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

Not Quite Christmas, But Close: Red & Green Peppers

If you ask for Christmas in New Mexico, nobody wil will think you’re asking for eggnog and presents. Everyone knows that “Christmas” means red and green chiles, together. Chiles and Pinto beans are New Mexico’s state vegetables, and green chiles – served roasted in the iconic green chile stew or in salsa, for example – are the real hallmark of the state. When your order Christmas, you’re asking for both green and red chiles, and once you’ve gone Christmas and realized you don’t have to choose between the smokey, hotter green chile or the more mild, pungent red, you will never go back to either-or.

The green and red peppers we got in our CSA last week aren’t quite chilis – these were mild, long green and red peppers – but I always think of year-round Christmas in New Mexico when I think about green and red peppers. I decided to fry the green peppers and serve them alongside a mustard aioli, and I roasted the red peppers for a roasted red pepper spread.

I coated the green peppers in salt before throwing them in a fry pan of hot oil. After frying them until slightly blackened, I removed them from the heat and sprinkled more salt on top. Once cool enough to eat, I dipped them in a lemony, mustard aioli. This appetizer also works well with Serrano Peppers.

For the roasted red pepper spread, I roasted the red peppers in the oven. You can char peppers over an open flame, but these peppers were so thin that I thought high heat (400 degrees) in the oven was the best route. After they had blacked, I carefully removed the skins and seeds, and threw them in a food processor. Mixed with a garlic glove, lemon juice, salt, olive oil and pine nuts, these roasted red peppers turned into a sweet and tangy spread that livened up sandwiches for a week and went really well with goat cheese and crackers. Merry-almost-Christmas.

For the recipe and what to cook next

Cashew Date Bars

I’m not a huge fan of eating on the go. I like to spend time with my food, which should be fairly obvious by the mere existence of this blog. All too often, however, I find myself grabbing and going, eating on the run or at best, shoving something down in front of the computer screen. Not one to comporomise on quality and taste – at least when I can help it – I’ve found some solid solutions to my eating-on-the-go habit. Sullivan Street Bakery makes a terrific zucchini and gruyere flatbread, and luckily we live in a city where a great slice of pizza is never more than a few blocks away, especially if you know where to look.

For a healthier option, fruit stands are a dime a dozen in this city, and make great use of the loose change in your purse or pocket. For a little more change, and a super-packed boost of vitamins, you can grab a freshly made fruit or vegetable juice. I’m also a big fan of bars – Luna, Kashi, Kind, you name it – but I know that the laundry list of ingredients in most energy bars makes them look an awful lot like candy bars and makes me wonder how processed is too processed.

So last week I tried making my own bars, for a healthy, on-the-go snack based on one of my favorite brands: Lara Bars. Whatever the flavor, Lara Bars all have very few ingredients – and all ones I can pronounce. One of my favorites is their Cashew Cookie, which is simply dates and cashews. It seems like I’m running with a trend here on my two ingredient recipes, and after making these bars, I can confidently say that two is not too few; it’s just right.

Making the bars was simple: I combined one cup of dates with one cup of cashews and a tablespoon of water in a food processor, and pulsed until the mixture was chunky. I had to give the mixture a little stir to get things going again, and when I did so, I decided to remove about 1/4 of the mix and set it aside. I then pulsed what was left until smooth, and combined the two parts with my hands, rolling everything into a ball. Next I flattened out the mixture into a long rectangle, smoothing it on the top and on the sides with a knife. I molded this into a loaf pan – although any square or rectangular pan will do here – and put it in the refrigerator to cool. After about 30 minutes, I cut the cashew-date mix into bars, and kept them in the fridge until I was ready to eat. They tasted great and made me feel much better about eating breakfast or a snack on the go all week!

Birthday Cake Truffles

Yesterday was a very important person’s birthday (my lovely boyfriend, Alex) so I wanted to make something really special and try something new. I made birthday cake truffles. Truffles spell special, and we are both huge fans of Momofuko Milk Bar’s Bday Cake Truffles, so I tried my hand at my own version of these compact confections of intense sweetness. Decadent and bite-sized, these birthday treats were a really fun take on the traditional birthday staple (cake, of course!).

