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…

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…

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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!

“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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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!

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