper. The broth turned out spicy, a bit acidic – thanks to the tomatoes – and hearty – thanks to the white beans. The smokey sausage took the fresh mussels, which tasted of the sea, to new heights. Served with a crusty baguette, this was a great, summery dinner, and one that I’ll look forward to making again.

For the recipe, see here.

Purple Rice & Stir-Fry

Everyone knows January is Holiday-Hangover month, where New Years resolutions to eat healthy abound. Everyone also knows that good intentions to improve one’s diet don’t always make it past the first month of the new year (or the first few hours, in my case. My blog posts from last January say it all: healthy chickpea recipes; followed by an indulgent, guacamole-filled trip to Tulum, Mexico; swooning over my favorite cupcake from Billy’s Bakery; all capped off by a Sunday afternoon baking Momofuko Milk Bar’sCompost Cookie.) Needless to say, it’s easy to slip back into old habits and let resolutions to eat healthier wait until next year.

It’s not all hopeless, however. One strategy that helps me follow my intention to eat healthier is making healthy food – cooking and eating it – interesting. If I can get excited about trying something new, be it challenging or easy, then eating healthily doesn’t feel quite like a punishment.

In my resolve to keep things interesting this year, I recently tried purple sticky rice as a substitute for the brown rice I typically use when making a vegetable stir-fry (one of my favorite, post-work dinners when I get home late). A new, wonderful friend in my life gave some to me to try, and I’m so grateful to her for introducing me to something new. Purple rice, originally grown in Thailand, is sticky and sweet and often used in desserts (no wonder I like it). Its chewy texture and vibrant color revitalized what was becoming a predictable dinner for me. I added the purple rice to sauteed shallot and garlic, and cooked it on low heat for about one minute before adding the water and letting the rice simmer for about 30 minutes.

I served the rice with a red pepper, snow pea and onion stir-fry, and a tofu and brocoli stir-fry, garnished with cilantro and shaved carrots. Now I’m excited to try purple rice in a lunch salad, and stay on track by keeping things interesting.

A Pretty Pound Cake (Makes a Perfect Present)

The holidays are upon us, and with them, endless opportunities to make and share holiday goodies. One of my favorite holiday gifts is pound cake. Everybody makes cookies (and no wonder! They’re delicious and can be made in all shapes, sizes and varieties, and they travel well). Pound cake makes an equally transportable and tasty treat, and it’s so easy to make that you can make multiple batches with minimal stress.

Traditional pound cakes are made with butter, sugar, flour and eggs. I love a classic lemon pound cake, from a lemon-yogurt to lemon-buttermilk. Citrus flavoring of any kind – lemon, orange, grapefruit, tangerine, or all of the above – perks up what could otherwise be a somewhat dull dessert. And with citrus in season, the holidays are a perfect time to make a citrusy pound cake. Last year this Lemon-Glazed Citrus-Yogurt Pound Cake from Food and Wine was my go-to holiday gift.

Yesterday I tried a new variation, using oil instead of butter, for a different citrus-scented pound cake:Orange Cardamom Yogurt Cake from Five & Spice, a lovely food blog. This cake was no exception to the easy-to-make/hard-to-screw-up rule of pound cakes, which, again, makes them ideal holiday presents or cakes for entertaining. The distinct, cardamom flavor — unlike anything else — heightens the zesty orange essence of the cake for an unmistakably unique, seasonal treat (and have I mentioned enough how easy it is to make?). See here for this effortless but entirely rewarding recipe.

I love cardamom so much that I would probably have added one more teaspoon of the spice to the wet batter, before mixing it in with the dry ingredients.  Whether you keep the cardamom subtle or go for a heavily seasoned loaf, this recipe will definitely be a one-of-kind crowd pleaser for all holiday parties and gifts. For my next pound cake, I’ll probably use my bundt pan, which makes cakes look beautiful on a holiday table, and sliced up on a plate. A cinnamon swirl pound cakes sounds pretty holiday-versatile and tempting, but I may also go for a full-on eggnog cake. I may stop short, however, before trying theMountain Dew variety (I am nonetheless intrigued!). Whatever I make next, it will ceratinly be hard to top this sweet and earthy, Orange Cardamom Yogurt Cake.

Bourbon-Glazed Sweet Potato Pound Cake

Adventures with a new cookbook: From a Southern Oven -The Savories, The Sweets, by Jean Anderson

I just got a new cookbook that will be perfect as the weather continues to cool down and my comfort-food cravings get serious. From a Southern Oven -The Savories, The Sweets, by Jean Anderson, is going to teach me the Southern secrets that make gratins and casseroles (the savories) and biscuits, corn bread and pie (the sweets) iconically American cuisine that makes even me feel patriotic.