Inspired by a guilty round of Pinterest scanning, I riffed off a no-bake recipe, including cake flour, regular flour, butter, sugar, vanilla and salt. This recipe called for a white chocolate coating on every truffle, but what’s a box of truffles without the variety? The element of surprise from picking a treat whose inside is a mystery?

So I made four varieties: each only slightly different than the next, but enough to capture the birthday/truffle surprise. I made white chocolate coated truffles, truffles with a layer of jam in the middle, truffles dusted in cake flour and more sprinkles, and – perhaps the best – the simple one with no frills: just the batter (and enough salt to cut the intense sweet!). Happy 26, Alex!

Farro Salad with Squash, Kale and Goat Cheese

Farro, a soft and nutty grain, is my new favorite fall ingredient. Somewhat high maintenance at first, farro can be difficult to find and requires a four to five hour bath before it’s to ready warm up. But once it’s soaked and simmered, farro is effortlessly appealing and has “comforting” written all over it. The subtly chewy, hearty texture is somewhere between wheat berries and pearled barley. It’s great on its own but also makes fabulous, substantial salads.

I’ve made this farro salad with squash, kale and goat cheese a few times already this fall, and each time I’m delighted with the outcome and pleasantly surprised at how well it keeps for left-overs. I’ve actually brought this dish to three, separate potlucks, and each time it’s been a real crowd-pleaser. It can be served warm or at room temperature, and goes well with a range of flavors, making it a perfect potluck offering.

After soaking and draining the grains, I cover the farro with about two to three inches of water, and let the water simmer on very low heat for about 60-75 minutes. Meanwhile, I’ll peel the squash and cube (or if I’m in a time-crunch, use pre-cut squash), and dice a medium onion. I mix the squash and onion together in a bowl with a tablespoon or so of olive oil, salt and pepper and throw on a baking sheet. The squash and onion cooks at 400 in the oven for about 30 minutes, and I make sure to push it around on the baking sheet every so often.

With the squash and onion mixture in the oven and the farro still on the stove, I’ll remove the stems from a bunch of kale, chop up the leaves, wash them and then blanch them for about one minute – just until the leaves turn bright green, so they’re tender but still retain some crunch. I’ve also been known to saute the kale with garlic in olive oil – and both methods turn out great. When the farro is soft but not too chewy, it’s as simple as mixing all the components together with roughly 3 tablespoons of walnut oil, more salt and pepper, and 2-3 tablespoons of fresh thyme. Adding chopped walnuts is optional (as is the walnut oil if allergies are a a concern). The final touch is crumbling a generous amount of goat cheese on top of the salad, and I never skimp on this, because it’s everyone’s favorite part. And there it is: an easy but unique, loveable fall salad.

For the recipe and what to cook next

A Simple Recipe for Chocolate Mousse

Chocolate mousse: elegant, airy, rich in flavor but light in texture, sophisticated but also simple. It’s one of my favorite desserts. I’m not really a fan of calling foods sexy, but if ever there was a sexy dessert, chocolate mousse would be it.

In honor of National Chocolate Mousse Day last week, I made a recipe I’ve been eyeing since I read it for the first time in the New York Times more than a month ago. Just in time for Valentine’s Day this year, Melissa Clark published a recipe for a “good and simple chocolate mousse.”

Clark’s recipe consists of only two ingredients: chocolate and fleur de sel (well three ingredients, if you count water). My version included another ingredient — whipped egg whites — but you can skip this step if you’re happy with the mousse’s consistency. The best part about this recipe is if you don’t get it quite right on the first attempt, you can try again without having to start again from scratch (don’t you wish all recipes were like that?).

The process is straightforward, and the result addictive. You place a tall bowl in an ice bath, melt bitter-sweet chocolate and water in a pot, pour the melted chocolate into the chilled bowl, and whisk for three to five minutes. If the chocolate hasn’t thickened enough by five minutes, you can return it to a low heat, add more chocolate and try again.

