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Posts from the ‘cooking’ Category

little bird: pure sunshine

4 February 2014


long before Dunkin’ Donuts’ seemingly complete domination of Boston (much like Seattle’s Starbuck’s on every corner), my dad and i would trek to our suburban Dunkin’ to pick up a dozen for our little family. what can i get you, the clerk would say. and dad would consistently reply, yeahgive me six lemon-filled. lemon doughnuts were mom’s favorite. i have no doubt that, given the opportunity, she would have eaten them every single day. they became my favorite, too (copycat), so dad made sure his girls had enough to go around.

mom and grandma_Sm

mom and grandma

prior to the lemon curd shortage (an apparent byproduct of today’s less-than-generous approach to doughnut-making), mom was able to get a healthy portion of filling with nearly every bite. she’d look up at me, a little bit of powered sugar on the corners of her mouth, which she’d pat daintily with her napkin. giggle. then, consume the only remaining bite. delicious!, she’d proclaim.

like the very best attributes of a lemon—bright and zingy—mom exuded a warmth that others were drawn to. basked in. i can’t tell you how much i miss that sunshine. when she came to live with us in the latter part of her life, i’d occasionally trot home with lemon-filled doughnuts. sure, she enjoyed them. but never as much as when dad arrived triumphantly with a dozen under his arm.

to celebrate what would have been mom’s 92nd birthday, i’ve assembled a menu i think she would have liked:

a nice loaf of challah (best eva!)
brussel sprouts (simplified this recipe)
noodle kugle
meyer lemon hand pies (crust recipe)

here’s to you, little bird. it’s never as sunny without you here. sending you love and smooches. catch ya on the flip side.

meyer lemon hand pie

where apples fall

15 October 2013


family tree apple cake

yesterday, i went shopping. it’s something i do now only out of necessity. when mom (a.k.a. little bird) was alive, we went frequently. persistently. at times, ad nauseum. i had to force myself to remember that, to mom (who spent more than 25 years in upscale sales), retail felt like going home.

no matter where we shopped, she proactively sought out sales people in every store—as if they were family. most newbie retail associates tried to avoid her enthusiastic advances (and eye contact). but seasoned comrades, much to mom’s delight, engaged respectfully in conversations. and she took their parting words to come back again soon like invitations from dear friends.

my solo retail outing (mission: to replace ratty old sweaters with new, unratty counterparts) took a surprising turn. i found myself drawn—clearly by some mysterious, magnetic force—to a retail outlet and to a sweater nearly identical to one little bird used to wear religiously. yeah, ok, hers didn’t have a hoodie. and she didn’t wear mens’ sweaters, except for dad’s when she felt a little blue. and i have no intention of wearing a brooch on my sweater. but other than that, we could have been twins. i grabbed the sweater, hugged it tightly to my chest and grinned a big toothy one. even the newbie sales guy at the register seemed to feel the excitement of my discovery and pride in being part of a shiny, new-store family. i think mom would have liked him.

dominant gene: skinny legs

dominant genes: skinny legs, big feet

as the years go by, i catch myself sounding—and looking—just a little bit more like mom. a lilt in my voice (with only a hint of New England accent). a facial expression. a wicked-lame joke. an affinity for a handsome, black and white sweater. and i think (with some modicum of panic), i am becoming my mother. well, dear, the apples don’t fall far from the tree.

if you’re in the mood, crank up Glenn Miller’s rendition of People Like You and Me, get out the flour, and whip up a nicely moist apple cake (recipe just below).

mom would have liked it with a double-dollop of vanilla bean whipped cream. or maybe some vanilla ice cream. or both. from our gene pool: when it comes to dessert, always shoot the moon.

endnote: sincere thanks to those who’ve continued to stop by during this quiet time. losing our beloved Winnie on 17 February left my creative spirit squashed. appreciate your patience as i get my juju back.

