Saturday, December 31, 2011

Panna Cotta with Pomegranate Molasses


Tonight for our last meal of 2011, there will be fresh pasta with lobster tail, garlic, olive oil, a little white wine and fresh parsley.  For dessert we'll have a pillowy-light, barely sweet (but intensely creamy) panna cotta with a drizzle of tangy pomegranate molasses.


Then we will linger at the dinner table as the last hours of 2011 slip away.


Sipping a fruity vin santo, cracking nuts, letting a piece of special dark chocolate melt, listening to something a bit swanky in the background. This is how we plan on spending New Year's Eve.


As 2011 comes to a close, we'll toast loved ones, new friends, schemes, hopes and the possibilities that the future holds.  


Happy New Year
from my table to yours...see you in 2012


Panna Cotta 
From Olives and Oranges by Sara Jenkins & Mindy Fox
Makes 4 to 6 servings

2 cups cream
1 1/4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
3 large egg whites
Pomegranate Molasses for drizzling (I found mine at Whole Foods Market.)

Combine 1/4 cup cream with gelatin in a medium bowl and let gelatin soften. 
Combine remaining 1 3/4 cups cream, sugar, and vanilla bean in a medium saucepan, bring to a low boil and boil for 3 minutes.  Remove from heat and fish out vanilla bean.  Scrape seeds from bean and add to cream; stir to combine.  Discard bean.
Add hot cream mixture to gelatin mixture and whisk until gelatin is totally dissolved.  Set bowl over an ice bath and stir until cooled to room temperature.  
Beat egg whites to stiff peaks.  Gently whisk half of whites into cream mixture, then fold in remaining whites.  Transfer mixture to individual ramekins or dessert cups.  Refrigerate until set, about 3 hours.  Top with a drizzle of pomegranate molasses and serve. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Pignoli Cookies

Christmas in Assisi
A memorable Christmas, Roman's first, in Assisi, Italy
The closest I came to getting a tree this year was strolling through the Christmas tree market on Greenwich Street, deeply inhaling the wonderful pine scent.  Well, there was a batch of tree-shaped sugar cookies I made for our neighbors at the bar downstairs.  I saved half the batch for us.

Sugar Cookie

We're going away for Christmas so it didn't feel right to leave a live tree alone for the holidays.  I figured I could pack some treats into the car easier than a whole tree.  So I made some pignoli cookies, a holiday cookie from Italy. Pine nuts. Yes, they come from pine trees and you actually get a hint of that wonderful pine scent when you bite into them.

Pignoli Cookie

I lived in Rome for two years and never ate pignoli cookies.  I was too busy devouring ricotta tarts from my favorite neighborhood pastry shop to make time for with these sweet almondy-gems.  They seem more popular in  Italian-American homes and pastry shops. That's probably where I first fell in love with them, years ago at Fortunato Brothers in Brooklyn.  But really, what cookie isn't better homemade?

Love 'n' Bake

The week before Christmas is notoriously hectic.  Last minute gifts to buy, cards to send, packing to do. I try to avoid the chaos and carve out some time to bake.  Here is a recipe that involves very little time and effort, and results in a cookie packed full of flavor, so it's a win-win.  That is, if you're not afraid to let things get a little sticky this close to Christmas.

Pignoli Cookies
From the Love'N Bake can
Makes two dozen

The addition of orange zest really brightens up these sweet, nutty cookies.  I love the way the almond and pine nut flavors mingle.  Great with a strong espresso or a cup of rooibos tea.

10 oz can of Almond Paste (ingredients: almonds, sugar, water, natural flavor)
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
zest of one orange
3 egg whites *see note below
1 cup pignoli nuts

Preheat the oven to 350 and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Mix the almond paste, sugar, salt, orange zest with the egg whites using an electric mixer on low speed.  (*Note: it's best to use large eggs, not extra large, and to add the egg whites one at a time.  Do not let the mixture get too runny- it should be more like a paste.)  This will create a smooth paste.
Scoop out a heaping teaspoon full with your fingers, coat one side evenly with pignoli, then drop onto the baking sheet.  (This is the sticky part. Work quickly and try to minimize how many fingers you use to touch the batter.)
Bake at least 10-12 minutes (Mine took about 14 minutes, but depending on your oven, watch to make sure you don't over bake.)
Let the cookies cool completely on the baking sheet, then carefully peel them off the parchment paper.  Store in a covered container.