To make the mousse even fluffier, I added whipped egg whites to the whisked chocolate, folding soft peaks into the chocolate at the end. The mousse keeps in the refrigerator for a few days, but staying away from it that long is easier said than done.

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For the recipe

Easy Chocolate Mousse
(Adapted from Melissa Clark’s “Bitter-Sweet Chocolate Mousse With Fleur de Sel“)

12 ounces of bitter-sweet chocolate
1 cup of water
2 egg whites (eggs should be at room temperature)
Fleur de sel to taste

– Prepare an ice bath: Place ice cubes and cold water in a large bowl, and place a tall bowl in the ice water. (Make sure the bowl is tall enough, as the chocolate will splatter when you’re whisking it.)
– Pour the chocolate and one cup of water into a small pot and melt on medium heat, stirring consistently until smooth
– Pour the melted chocolate into the tall bowl and whisk vigorously for about five minutes minutes
– Whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks and fold them into the chocolate
– Pour the mousse into small bowls and sprinkle with fleur de sel
– Chill in the refrigerator for two hours or up to a few days

For more mousse recipes, see here. And check Sarah’s blog (her latest reviews on cheap rabbit hutchs & cages) – who teach me make this wonderful dish. 

A version of this originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

Watermelon Salad

Watermelon salads are all the rage these days. The watermelon-tomato-feta combo became increasingly popular over the last few summers, and this summer it seems to be dawning every food magazine and menu around. And why not? Watermelon is uniquely refreshing and makes a great side to everything from hot dogs and burgers to grilled chicken or fish. With its distinct flavor, watermelon tastes unlike anything else and its juicy composition and light, subtly grainy texture is equally singular.

While I enjoy the popularized tomato and watermelon combination, it’s not my first choice. I appreciate the acidic quality of a tomato to balance out the sweetness of the watermelon, but if the tomato is too sweet it loses the effect. I prefer the crunch of a cucumber instead of the commonly used tomato.

Last night I made a Watermelon, Cucumber and Mint salad with a Yogurt-Feta dressing. I added a touch of diced red onion and was liberal with the mint leaves- they really enhance both the watermelon and the feta topping, and round out the overall refreshing essence of the dish. The yogurt-feta dressing provides a welcome tang with the sweet watermelon, heightened with a squeeze of lemon juice. See below for this quick easy and healthy recipe.

For the recipe and what to cook next…

Hanging Onto Summer

Labor Day has come and gone. It is now September and summer is undeniably over. If you’re like me and you’re not ready to let go of long days, sandals and outdoor grilling; if you find yourself prematurely flipping through your summer photos and resisting putting your white pants away; and if you’re already nostalgic for salt, sand and sunshine, then you might find these summer recipes worth giving one last try, and you might like their variations, which will allow you to hang onto summer well into the winter.

Some Simple Summer Recipes
Corn Soup

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic; 1 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons salt; 2 teaspoons cumin,
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup carrots, thinly sliced; 1/2 cup celery, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
2 poblano chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded & diced (or jalapeno chiles)
3 1/2 – 4 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 1/2 cup water
8 ears shucked corn
1 roasted red pepper, peeled seeded and finely chopped
2 – 3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped

– cut corn kernels off ears of corn and set aside
– cut corn cubs in 3 pieces
– heat oil in heavy pot over moderately low heat and add garlic, stirring for a few minutes
– add onion, poblano chilies and cook, stirring occasionally until soft, about 4 minutes
– add cumin, coriander, salt and pepper and cook for 2 more minutes
– increase to moderate heat and add carrots and celery, and cook for about 5 minutes
– add 3/12 cups of stock, water and corn cobbs and bring to boil
– reduce heat and simmer, uncooked for about 15 minutes
– add all corn kernels EXCEPT 1 cup, which should be reserved for later
– allow soup to simmer, covered, until corn kernels are tender, about 15 minutes
– remove corn cobs and allow soup to cool
– when soup has cooled, puree the soup in batches in a blender until very smooth
– cook the 1 cup of reserved corn in a small saucepan of boiling water until tender – about 3 minutes
– drain and rins under cold water to stop from cooking further
– stir corn kernels into the soup
– add the chopped red pepper, cilantro and chipotle chili powder, and salt and pepper to taste
– can serve at room temperature or heat slightly if desired

 

Wheat Berry Salad

1 1/2 cups wheat berries
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup carrots, diced
1/4 cup red onion
1/4 cup scallion
3 tablespoons olive oil

– place wheat berries in a pot and submerge them in enough water to cover them by about 2 inches
– bring water to boil and let wheat berries cook until soft, for about 1 hour in uncovered pot
– drain and toss with dry ingredients, then oil and lemon juice


For more simple, summer recipes and winter substitutions.