Family Tree Apple Cake
based on a recipe from pinch of yum


for the cake
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/3 cup oil (i use sunflower)
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups chopped apples (i used a mix of Queen Cox and Bramley; if you don’t have access to these, try a nice, tart Granny Smith)

for the topping
2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons confectioners’ sugar
2/3 cup flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
6 tablespoons butter


  1. preheat oven to 325°F.
  2. butter a 10-inch square pan. (if you don’t have this more unusual size [mine is a Emile Henry Urban Colors square baking dish], you could use a 9 x13-inch pan, but the cake wouldn’t be as lofty.)
  3. to make the topping, in a medium bowl, whisk the confectioners’ sugar, flour, cinnamon and cloves.
  4. using a pastry blender, cut in the butter (leaving some larger lumps) until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs; set aside.
  5. to make the cake, in a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking soda and salt.
  6. in the bowl of a stand mixer, with beater attachment, beat brown sugar and oil until combined.
  7. add egg, buttermilk and vanilla, and mix until throughly incorporated.
  8. add the dry ingredients and mix until combined.
  9. fold in the apples.
  10. scrape the batter into the prepared pan, spreading out evenly.
  11. sprinkle the topping evenly over the cake.
  12. bake cake until golden brown and a tester comes out free of wet batter, about 45 minutes.
  13. let cake cool in pan on rack, but it’s great served warm.
dominant genes: goofy w/beak

dominant genes: goofy w/beak


simply little bird

4 February 2013


shortbread cookies

often, simple things delight us most. like watching Elroy’s jowls quiver as he snores through a power nap. or sitting in front of a 1940’s MGM musical with a bowl of butter-drenched popcorn. or a little hike, where you can breathe in crisp, clean Colorado air  at 9,300 feet on a sunny, summer day. or those evenings my dad would enthusiastically serve us an appetizer of half a grapefruit, sprinkled liberally with sugar and majestically topped with a maraschino cherry.

it was with that kind of simplicity in mind that i went about to create mom’s birthday tribute dinner. little big mom_Smi began with her childhood favorite, lamb rib chops. on the occasions i had the privilege to make them for her, our little bird would daintily pick up a diminutive broiled chop and eat every bit—until only the bone remained. she’d then look up and grin that signature grin of pure satisfaction. no lamb in my experience has been as tender and buttery as the Sea Breeze Farm chops i discovered this weekend. i was fortunate to meet the Vashon Island-based Sea Breeze team at the U District Farmers’ Market in Seattle—i appreciate the knowledge they willingly share and admire their farming practices. mom loved meandering through this market; i know she would have adored these chops.

to accompany the lamb, i served grilled asparagus on a bed of fresh linguini—tossed together in a sticky, rich balsamic reduction. simple, for sure, but packed with flavor. i like to think mom would have been grinning from ear to ear had she been at the table with us. she definitely would have enjoyed an accompanying glass of Vignalta Fior d’Arancio Colli Euganei. loved that bubbly.

for dessert, a melt-in-your-mouth Montmorency cherry shortbread cookie, sprinkled with a little organic cane sugar bling. it just wouldn’t be mom, without the bling.

for those of you who revel in the simple things, you can find the basic recipes here:

pasta and asparagus with balsamic reduction (again, i grilled the asparagus)
shortbread cookies (tweaks: roll the dough to 1/2-inch; add 1/2 to 3/4 cup tart, dried cherries to the dough; also consider adding some orange zest, but nix the icing)

i’ll be seeing you in all those old familiar places, little bird. like tonight, i plan to grab a patty melt at our favorite burger joint. not as elegant, perhaps, as our special birthday dinners at Ken’s Steak House or the Wayside Inn (and you can cool believe i won’t be wearing a dress), but my Vanilla Coke toast will be straight from the heart. cranking up 40’s on 4 and sending you a humongous hug and smooches on this birthday and always. with love.

summer, sand and sandwiches

30 September 2012


as i sit down to write this post, my mind rushes back to those first, early fall days of school. sitting at my desk, hands folded and donning a new dress (what a little lady) expertly chosen by my mother, i’d hang on every word uttered by my adored teachers. then, at their direction—and this was my favorite part—i’d choose a shiny new, razor-sharp #2 pencil and begin to craft my annual essay about  how i spent my summer vacation.