Friday, December 16, 2011

African-Inspired Peanut Soup


Above the African desert in a four seater plane, the world feels so different. Expansive, vast, a gentle place, where winds work hard to carve and shape the earth at their whim.


After 30 minutes of flight, the vista changed so dramatically. It was unnerving but also calming to witness.  What was going through my mind?  I remember.


Where am I from? Where am I going? 


How did we get here?


How does this exist? 


I'm as small as a grain of sand way down there. 


The water will wash it all away. 


My thoughts like to wander as much as my body.  Lately, I've been soaring over Namibia again, away from the quotidian workings of my mind: What's for lunch, what's for dinner, what fun toddler activities will I orchestrate today? 

But no, really, what is for dinner?  I can't daydream all day.  Back down to earth I come.  I remember the flavors of Namibia and recall a peanut soup.


If you can make it to Africa in this lifetime, I whole-heartedly recommend a fly-in safari in Namibia.  In the  event that such a trip is not possible in the next few decades, make this soup. It will tide you over, without all the existential searching. 

African Inspired Peanut Soup
4 servings

The beauty of this soup is threefold.  First, you have a surprising twist on a chicken soup (the peanut). Then you have extremely bright vegetables.  By steaming them briefly you will not overcook them. Lastly, the garnishes add bursts of tangy flavor.  And the chicken is so incredibly tender you can't help but love this dish.  Interestingly, neither the jalapeño nor the serrano peppers made this soup spicy, which was my intention.  I removed the seeds, because seeds would not be nice in a soup, and of course therein lies the spice.

1 1/2 pounds chicken breast
1/2 cup of flour (to make this gluten free, use 1/4 cup corn starch)
2 Tablespoons curry powder
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 serrano or 2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and minced
5 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup natural peanut butter (fine to use either chunky or smooth)
1 stalk of broccoli
1 red pepper

4 green onions, chopped
Handful of cilantro, chopped
1 lime cut into wedges

Cut the chicken breast into bite size chunks, about 2 inches each.  Mix the flour (or cornstarch) with the curry powder, salt and pepper in a shallow bowl.  Working in 2 or 3 batches, dredge the chicken pieces in the flour/curry mixture.  Heat the olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat.  Again working in batches, sauté the chicken (do not crowd it in the pot) for 2 minutes each side.  Remove and continue this until all the chicken has been sautéed.  Be careful not overcook it- really, just 2 minutes per side. Remove all the chicken from the pot and set aside for later.

In the same pot, over medium to low heat, cook the garlic and serrano pepper for about 1 minute.  Add the peanut butter and stir to melt, then add the broth.  Cover the pot and cook for 15 minutes.  

Meanwhile, as broth simmers, cut the broccoli into florets and the red pepper into chunks or strips.  Steam the vegetables until just tender, making sure they retain their vibrant color.  

Add the chicken pieces to the broth, again over a low simmer and cook for an additional 15 minutes.  (Set your timer, this will ensure extremely  tender chicken.)

The soup is ready to be served.  Just ladle the chicken and peanut broth into shallow bowl, top with broccoli and red pepper, and garnish with scallion, cilantro and lime wedges.  

Friday, December 9, 2011

Ladies' Caprice


Caprice. A word seldom used in English, but common in French and Italian (capriccio), especially when it comes to children.  Leave it to the Romance languages to aptly capture what we call a "tantrum."  Faire des caprices.  I picture a Diva, storming off stage mid-aria in a wild swing of emotions when her accompanist misses a note. 

A caprice comes down to impulses, urges and unpredictability.  

Since Roman turned two, I've disregarded the idea of "terrible twos."  He is eagerly conversing in two languages, taking in the magic of New York City, forming friendships, singing and dancing.  None of that feels terrible in the least. 

Of course our days are not without conflict.  Just yesterday he lay screaming on the floor of a NY public library at the mere suggestion that he put his coat on before going out into the 40 degree chill.

So when I came across a recipe called Ladies' Caprice in Ruth's Box, I was fascinated.
Caprice: An extravagant and sudden whim.

What would Ruth-- a NY lady, wife and mother of two, do when faced with an extravagant and sudden whim of her own?  Shop for a bold new hat?  Smoke a cigarette and dream of some far off land?  Call a friend and scheme against her husband?  Perhaps she would just bake.


The recipe card was hard to decipher.  I gather from her incomplete notes that Ruth must have baked a few Ladies' Caprice in her time.  So I improvised.