(For pet lover, also check my friend’s blog reviewing on best outdoor cat shelter & house for garden space)

My Favorite Matzo Ball

What makes a good matzo ball? It’s an age-old question that has stood the test of time and the duration of many a Passover Seder. Should they be light and fluffy or dense and hefty? Should they be the size of a golf ball or a fist? Should they sink or swim? Should they flake and fall apart or stick together at the slice of a spoon?

Some say the key to a good matzo ball is using seltzer water, which makes them extra fluffy. Others swear by whipped egg whites to get that light-as-air consistency. Still others say the secret is using enough schmaltz, or chicken fat, and one Jewish food aficionado claims the best matzo balls on earth are made not with chicken fat but with goose fat. The techniques and opinions on what makes matzo balls great vary, but one thing that all matzo ball lovers can agree on is that their mother makes them best.

For all of us New York transplants who can’t enjoy our mothers’ matzo ball soup this Passover, luckily we’re in the right city. From Katz’s Delicatessen to 2nd Avenue Deli to Barney Greengrass, there is no shortage of great places to find matzo balls, just like your mother makes them.

My favorite matzo ball hails from Lobel’s, one of New York’s oldest butchers. A five-generation family business since 1840, Lobel’s is known for its high quality beef. The butcher shop has been located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan since 1954, and in 2009, Lobel’s debuted their now-famous steak sandwich, which has earned a dedicated following, at Yankee Stadium. Just last week, on Monday, March 18, Lobel’s expanded its reach once again with the opening of a second location in Manhattan, on Third Avenue at 61stStreet: Lobel’s Kitchen.

The new spot serves prepared foods — like rotisserie chicken, cheeses, smoked salmon and sandwiches — as well as raw meet. You’ll find their classic steak sandwich on the menu, along with their signature steak, the Wrangler — a cut that the Lobels patented themselves. Light and spacious, with floor to ceiling windows, Lobel’s Kitchen has a significantly different feeling than the original butcher shop — a compact space lined with wood paneling –but both are marked by the same dedication to high quality.

While beef is their main business, Lobel’s also makes a great matzo ball soup — an unexpected gem.

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The ingredients for the matzo balls are simple, but, as co-owner David Lobel says, “it’s the technique that makes all the difference in creating the perfect matzo ball.” The matzo balls are made with matzo meal, eggs, pepper, canola oil and a little chicken broth, and once they are shaped into large rounds, they’re carefully placed in boiling water, which is then reduced to a simmer. The key is treating them gently to avoid breakage. When they’re ready, they must be carefully removed from the boiling water and delicately spaced out on a sheet, far enough apart so that they don’t stick together.

The matzo balls are solid and don’t flake apart, but in the soup, the exterior soaks up some of the chicken broth so that they’re slightly soft on the outside but retain their texture on the inside. Pepper is the only discernible spice in the matzo balls, and it’s very subtle. I love the matzo balls for their simplicity, but mostly because they remind me of childhood. My family’s long been a fan of Lobel’s for their beef, chicken noodle soup and of course their matzo ball soup. It’s this taste of home that keeps me coming back, which is why I’ll be serving Lobel’s matzo ball soup tonight at my seder.

No matter how you like your matzo balls, matzo ball soup is the ultimate comfort food because it is first and foremost about family and tradition. It stands to reason, then, that Lobel’s, a five-generation family business, serves up some of the best matzo ball soup in New York City, and definitely my favorite (except for my mother’s, of course).

This post was originally posted on the Huffington Post. See here for more photos.