had i been assigned the same teacher two years in a row, she likely would have been lulled into a coma by the redundancy of my essays: 50 percent dedicated to the blast i had at girl scout camp and the remaining 50 percent to the wicked-good times i had with my family at the beach. i was never bored by either.

an older me, sis at the Cape

my parents, younger sister and i spent several summers down the Cape (translation: at Cape Cod, Massachusetts): wonderful, lazy weeks of swimming, combing the beach for sea shells and soaking up sunshine—without the oppression of inland humidity. but some of favorite beach days were spent at Crane’s Beach, on Massachusett’s north shore.

we’d jump out of bed early on a weekend morning and throw on our swimsuits. my dad would back the Impala out of the garage and pack the cooler with ice. then, mom would yell, what kind of sandwiches do you want, peanut butter and jelly? GAG. i think Cheryl wants peanut butter. can i please have bologna? in my mind, i said a bologna prayer. anything to avoid peanut butter.

with sandwiches, chips, sodas and Oreos snuggled inside the cooler, we headed to Crane’s. upon arrival, mom and dad scouted out an ideal location, spread out beach towels and hunkered down with books. my sister took her pail and shovel and began the dig to China. i’d walk down to the shore and up through the garnet sand to the dunes; we’d all take dips in the frigid water to cool down.

in a few hours, mom inevitably declared time for lunch! as inevitably, Cheryl’s peanut butter sandwich attracted sand, and she’d cry. i’d happily sit on my towel, munching on my bologna. in the middle of the afternoon, we’d haul ourselves back to the Impala and make the drive back to suburbia. satisfied with yet another beautiful New England day at the beach.

this summer’s essay: i spent a lot of time at the farmers’ markets, enjoying the amazing weather and cooking up dishes with fresh produce. i made a few pies and grilled a fair amount of pizzas. but didn’t begin baking in earnest until this month. ever on a quest to find a replacement for the dreaded peanut butter, i stumbled upon Artisana nut butters. their team was kind enough to send me some samples, and i decided to test out the pecan butter with a dense, dark chocolate sandwich cookie recipe, reminiscent of our best days at the north shore.

little sis, this one’s for you. infinitely better than what was on your white bread. and now i’ll have some nut butter to put on mine!

Homemade Chocolate Sandwich Cookies
a recipe from the flour cookbook with a slight variation
makes 16 – 18 good-size cookies
plan in advance, as the dough sits in two stages for a total time of at least 3 hours before baking.


for dough
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate, melted and cooled slightly (recipe calls for chips; i used 4 2-ounce Schaffenberger semi-sweet squares)
1 egg
1 1/2 cups organic unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

for nut-butter filling
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup smooth nut butter (my pecan butter wasn’t completely smooth, but worked well and received kudos from those who snarfed them down and wanted more)
pinch of kosher salt


  1. in a medium-size bowl, whisk together the butter and granulated sugar until well combined.
  2. whisk in the vanilla and melted chocolate, then add the egg, and whisk until completely incorporated.
  3. in another medium-size bowl, mix together the flour, cocoa powder, salt and baking soda.
  4. using a spoon, stir the flour mixture into the chocolate mixture to form a dough.
  5. let sit at room temperature for an hour.
  6. transfer the dough to a 15-inch square of parchment paper.
  7. shape the dough into a rough log, about 10 inches long and 2 1/2 inches wide.
  8. roll the parchment paper around the log.
  9. with the log fully encased in parchment, roll until smooth, maintaining the 2 1/2-inch diameter.
  10. put in the frig for at least 2 hours or until firm; reroll every 15 minutes or so to maintain the round shape.
  11. preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  12. cover baking sheets with parchment paper.
  13. cut the dough log into 1/4-inch slices, and place them at least 1 inch apart on the baking sheets.
  14. bake for around 16 – 20 minutes, or until the cookies are firm to the touch. they’re dark, so you won’t be able to see if they’re done by just looking.
  15. let the cookies cool to room temperature on the baking sheets.
  16. to make the filling, using a hand mixer, cream the butter on low speed for around 30 seconds, or until soft and smooth.
  17. add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until the mixture is completely smooth.
  18. add the nut butter and salt, and beat until smooth.
  19. scoop one rounded tablespoon of the filling onto the bottom of one cookie.
  20. top with a second cookie, bottom-side down, then press the cookies together to spread the filling toward the edges.