Ladies' Caprice: meet Nonna Elena's marmalade tart, meet Brutti Ma Buoni nut/meringue cookies.


I hope I did justice to the original recipe.  I can assure you that this remarkable tart will calm whatever sudden, extravagant whims you might have.  It's just that good.  So please, pas de caprices.

Ladies' Caprice

For the dough:
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 ounces cold sweet butter (1 stick plus about 1 tablespoon)
1/4 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon cream

For the filling:
Black raspberry jam (8 or more ounces)
2 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup finely chopped walnuts

In a food processor, combine the flour, salt and sweet butter (cut into chunks).  Process until the butter is broken up into small pieces.  Add the sugar, egg yolks (reserve the whites for the tart filling) and cream.  Continue to process until the mixture begins to come together.  Form it into a ball with your hands.
Grease a tart pan with a removable bottom.  Flatten the ball of dough and press it evenly into the tart pan, using the heel of your hands, work the dough slowly to extend it to the edges and up the sides of the tart pan. Prick all around with a fork and bake for 15 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven.  Let cool completely.

Spread the black raspberry jam along the bottom of the cooled tart shell.

Make the filling:
Using an electric beater, beat the 2 egg whites until soft peaks form.  Gradually beat in the sugar and vanilla extract.  Use a silicone spatula to fold in one cup of finely chopped walnuts.
Spread this mixture on top of the raspberry jam in your tart shell.
Bake once again at 350 degrees, for about 40-45 minutes.
Let cool before serving.
This will keep well overnight if you want to make it one day before serving, and will keep for several days.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Simple Black Bean Soup

Simple Black Bean Soup

Just because a dish is simple doesn't mean it's not worthy of being called fantastic. Simple meals are often the most satisfying.  

What else is simple?

  • Cherishing your relationships. 
  • Loving yourself. 
  • Doing "good," in small or big ways. Smile genuinely at a total stranger who looks like they are having a bad day.  Volunteer and change a life.

When all of the above feels complicated, start from scratch.  A warm bowl of black bean soup to "do good" for your body.

While you eat, enjoy the simplicity of it and remember how lucky you are to have a hot bowl of soup this season.  Simply put, it's one of life's small pleasures.

Simple Black Bean Soup with Garnish

Simple Black Bean Soup
Makes enough for about 4 servings.

This is quick to prepare, hearty, filling and healthy. It's also very easy to improvise, making it great for a weeknight dinner or a weekend lunch.  Love heat? Kick up the chili powder and add some hot sauce.  Want to round out the meal?  Serve with a salad and some corn muffins.  
1/2 red onion, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 stalk of celery, diced
1 red pepper, diced
2 cups (400 grams) black beans, drained
2 cups (400 grams) chopped tomatoes (I used a 14 ounce can.)
1/2 cup (118 ml) chicken broth, vegetable broth or water
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 bay leaf
Cilantro, avocado, sour cream or even grated cheese for garnish (optional, but encouraged)

In a medium soup pot, saute the onion, garlic, carrot, celery, red pepper for about 5 minutes.
Add the black beans, tomatoes, broth and spices.
Simmer for 30 minutes, remove bay leaf, then garnish and serve.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Chocolate-Coated Life


I'm not a fan of sugar coating.  By that, I mean I don't like caramel apples and I like to know the truth about things -- plain and simple. I appreciate honesty and directness.  For example, no one ever tells you how hard it's going to be when you become a parent.  Now that I have a two year old, I don't like to "sugar coat" things around expectant parents.  Yes, you're going to have a gorgeous, bouncing baby that coos at you and parenting is the most beautiful experience a person can have.  But guess what?  At times, it will also make the toughest thing you've ever done in your life before parenthood seem ridiculously easy.

On the other hand, I do like things to be chocolate coated.  Unlike sugar, which is just sweet for the sake of being sweet, chocolate is complex.  More like real life.  It can be bitter on top of being sweet.  At times it can be a little salty, or overpowering.  Just like the real emotions we experience every day.


In the age of "self branding," people have a tendancy to sugar coat their lives.  Everyone is beautiful, no one gets sick, argues, loses their patience or struggles.  It doesn't do justice to what we all really deal with in everyday life.  Things taste better when they've got some depth and character, don't you think? So let's skip the sugar coating and go for the 85% dark, organic, single origin chocolate.