Artichoke Bruschetta

Eating out and ordering in are facts of life in New York City. The restaurants are too many and the hours between work and sleep and work again are too few to cook. And perhaps most importantly, our kitchens are just too small. Those of us who can’t give up cooking must cope with inches of counter space, miniature fridges, and cupboards that hold little more than a lone frying pan. We must become masters of improvisation and substitution: a pot makes a great mixing bowl, and a stepping stool an excellent cooling rack.

One of my favorite recipes that requires just one pan and a cutting board is Artichoke Bruschetta. Using only one receptacle and one surface, it’s doable in even the tiniest of kitchens, and all of the ingredients are available at almost any bodega in the city (let’s not get into the ordeal of grocery shopping in New York. Suffice it to say that your corner, or the next corner’s, bodega should carry everything you need for this recipe).

For the recipe and what to cook next…

The Compost Cookie

Lately, my ideal Sunday consists of sleeping in, reading the newspaper and magazines – preferably in print! – for a few hours, going on a long run, and devoting the afternoon or early evening to cooking something new and challenging. Inevitably there is work to do and there are errands to run, but I try to indulge in “me-time” for a few hours on Sunday, to decompress and get ready for the week. Of late, my “me-time” has been putting my amateur cooking skills to the test. Yesterday, I cracked open my brand new Momofuko Milk Bar cookbook, by the incredible Christina Tosi, and attempted the famous Compost Cookie.

With so many ingredients – chocolate chips, mini pretzels, potato chips and graham cracker crust (which you have to make from scratch before you make the cookie dough) to name a few – it took me almost as long to amass all of the components as it did to make the cookies. I am a long way off from mastering these artful, awesome mishmashes, but my first batch of Compost Cookies turned out pretty good. Spending a few solitary hours focusing on nothing but baking elaborate cookies, I think these Compost Cookies might have been just as fun to make as they are to eat.

A Deconstructed Dinner

The jury’s still out on how I feel about “deconstruction” as a fine dining trend, but as an easy, relaxing weeknight dinner technique, it’s perfect. What could be more relaxed than a deconstructed, well, anything? There’s no right way to deconstruct- so the pressure is off and you can have fun with whatever you’re making.

Tonight I was in the mood for an Avocado BLT, so while tomato season is still months away, I went with my whim and made a deconstructed avocado BLT: a fatty, smokey, seriously great BLT salad. To top it off, I whipped up a semi-homemade, deconstructed butterscotch cream pie with cinnamon graham cracker crust. Not only a relaxing Tuesday night- an indulgent one too. But that’s what Tuesdays are for, right?

To make the BLT salad, I tried two techniques I read about in Sam Sifton’s New York Times Magazinearitcle, “Smells Like Green Spirit,” where he describes a simple, green salad from Seattle’s Canlis as a “revelation.” First, I fried cubed squares of bread in bacon fat to make croutons. I love making homemade croutons, but I usually stick to olive oil when I toast the bread. Frying the bacon first, and then tossing the croutons in the grease was, to use Sifton’s term, a revelation indeed.

Next, I tried coddling an egg before making the dressing, as Sifton also describes in his article. Per his instructions, I poured boiling water over an egg in a coffee cup, let it sit for one minute and then removed and let it cool. Then I cracked the egg into a bowl of olive oil and lemon juice, and whisked to finish the dressing. The half-cooked egg made for a thicker dressing, which coated the greens, tomato and bacon-croutons really nicely. Finally, I crumbled the bacon and threw the cubed avocado onto this lemony concoction and as simple as that had my deconstructed A(vocado)-B(acon)-L(ettuce)-T(omato).

And while I was at it, I whisked up some instant butterscotch pudding, and crumbled Christina Tosi-inspired cinnamon graham cracker crust and homemade whipped cream on top for a deconstructed dessert. On a more ambitious night, homemade pudding would have been better, but this was relaxing deconstruction night where anything goes, and I went with the instant pudding in my cupboard. With the crumble and cream, you might never have known.

