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.
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