Chocolate Covered Log Cookies
The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook

A soft, orange scented cookie, topped with rich, intense chocolate and rolled in festive chopped pistachios.

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange zest (zest from 1/2 a large orange)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted
1 cup finely chopped pecans (you could also use walnuts, pecans or toasted hazelnuts)

Preheat the oven to 350.
In a large bowl, cream the butter until smooth, about 3 minutes.
Gradually beat in the sugar and cream until fluffy.  Beat in the eggs one at a time.  Stir in the orange zest and the vanilla extract until well combined.  Gradually add the flour until blended (dough will be a little crumbly).
Make a ball with the dough, flatten it, wrap it in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour or over night.
Remove dough from refrigerator and let soften for 5-10 minutes.  Taking small pieces of the dough, roll them into balls and then 3-inch logs.  Place logs onto un-greased cookie sheets, leaving several inches between cookies for expansion.  Bake for 10-12 minutes or until lightly golden.  Cool the cookies on sheets for 1 minute, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.
Meanwhile, melt the chocolate.  When cookies have cooled for about 15 minutes, dip them halfway in the chocolate, then roll in chopped nuts.  Allow them to set for 15 minutes before serving.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Continuing Feast


The day after Thanksgiving, I sat thumbing through my cookbooks and making a shopping list.  With no time to waste, I was preparing for yet another fête with friends at home on Saturday night.

You see, feasting is in my blood.  Maybe I'm a distant descendant of Louis XIV, but in my more immediate ancestry, my parents hosted an awful lot of lavish dinner parties in my youth and that had a profound effect.  My mother was a "foodie" before the term was coined, my father is a baker, and I inherited their love of entertaining.

In my last post, I mentioned that my mother had written a cookbook.  In 1989, during a losing fight with cancer, her friends rallied her to the task.  She spent many months surrounded by piles of her favorite cookbooks, equipped with a purple pen for editing.  She put together the recipes and stories that shaped her own childhood and her 20-some years as an avid home cook.  She called the cookbook Elizabests, The Continuing Feast and in it she had lovingly documented the foods of my early years. When the book was printed,  it was an unspoken challenge to her husband and two teenage girls to carry on with our lives, always with good appetite.


I've posted many of her recipes on this blog, like orange cumin beef stew, ginger molasses cookies, Italian bread wreath to name a few.


So on Saturday night, we dined on roasted salmon and potato latkes with roasted apple sauce, cranberry orange relish, and mixed greens from the Green Market with a warm anchovy garlic dressing.  For dessert, we indulged in David Lebovitz's creamy, dreamy Lemon-Ginger Crème Brûlée, talking and laughing the evening away.


It's the season of indulgence and togetherness, so I urge you to enjoy some wonderful foods in good company. There is no better time than now. Don't worry, there should be plenty of room for moderation in January.

Lemon-Ginger Crème Brûlée
From Ready for Dessert by David Lebovitz

Makes 6 servings

3 ounces (85 g) fresh ginger, thinly sliced
3 cups (750 ml) heavy cream
1/2 cup (100 g) sugar plus 12 teaspoons (60 g) for caramelizing
Grated zest of 2 organic lemons
6 large egg yolks
pinch of salt

Put the ginger slices in a medium saucepan and add water to cover.  Bring to a boil, then decrease the heat and simmer for two minutes.  Pour off the water.
Add the cream, 1/2 cup sugar,  lemon zest and ginger to the saucepan.  Heat the mixture until warm, then remove from the heat, cover and let steep for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 F (175 C).  Set six 4 to 6 ounce ramekins in a deep baking dish.
Using a slotted spoon, remove and discard the ginger slices and lemon zest from the mixture, add the salt, then reheat the cream until it's quite warm.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, then gradually whisk in the warm cream, whisking constantly as you pour to prevent the eggs from cooking.  Pour the mixture through a mesh strainer into a large measuring cup or pitcher.
Divide the custard mixture evenly among the ramekins.  Fill the baking dish with warm water to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins.  Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil and bake until the perimeters of the custard are just set and the centers are slightly jiggly, about 30 minutes.
Transfer the custards to a wire rack and let cool completely.  Refrigerate until chilled.
Just before serving, evenly sprinkle each chilled custard with 2 teaspoons of sugar and caramelize with a kitchen torch.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The taste of friendship


My truest friends are spread out all over the world.  Sometimes it makes for a bit of a lonesome day-to-day existence, because I may not see many of them for years on end.  But the bond is so strong that it sustains me just knowing they are out there somewhere, living their lives on the same planet as me.