For the recipes and what to cook next

“Caesar” salad and sweet potato fries

One of my favorite meals is a caesar salad with a side of sweet potato fries. For some reason, this meal is settling to me — after a long day of traveling (or a long day of partying), if I’m out at a pub or — as of late — if I’m home and feel like making something fast, reliable, and for which I probably have most of the ingredients, in some variation or another.

I really like kale in a caesar salad — preferably black kale but any kale will do. So will iceberg lettuce. I’m partial to kale, however, because if it’s slightly steamed, it really holds the dressing well, which is, of course, the most important part! Depending on what I have around the house, I’ll cut up bread into big hunks, toss those in olive oil and pepper and toast them in a pan. Last night I actually had the perfect bruschetta toasts from a dinner earlier in the week, so I chopped those up and threw them in. Sometimes I’ll add strips of grilled chicken (that don’t need much, if any, seasoning, since the dressing will do the work), and sometimes I’ll throw a few anchovies on top. Finally, I always grate an excessive amount of parmesan cheese all over the salad.

I make a faux-caesar dressing because it’s fast, easy, delicious, and I usually already have all the ingrediants in my fridge. I start by mincing garlic, and mix that together in a blow with olive oil, lemon juice, and either some white or red vinegar. Depending on what I have or what I can find easily, I’ll either add anchovy paste, or the anchovy-infused olive oil from anchovies in a tin, and then I add a good amount of dijon mustard. I whisk all of these ingredients together, and when I’m just about ready to serve the salad, I add the egg and continue to whisk vigorously. Just before serving the salad, I pour the dressing on top and mix. The last step is grating a little more parmesan cheese on top.

Sweet potato fries are the perfect partner to this caesar, and the baked ones I make are not only easy, but they’re also pretty healthy. I peel and cut the sweet potato into long strips, lay them on a baking sheet, douse them in salt and drizzle them with olive oil, and stick them in the oven at 450 degrees. About 15 minutes in, I remove the baking sheet, sprinkle pepper and thyme on the fries, push them around on the pan, and stick them back in for 20-25 more minutes, or until crispy, but not burnt. Voila! An easy, not-too-unhealthy, and comforting dinner.

Chickpeas Recipes

Happy New Year!

‘Tis now the season to eat healthily. It’s January 1, and tomorrow is Monday, January 2, so naturally I should start my annual resolution to eat healthier (mine and everyone else’s) tomorrow. This makes sense, I swear.


In preparation for Week 1 of healthy eating, I made a few healthy snacks to keep me satiated for the next few days at work and at home.

I used one of my favorite foods – Chickpeas – as my central ingredient. I love chickpeas. I eat them raw in salads, stir-fried with zucchini and feta, and I could eat hummus for three meals a day.

For a crunchy, spicy snack, I found a great recipe for Roasted Spiced Chickpeas from one of my new favorite magazines, Whole Living. For my favorite staple, I made a traditional Hummus to eat with Celery and Carrot Sticks.

Twenty minutes of prep for a week’s safety net, which will keep me from reaching for that bag of chips or bar of chocolate, on the first week of a “year of healthy eating…”

Happy 2012!

Anise at All Hours: Anise Biscotti

A few weeks ago I wrote about my trials with anise- how my taste for that licorice flavor has developed over the years and how I’ve been experimenting with this distinct flavor in my baking and cooking. Biscotti is a hallmark in anise’s repertoire, and since I like nothing better than dunking a biscotti into my coffee or tea (or wine), I decided to try my hand at this traditional, Italian cookie.

I used a recipe from the king of American Italian cooking – Mario Batali – and it was much easier than I had anticipated. The key to making this biscotti is baking the dough twice: once for 20 minutes in a log shape, and then, after letting it cool for about 40 and slicing the dough into cookies, baking it again for another 20. The word “biscotti” actually comes from the Latin word “biscotus,” which means “twice-cooked/baked.”

The cookies should last about two weeks in an airtight container, but, if you’re like me and find pretty much any occasion the right one for a little biscotti dunk (as a quick breakfast, as an afternoon pick-me-up, or as a nightcap) these cookies may not last so long.

For Mario Batali’s biscotti recipe, see here.

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.