i sent some of these babies with Tootie to her monthly staff meeting. rumored to be a huge hit (hope you enjoy the recipe, gals!). much like Oreos, a perfect accompaniment to a tall glass of whole organic milk. i bet they’re even better eaten at the beach.


alternatively, you can make a vanilla cream filling with the following:

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon milk
pinch of kosher salt

celebrate the stars and stripes (and strawberries)

3 July 2012


i spent a lot of years playing in my school’s marching band. ok, i was a band geek. and darn proud of it. whether out on the field or in a parade, decked out in the 1950’s uniforms we inherited from classes long past, or just sitting in a rehearsal, band became my haven and heaven. not merely a class i’d attend during third period, band was the place i fine-tuned my listening skills, developed the discipline of practice and deepened my understanding of and commitment to ensemble. did i mention band meant hanging out with my dearest friends (translation: BFFs)??

the fourth of July and the thought of John Philip Sousa marches brings these warm memories flooding back. if you’re hanging out with family and friends on the 4th, i invite you to bake them this super simple, moist and fruity cake. constructed with fresh, juicy and perfect local frog strawberries (any strawberries will do), this cake can help usher in the evening’s fireworks.

i’ll be listening to Sousa marches (more intently to the piccolo parts, of course) and firing up the grill. i might have to turn on the Boston Pops for a few (right, ma?). and i’ll be thinking how amazing it is to live in the U.S.A. what will you be up to? happy 4th!

Stars and Stripes Strawberry Cake
as found on smitten kitchen and adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe


6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature, plus extra for pie plate
1 1/2 cups organic all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 scant cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup whole organic milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pound strawberries, hulled and halved

optional topping
heavy whipping cream, vanilla bean and sugar


  1. preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. butter a 9-inch, deep-dish pie pan or 9-inch cake pan.
  3.  in a small bowl, whisk flour, baking powder and salt.
  4. in the bowl of a stand mixer, with beater attachment, beat butter and scant 1 cup sugar until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  5. add egg, milk and vanilla, and mix until just combined.
  6. add dry mixture gradually, mixing until just smooth.
  7. pour cake batter into prepared pie plate.
  8. as close  together as possible, arrange strawberries in a single layer on top of batter, cut side down.
  9. sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons sugar over berries.
  10. bake cake for 10 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 325°F, and continue to bake cake until golden brown and a tester comes out free of wet batter, about 50 to 60 minutes.
  11. let cake cool in pan on a rack.
  12. to serve, cut into wedges, and top with whipped cream infused with vanilla bean.

as mom would say, mmmmmmmmmmmm. enjoy!

give me a break

30 April 2012


you crack me up, roly poly
especially after a grueling, humorless workday
i crack you up, well, because, i’m genuinely funny
you are infinitely more modest
self-sacrificing and fragile
my perfect dinner (breakfast, lunch) companion
i’ll catch you on the flip side, baby

dedicated to my dear friend, Paul, and his eggceptional chickens

yeah, Elroy thought i was talking about him, not some silly egg. sorry, dude.