If there is anything on my list of life goals, it's to gather all my friends from around the globe and cook them a feast one day.  There will be food in multiple courses, wine and laughter.  There will be music and stories that compete with the clinking of silverware and glasses.  There will be an abundance of chocolate desserts. 


The taste of friendship is like a rice pudding or a cup of earl grey tea with milk and honey.  It's being able to appreciate someones talents and successes without the bitterness of envy.  It's being able to have a coffee or a meal together and catch up on 10 or 20 years gone by and somehow feel like you were right there through it all. 

It bothers me to know that my friends go through tough times and joyful ones, and because of my physical distance I don't experience it with them. So I baked a batch of cookies for all of them.  It's what I would do if I lived close enough to bring a plate by, unannounced. With love.

Chocolate chubbies
These come from my mother's cookbook, The Continuing Feast. They are the richest, most addictive cookie I know of. We make them with both pecans and walnuts but I think it would be fun to add salted peanuts and pistachios.  Try it, and let me know!

Makes 3 dozen large cookies

6 ounces semisweet chocolate
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
scant 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
8 ounces (or more) semisweet chocolate chips
8 ounces (or more) broken pecans
8 ounces (or more) broken walnuts
3 eggs
scant cup sugar

Break up the semisweet and unsweetened chocolate (not the chips) and cut the butter into small pieces.  Melt them together in a bain-marie over hot water. Remove from the heat and cool the mixture to tepid.  Meanwhile, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.  

In a separate bowl, combine the chocolate chips and the nuts.  

When the chocolate has cooled, combine the eggs and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat until thick.  Slowly add the chocolate-butter mixture, beating constantly.  (If the mixture is too hot, the eggs will cook!)  Add the flour mixture, stirring only to combine.  With a wooden spoon, stir in the chocolate chips and nuts.  

Grease two baking sheets well or line with parchment paper.  Using a tablespoon, drop the batter onto the sheets, leaving play of room between cookies.  Bake in a 325 degree preheated oven for 15-20 minutes.  

Monday, November 21, 2011

Pickled Beets


It's important to be able to find enjoyment in everyday tasks, since they fill the bulk of our lives. I am most mindful of this when I am preparing food.  Slice into a crisp apple or a thick-skinned squash, stop and contemplate.  The cross section of a vegetable is so clean and artistic.  The simplicity of nature's gifts can make everything else melt into the background.

During these dark East Coast days of bare trees and dusk that falls at 4:30 pm, I look for splashes of color to add to my plate and my wardrobe.  Dark crimson beets, cranberries, the luscious fuchsia scarf my sister knit me. The tang of these beets will perk up a simple meal and awaken the palate.


My grandmother Ruth, whose recipes I've been trying lately, used to make these pickled beets.  Apart from her recipes, the details are sparse.  I know she hated soup until she married a man who loved it. She used to correspond via mail with my older sister about synonyms and antonyms. (Tangy vs. bland comes to mind.)  My uncle tells me she was very chatty.  She and I would have apparently shared a deep appreciation for brined vegetables and chocolate cake.  Not a bad collection of idiosyncracies, if you ask me.


Pickled Beets
The addition of beef broth to the vinegar makes these extremely palatable. You can add these beets to a sandwich or burger, serve on top of a salad, or alongside roasted chicken, pork or fish. Serve them as an appetizer with martinis. Tie a bow around a jar and take it to a friend.  I did not to go through the whole canning process, so they must be kept in the refrigerator unless they are preserved by the boiling process. 

One bunch of beets (3 large)
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup beef broth
1 tablespoon fine sugar
1 teaspoon whole Allspice
1 medium onion, sliced

Cook the whole beets in boiling, salted water til tender (about 30-40 minutes). 
Skin and slice the beets.  
Arrange the beets and onion slices in two mason jars or a large bowl.  
Combine the vinegar, broth and sugar and allspice, and pour over the beets and onions. (The liquid should cover the beets.)
Place in the refrigerator and serve cold.

Thursday, November 10, 2011



I've been a linguist since the time I learned to talk.  Over the years I added foreign languages: one, two, even three at a time until there were 5, or almost 6; the words all dancing around in my head.  There are so many in there, with deep intonations, bright tones, and guttural vibrations.  Often a word will get stuck in a synapse, playing itself over and over like a skipping record.