The first recipe I tried was a Bourbon-Glazed Sweet Potato Pound Cake. Made with pecans and two sticks of butter (“no substitutions”), the batter is thick and the cake heavy. But the sweet potato and eggs keep it from being too dense. I served the cake with ice cream at a dinner party (read below for the full menu) and was secretly grateful to find leftovers after everyone went home. Leftover pound cake, in my opinion, also makes a great breakfast. (What do you think I’m nibbling with my tea right now as I write this blog post?) I’m really looking forward to exploring more Southern comfort food with this new cookbook. Cheddar biscuits may be next.

For the full dinner party menu and what to cook next

Cheese Plate with Pilsner beer flat crackers, grapes and sliced apple

Kale salad with pear, fennel, pecans and a French vinaigrette

Slow-cooked brisket (my mother’s classic recipe with ketchup and onion soup mix) with red wine gravy

Roasted small white potatoes

Roasted carrot, sweet potato and onion medley

Chickpea salad with tomato, cucumber, feta

Bourbon-glazed sweet potato pound cake with ice cream

And sometimes the best part of a dinner party is putting your feet up once everyone’s left, and indulging in left-overs for a few days. I mixed the kale salad with the potatoes for a great lunch yesterday, and made a grilled cheese with pear for dinner. Alex finished off the brisket with a serious left-over sandwich of brisket, brie and potatoes. And of course, left-over pound cake can be eaten at all hours, including at breakfast time.

Japanese Squash and Soba Noodle Soup

After a very difficult and stressful week, which resulted in trying to cope the wrong way — by eating very poorly — I needed something super healthy to start off this week. I’ve been meaning to try this recipe for Japanese Squash and Soba Noodle Soup from Martha Stewart Living since I read it in January, and since it’s still cold enough for hot soup, I jumped on this healthy recipe and tried it out last night. Healthy it was: built with a broth of kombu — dried seaweed — and bonito flakes, the two components of a Japanese sea stock called Dashi, with buckwheat noodels and vegetables cooked in the stock.

The flavor of the soup was a little weaker than I had hoped, but the instructions encourage adding soy sauce to taste, so I could have definitely added some more soy sauce for flavor. I wanted to stay away from a sodium-overdose, however, so I added some lower sodium white miso instead; the subtle flavor enhanced the soup a little bit, but the flavor was still modest. Whatever the soup lacked in flavor, it made up for with the range of textures: soft squash, nutty noodles, raw scallions and crunchy enoki mushrooms. I’m a big fan of adding something fresh and green to every meal, so at the very end, once the soup was ready to be served, I added another texture: a few leaves of baby spinach.

I served the soup with miso-sesame tofu and scallions, a quick, sweet and salty recipe that turned out great but didn’t photograph well (some food never does). Again, inspired by a Martha Stewart recipe for crispy sesame tofu, I pan fried firm tofu, coated in sesame seeds, but added a new twist by searing scallions in sesame oil, soy sauce and brown sugar in the pan first, before adding the tofu. When the tofu was almost finished, I added another handful of scallions. And now I have leftovers for a few healthy dinners to keep me in check this week (after, of course, I go out for old country Italian food in Queens tonight).

Zucchini Bread

The first thing I learned to bake was zucchini bread. My mother has been making it since I can remember, and growing up, my sister and I would try to help when we could (mostly to lick the bowl, but sometimes to do some mixing too). The first time I made it on my own I was very careful to follow the recipe exactly, leveling each measuring cup and not straying a pinch from the instructions. It was probably the last time I was so precise!

Today, I have trouble following recipes closely, mostly because I like to improvise. My zucchini bread has definitely fallen suit, having seen some great – and not so great – variation over the years. I’ve finally landed a variation of the original that I like best. See below for the original Spiegel recipe with my simple, optional modifications for this semi-sweet, all-purpose bread that makes a great breakfast, side or dessert.

A few key ingredients in this bread make it what it is. The zucchini, of course, is the defining ingredient. Shredded, it brings moisture and a binding property to the flour, sugar and eggs. The less expected crushed pineapple is the magic ingredient, however, packing the already moist bread with bursts of sweet, juicy, chunks of fruit. I like to use some of the pineapple juice in place of some sugar and oil, and I compensate for the lost heft of those two ingredients by adding some non-fat plain yogurt. I also like to use two thirds whole wheat flour and one third white flour, for added texture. However this zucchini bread is made, the combination of zucchini, crushed pineapple, and spices – nutmeg and cinnamon to be specific –  is the heart of this comforting, summer recipe.

I’ve impressed a lot of friends over the years with my zucchini bread, and have even made friends over it, having tricked all of them into believing that I’m a half-way decent baker. This bread is almost fail-safe, however, and with the years of practice I’ve had baking it, I should hope it tastes as good as it does!

For the recipe and what to cook next