Go, Dutch Baby, Go
a slight variation of a Cole Dickinson recipe, as found in the Williams-Sonoma catalog


for topping
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 vanilla bean
2 heaping teaspoons bakers’ sugar
fresh berries

for batter
3 eggs
3/4 cup all-purpose organic flour
3/4 cup organic whole milk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) organic butter


  1. preheat oven to 425 F.
  2. in an 11-inch French skillet over medium heat, melt the butter; set aside.
  3. in a blender, combine the eggs, flour, milk and vanilla; mix on high until frothy, about 30 seconds (stop and scrape down the sides, if needed).
  4. place the skillet with the melted butter in the oven (recommend covering the handle with foil to avoid burns).
  5. carefully pour the batter into the hot skillet.
  6. bake the Dutch baby until it’s lightly browned and the sides have risen, about 15 – 18 minutes.
  7. while the baby is in the oven, scrape the vanilla bean into the cream and whip with the sugar until light and fluffy; set aside.
  8. wash/slice berries; set aside.
  9. remove the Dutch baby and let cool for just a few minutes; the sides will fall, so don’t get deflated.
  10. divide the Dutch baby into wedges, then top each with whipped cream and berries.
serve with a side of bacon or a glass of whole milk. or both.

wake-up call

27 December 2011


time to get up, a voice said softly, as one of my counselors drew back a canvas flap of our spaciously appointed platform tent. ok, thanks, i replied. hunkered down in my cozy, bright orange, flannel-lined sleeping bag, i wondered if the temperature inside the tent was even colder than it was outside. irrelevant. it was my early-morning destiny to get up before the rest of my campmates and high-tail it down to the dining hall. today, it was my privilege to serve as a hopper.

in stunning camp uniform

fewer girl scout camp chores were more revered than hopper. hoppers set massive dining tables with shiny silverware and sparkling glasses. they neatly stacked plates, positioning them strategically in front of where the head of the table would reign supreme. and they ensured that serving spoons, condiments (like real maple syrup and homemade jams) and pitchers of icy water were at the ready. most importantly, when the cooks had piled serving dishes high with hot food, hoppers were poised to swiftly and gracefully move the delicious fare from kitchen to table.

i unzipped my sleeping bag and gingerly put my feet on the cold wooden planks. shivering, with lips the color purple, i threw on a sweatshirt, shorts and sneakers, cursorily brushed my teeth and speedily hiked to the dining hall. upon arrival, i went about my hopper business. those counselors who didn’t have direct camper responsibility stood on the back porch chatting and drinking cups of steaming-hot coffee. a few of them looked disheveled, as if they’d been up (or out) late the night before. the cooks and their assistants stirred large pots of oatmeal and cream of wheat and scrambled dozens of eggs. they talked and laughed as they fried bacon and flipped pancakes.

i grabbed two metal pitchers and walked down the hill to the pump, where i filled them and tried valiantly not to spill a drop on the return trip. carefully placing them on my table, i stood back to evaluate my work. yes, i was ready. the breakfast bell sounded, and campers and counselors filed into the dining hall. i stood at my post, craning my neck just a little, hoping that two of my favorite counselors would choose to sit at my table. after singing a short grace , it was time for hoppers to jump into action. we maneuvered to the kitchen window, picking up heavy serving dishes and carrying them back to our designated tables. there, sitting at the left hand of a favorite counselor, i watched my table like a hawk, fetching and refilling to give the best possible service. i loved every minute of it. when other campers weren’t elated with their assigned hopper kapers, i happily volunteered to take their places. i’ve been hanging out in the kitchen ever since.

if you’re looking for a speedy breakfast treat, try these lemon pancakes. a little more upscale, perhaps, than we may have been served at camp. but the huckleberry compote isn’t out of the realm of New Hampshire girl scout cuisine.

lemon pancakes with huckleberry compote
a variation on a Emeril LaGasse recipe
makes enough pancakes for four


for the compote
2 cups huckleberries
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons tapioca flour (or corn starch)
2 tablespoons water

for the pancakes
1 cup organic all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
a pinch of salt
1 cup organic buttermilk
1 large organic egg
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons lemon zest
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cut into tablespoons
confectioners’ sugar


