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

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…

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…

“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.

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!

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…

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!

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.

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.

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!

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

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.

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.

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