Sometimes the word that gets stuck is there for its sound, other times for it's meaning. These days, the word is ephemeral. "Lasting for a very short time." 

Like pain, pleasure, life itself.

If relationships, things, tasks, achievements, everything is ephemeral, that's a reason to care.

If taste is ephemeral, then that's a reason to savor.

Then there's another word nestled in that gap between cells, begging to be spoken:  ethereal. "Extremely delicate and light in a way that seems too perfect for this world." 

Chocolate mousse, tiramisu, my meringue cookies.

I had 4 almost-forgotten egg whites in my refrigerator -- leftover from a double batch of this chocolate pudding (to which I added a shot of espresso, which took it to a new level of decadent).

We had a difficult morning that involved a series of life's petty annoyances, adding up to a bad mood and a lump in my throat.  While Roman napped, I sought out the familiar refuge of the whir of my electric mixer. I knew that my knotted-up feelings were ephemeral. They would pass, as all things do.

So I gently whipped my egg whites to soft peaks, then slowly poured 1/2 cup of caster sugar (superfine cane) in a stream along with two capfuls of vanilla extract.  I sifted 2 tablespoons of flour and 2 of dark cacao.  I carefully chopped some walnuts and folded them into the gooey batter with the last of the very dark chocolate chips from the refrigerator.  I baked them at 300 for about 20 minutes. The result was 24 soft, chewy meringues: not at all chalky; pleasant on the teeth.

As soon as I pulled the tray from the oven, I ate four.

Yes, four.

My meringue cookies were both ethereal (but the walnuts grounded them) and ephemeral (they were all gone in 24 hours).

The cookie recipe is here (although I made a few changes, as I described above).
They are called brutti ma buoni, "ugly, but good," light, delicate, short lasting, and a good remedy to life's petty annoyances, which are indeed ephemeral...

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Spicy Cranberry Apple Chutney and tradition


I believe in giving people gifts early. It's a bit of a tradition of mine.  I'll intentionally send a birthday package weeks or even months early to my best friend or my dad.  Then I'll call and try to persuade them to open it early.  If I know they are going to like the gift, I want them to enjoy it for as long as possible.  So here's a little gift in the form of a recipe.  I hope you'll make it for yourself, sooner than later.


Cranberries are now in season, but they made a timid appearance in the grocery store a few weeks ago.  As soon as I saw a small stack of them in the produce section, hiding behind the out-of-season strawberries, I grabbed a few bags. I made a batch of cranberry orange muffins, twiddled my thumbs a little and then saw no reason to wait any longer to make my favorite cranberry sauce.  Instead, I'm indulging in this spicy, crunchy, complex chutney for the next few weeks leading up to Thanksgiving.


I am not exactly a traditionalist and I'm not one to get very wrapped up in the holidays.  I always vary my Thanksgiving menu, and this year I plan on roasting pork instead of turkey. It's hard to imagine a Thanksgiving dinner in my home without this spicy cranberry chutney -- the one I ate every year growing up. I serve it in the one piece of heavy crystal that I own, from my grandmother. On certain traditions, I don't compromise.


Spicy Cranberry Apple Chutney
Serve with roasted chicken, turkey or pork. I instantly livens up a turkey sandwich, a bowl of plain yogurt or some cottage cheese. It will keep in the refrigerator for over a week.

4 cups (1 pound) fresh cranberries
1 cup seedless raisins
1-2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1-1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup water
1 medium size onion, chopped (1/2 cup)
1 medium size apple, peeled, quartered, cored and chopped
1/2 cup thinly sliced celery

Combine cranberries, raisins, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and water in a large saucepan.
Cook 15 minutes until the berries pop and mixture thickens.
Stir in onion, apple and celery.
Simmer 15 minutes longer, or until mixture is thick.
Cool and refrigerate.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Creamy Macaroni and Cheese

Creamy Mac and Cheese

There are days like today, where comfort is of the essence. A day to stay in my pajamas, organize plans for the week to come, do laundry, clean up, and eat really well.  Yesterday was stupid. I wore my rain boots out but didn't tuck my jeans into them. My umbrella was useless, it kept turning inside out with the wind. And despite the unseasonably cold, rainy-snowy-slushy weather, I went out three separate times. Not sensible.