  1. in a saucepan over medium heat, combine huckleberries, lemon juice and sugar.
  2. bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook the berries for 5 to 8 minutes.
  3. in a small bowl, dissolve the tapioca flour into the water.
  4. slowly add the tapioca mixture to the huckleberries, and stir until thickened.
  5. set aside and keep warm.
  6. in a small mixing bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  7. in a medium mixing bowl, whisk the buttermilk, egg and 2 tablespoons of melted butter until completely incorporated.
  8. add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture, and whisk until slightly smooth; retain some lumps.
  9. fold the lemon zest into the batter and let rest for a few minutes.
  10. in a skillet or griddle, melt a few tablespoons of the butter over medium heat.
  11. to form each pancake, pour 1/4 cup of the batter into the skillet.
  12. cook for approximately 2 to 3 minutes on each side or until the batter bubbles, and the pancake is golden brown.
  13. continue to add butter and cook pancakes until you’re out of batter!
  14. serve by sprinkling pancakes with confectioners’ sugar.
  15. place a generous dollop of compote on each serving.

an alternative: serve the pancakes topped with fresh raspberries or blackberries.

ode to tomatoes

16 August 2011


thick, juicy slices of deep red summer tomatoes
artfully sprinkled with sea salt
dribble down our chins
and splash onto shiny gold and white Formica
got napkin?

a summer celebration
begin with a base of zesty pepper – parmesan crust. top it with a layer of light, fluffy chèvre from Bow, Washington’s Gothberg Farms. and then a layer of basil-pecan pesto. finally, a layer of gorgeous heirloom tomatoes, roasted low and slow in the oven. that’s the heirloom tomato tart. poetic, indeed.

missing the mother-daughter tomato-eating ritual this summer, ma. can’t say the same for your ’50s-chic Formica.

Roasted Heirloom Tomato Tart
a mashup of recipes adapted from epicurious and Ashleigh Rodriguez’s beautiful not without salt blog
makes one 9-inch tart


roast the tomatoes in advance
2 – 3 firm, medium-size heirloom tomatoes (this may leave you with extra slices, but that’s not  a bad thing)
olive oil
sea salt

for the crust 
1 cup organic all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 stick good-quality butter, very cold, cut into 8 pieces
2 cups grated parmesan (i use Parrano)
2 tablespoons ice water

for the pesto (this will leave enough left over for pasta!)
3 garlic cloves
1/2 cup pecans (or nuts of your choice)
2/3 cup parmigiano-reggiano, coarsely ground (again, i use Parrano)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
3 cups loosely packed, fresh basil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

for the rest
8 oz chèvre at room temperature
fleur del sel
freshly cracked pepper


  1. preheat oven to 225F
  2. cover a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. slice tomatoes ¼-inch thick; place on baking sheet.
  4. drizzle olive oil lightly over tomatoes; sprinkle lightly with salt.
  5. roast tomatoes for approximately 4 hours or, as Ashleigh instructs, until shriveled around the edge while still maintaining a bit of juice.
  6. refrigerate the tomatoes in a container overnight.
  7. day two, prepare the crust.
  8. in the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, salt, pepper, butter, and cheese, pulsing quickly to get a coarse texture, with some pea-size butter pieces remaining.
  9. with a few speedy pulses, incorporate the ice water until the dough begins to form and sticks together, when pinched between your fingers.
  10. press dough into your tart pan, evenly across the bottom and up until you reach the top of the sides.
  11. chill the dough in the frig for 15 minutes.
  12. preheat the oven to 350F.
  13. remove the tart pan from the frig, and prick a few times with a fork.
  14. cover the tart with non-stick foil, and fill with pie weights or dry beans.
  15. place the tart on a baking sheet, then on the middle oven rack.
  16. bake for 15 minutes.
  17. remove tart from oven, and carefully remove the foil and pie weights (these will be hot!).
  18. return the uncovered tart to the oven for another 10 minutes, or until golden brown; let cool completely.
  19. to make the pesto, drop the garlic into a bowl of a food processor and finely chop.
  20. stop the food processor and add nuts, cheese, salt, pepper, and basil; process  until finely chopped.
  21. add lemon juice.
  22. with motor running, add olive oil, blending until incorporated; set aside.
  23. now for assembly!
  24. spread an even layer of chèvre over the surface of the cooled tart shell.
  25. spread an even layer of pesto over the chèvre.
  26. top the chèvre with as many roasted heirloom tomato slices as you deem artistically appropriate.
  27. top with sprinkles of fleur de sel and freshly cracked pepper.
toss on a few basil leaves, and call it good. very good.


9 April 2011


i used to walk among the fragrant flowering plum trees that gracefully line my driveway, savoring their aroma and admiring delicate blossoms.

i used to wait with anticipation for the breathtaking tulip fields to set the northwest Washington countryside ablaze with color. i used to welcome spring by grilling fresh, thin asparagus and wild King Salmon, chased by a dense shortcake topped with the season’s first juicy strawberries.

i used to be a person of moderation, content—even happy—to consume small bites.


now there’s nothing. nothing but the intoxicating scent. the buttery, spicy flavor. the chewy, rich, dense texture. i can’t sleep. i can’t stay out of the kitchen, where they’re neatly tucked in an airtight container. i’m addicted. addicted to the most insanely incredible cookies i’ve ever eaten. my ordinarily disciplined existence? completely gone. forever. immense pleasure permeates my entire being. move over Lay’s potato chips: chewy chai-spice sugar cookies give new meaning to no one can eat just one. bake at your own risk.

Chewy Chai-Spice Sugar Cookies

a slight variation on a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated
makes 24 cookies (that’s 1/hour, if you exercise restraint)

i use all organic ingredients in these babies

2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 heaping teaspoon table salt
1 1/2 cups sugar, plus 1/3 cup for rolling
1/4 heaping teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cardamon
1/4 heaping teaspoon ground cloves
2 grinds (a generous pinch) black pepper
2 ounces cream cheese, cut into 8 pieces
6 tablespoons butter, melted and still warm
1/3 cup vegetable oil (i use sunflower oil)
1 large egg
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla


  1. preheat oven to 350.
  2. line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.
  3. in a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt; set aside.
  4. in a large bowl, add 1 1/2 cups sugar, cream cheese, cinnamon, cardamon, cloves and pepper.
  5. pour warm butter over ingredients, and whisk to combine (some small lumps of cream cheese will remain).
  6. whisk in oil until incorporated.
  7. add egg, milk and vanilla; continue to whisk until smooth.
  8. add flour mixture, then mix all ingredients with a rubber spatula until a soft, homogenous dough forms.
  9. place the remaining 1/3 cup sugar on a plate.
  10. form the dough into 24 equal pieces, about 2 tablespoons each.
  11. with your hands, roll each piece into a ball (should be about the size of a mutant/large walnut).
  12. roll each ball in the plated sugar, then evenly space on the baking sheets.
  13. using the bottom of a drinking glass (or in my case, my hand), flatten the dough balls until they’re each 2 inches in diameter.
  14. sprinkle tops evenly with sugar.
  15. bake, one sheet at a time, for 11 to 13 minutes, rotating after the first 7 minutes.
  16. edges should be set and just beginning to brown. (i actually take them out before the browning phase.)
  17. cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes.
  18. transfer to wire rack and cool to room temperature.

the Italian hurricane

11 October 2010


balancing a stack of hefty textbooks (don’t ask me why we either didn’t use, or hadn’t yet invented, daypacks), i swung open the front door. my glasses immediately steamed, obscuring, in part, what lay ahead. directly to my right, my dad stood at the stove, stirring something in a very large skillet. “hi, dad.” “he-ey,” he replied, with a big grin on his face. then turned his attention back to the frying pan.

as the fog cleared, i gasped: nearly every pot and pan from our cupboards protruded from the kitchen sink. it felt like a nightmare of mammoth proportions. not only would i have to wash and dry all the Revere Ware, my mother would expect me to “Twinkle” (as if it were a verb) the copper bottoms of each piece. i didn’t know anything about cursing back then, but if i had, i would have. i set my books on the kitchen table and gritted my teeth. “so, what are you making,” i asked in as calm a voice as i could muster. “well,” dad said, “spaghetti and meatballs. sausage, onions and peppers. oh, and eggplant.”