Ruth's Box

Today is the day after the really rainy, snowy and strange late October day where I overdid it on the errands and ended up exhausted with a sore throat. It's the morning after the night where our neighbors partied too hard (again), accounting for a gross lack of sleep around here. So right around 11 a.m. before our stomachs started growling, I reached for Ruth's recipe box. While I grated, measured and stirred, I imagined her in her 1950's kitchen making this for her family. When did she make this? Was it a weeknight dish?  Something tells me this was more of a once in a while, for emergencies dish. Maybe someone was cramming for a test, or had a bad case of the doldrums and needed some comfort in a bowl.

Creamy Mac and Cheese

Foods like this are important. They say, "I love you" and "let's just be a quiet family today." No need to go schlepping through the busy city, in search of adventure every day. Today we can just be together and share some creamy mac and cheese before our nap. Well, their nap. At least some people in this household are sensible.

Creamy Macaroni and Cheese
Serves 4-6
I adapted Ruth's recipe by adding about 1/4 cup of soft goat cheese and slightly reducing the amount of cheddar cheese and milk. If you don't have goat cheese, just use 8 ounces of sharp cheddar and 3 cups of milk. I also used orecchiete instead of elbow macaroni because I can't resist their slightly floppy shape. In addition, I replaced the margarine with butter. 

1 1/2 cups elbow macaroni (or 2 cups orecchiete)
2 tablespoons butter
4 1/2 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon mustard (I used coarse grain.)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 1/2 cups milk (I used whole milk.)
3/4 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
1/4 small onion, grated (about 2 tablespoons grated onion)
7 ounces grated sharp cheddar cheese
3 ounces soft goat cheese
1 slice bread (or 3 tablespoons fine bread crumbs)
1 1/2 tablespoons melted butter

Cook and drain the pasta and put into a 2 quart casserole dish. 
In a saucepan over low heat, melt the butter, blend in the flour, mustard, salt and pepper.
Remove from the heat and gradually add the milk.
Cook until thickened, stirring constantly.  
Add worcestershire sauce, onion, and cheeses.  Stir until the cheeses melt. 
Pour over the pasta.  
Combine the butter and fine bread crumbs (I made my own in the food processor using one slice of wheat bread.) Sprinkle the buttered bread crumbs over the dish and bake at 375 degrees for 30-40 minutes until browned. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Ginger Molasses Cookies and kitchen meditations

Ginger Molasses Cookies

I baked a cookie and it took me to the other side of the world to a dry lake bed in Sossusvlei, Namibia. That's some cookie.


Food often triggers memories of loved ones, childhood, or far off places through its scent and flavor. The act of cooking itself can be meditative.  Sometimes I focus solely on my hands. Other times, my mind wanders to its depths and I revisit a special time or place in my life.  With a little imagination, the foods I create can take me anywhere I want with a little game of visual association.

Ginger Molasses Cookies

Seeing the cracked appearance of these ginger molasses cookies instantly made me recall the parched earth at the bottom of the world's biggest sand dune.  So I thought I'd tell you about it, and give you the recipe so you can experience it for yourself.


It was a cold morning in remote Southern Namibia when we set out with a guide to climb the dune known as Big Daddy. It was a quiet hike, our feet sliding into the iron rich sand as we advanced steadily to the top.  It felt like what I imagine it would be like to walk on Mars, with the alien landscape and the hue of the red sand.  We were so small in the face of the mammoth dunes that stretched and curved like dinosaur spines as far as the eye could see. Was this nature imitating art or the other way around, we asked ourselves.

IMG_0680 - Version 2

Then, from the top, we ran down the side of the 380 meter (1,246 feet) dune, breathless and unafraid of falling.


So why not let a cookie be more than just a sweet indulgence? Put on your hiking boots and take a bite.


Ginger Molasses Cookies
Make sure your spices are very fresh and these fragrant cookies will truly liven your senses.

About 50 large cookies

4 1/2 cups unbleached flour
4 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
4 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound brown sugar
1-1/2 cups shortening
2 eggs
1/2 cup molasses
granulated sugar

Sift the flour with the soda, spices and salt.

Cream sugar and shortening until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Beat in molasses, stir in sifted ingredients. (Note: for some reason I had to knead the dough together with my hands, but they still came out fine.)

Drop by rounded tablespoons into a bowl of sugar. Place on baking sheet,  (greased, or lined with parchment or a silpat) sugar side up, about 2 inches apart.

Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven 11 - 13 minutes.  Cool on racks.
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