with his entire arm, he gestured grandly across the breadth of the stove, where yet even more cookware held his bubbling, spattering and begrudgingly fragrant menu. a first-generation Italian-American, my father loved to spend hours in the kitchen reinterpreting Italian cuisine. his creations were actually quite delicious. but hurricane Gus left a trail of unsurpassed culinary destruction.

after dinner was served—and we were all totally stuffed—my dad washed the dishes, and i dried. i figured he had a little pang of guilt about the sheer volume of cookware he’d used. yeah, i still had to polish the copper-bottomed pots and pans, but i really didn’t mind. that much.

with end-of-summer bounty, including basil, cherry tomatoes and eggplant, i put together this glorious version of eggplant parmesan. fresh, but rich and cheesy, it tastes even better after it sits overnight in the fridge. i think my father would have appreciated my interpretation. he-ey, dad, this one’s for you.

Eggplant Parmesan
a variation based on a Tyler Florence recipe


for the speedy sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small sweet onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
3 pints cherry tomatoes, each tomato cut in half
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine (i used a 2007 Subduction Red from Syncline Wine Cellars)
1/2 pound hot italian sausage, browned (optional)
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup fresh basil, whole leaves

for the eggplant
2 medium eggplants (or 4 small eggplants)
olive oil
2 eggs
seasoned Italian breadcrumbs (e.g., Progresso)

for the filling
1 container whole-milk ricotta cheese
1 1/3 cups Parrano cheese, grated (or a combination of Parmesan and Romano cheese)
2 pounds mozzarella cheese, grated
1/2 cup  fresh basil, whole leaves
salt and freshly ground pepper


  1. heat the olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat.
  2. add the onions and garlic; cook for about 5 minutes, until the onion begins to soften.
  3. add the tomatoes and bell pepper, and let simmer. tomatoes will begin to break down and pepper will soften.
  4. add the red wine and let it cook down into the simmering tomato sauce.
  5. salt and pepper to taste.
  6. stir in the browned sausage, if you’ve decided to include it, and continue to cook.
  7. stir in the tomato paste to thicken slightly.
  8. just before you remove the sauce from heat, stir in the basil leaves, then set aside.
  9. to prepare the eggplant, crack two eggs in a shallow bowl; season with salt and pepper and beat with a fork to mix.
  10. put the flour in another shallow bowl and season with salt and pepper.
  11. arrange the eggplant, beaten eggs and bread crumbs on a work surface near the stove.
  12. heat about 1/4-inch olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
  13. when the oil is hot, dredge several eggplant slices in the egg, then coat them in the bread crumbs.
  14. put as many eggplant in the skillet as will fit comfortably in a single layer and cook until tender and well browned on both sides; drain on paper towels.
  15. cook all of the eggplant slices this way, adding more olive oil to the pan as needed.
  16. stir together the ricotta and 1/2 cup of the Parrano cheese.
  17. stir in the basil and season with salt and pepper.
  18. preheat the oven to 350F.
  19. put the eggplant, ricotta mixture, tomato sauce, the shredded mozzarella cheese and the remaining 3/4 cup grated Parrano cheese on the counter.
  20. grease a 9 x13-inch baking dish with a very light coat of olive oil.
  21. to begin assembly, spoon some of the tomato sauce over the bottom of the baking dish; add a layer of eggplant.
  22. spread  half of the ricotta mixture over the eggplant.
  23. spoon another layer of tomato sauce over the ricotta,  and sprinkle with about one-third of the mozzarella.
  24. repeat the process, then finish with the rest of the eggplant, the rest of the tomato sauce and the rest of the mozzarella.
  25. sprinkle the top with 3/4 cup Parrano.
  26. bake for about 1 hour, until golden and bubbling.

let stand for 20 minutes before serving.