Sunday, February 26, 2006

A Muffin Is Just a Very Small Pie

Wanted something yummy for breakfast, so I threw these together. *I used raspberry jam in the center because that’s what I had, even though they’re strawberry muffins—but actually, the berry flavors were nice together. I invite you to use strawberry jam (or any other kind of jam) if you see fit.



1 ¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 beaten egg
½ cup milk
¼ cup canola oil
5 strawberries
juice of ½ lemon
6 full teaspoons raspberry jam*


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease 6 muffin cups.

Stem and chop strawberries into ¼-inch pieces; mix with lemon juice and 2 tablespoons sugar and set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt.

In another small mixing bowl combine egg, milk, and oil.

Add egg mixture to dry mixture all at once; stir just until moistened. Fold in strawberry mixture with juice.

Spoon half of batter into muffin cups, half-filling each cup (awkward phrasing, but you know what I mean). Spoon one dollop of jam into the center of each muffin; cover with rest of batter, almost filling cups.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden. At 10 minutes, dust muffin tops with sugar and continue baking. Cool in muffin cups 2 minutes; remove and serve warm.

Moral of the story: I LOVE the word muffin. Muffin muffin muffin.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Sizzling Herb Pasta with White Beans and Crisp Smoked Bacon

I always think it’s a sign when you run across a tantalizing recipe and also happen to have all the ingredients. For all you grown-ups with well-stocked kitchens out there, well, this probably happens to you all the time (my mom’s response to my crab cake post: “You won't believe this but I just bought a pound of Premium Hand Picked Lump Crabmeat and I have on hand all other ingredients” – what??) …but if you’re a college student—even a gastronomic one like me—having fresh sage and white beans around at the same time its pretty much a miracle. I mean, in addition to being somewhat frugal/not wasteful when grocery shopping, I have minimal cabinet space, a fourth-floor walk-up, and a half-size fridge.

But the serendipitous event occurred today, when I was thumbing through Jeremy’s donation to my cookbook collection, Everything Tastes Better with Bacon by Sara Perry, and stumbled across a recipe for “Sizzling Herb Pasta with White Beans and Crisp Smoked Bacon.” I almost skipped on ahead because the ingredient list looked long and my fridge looked bare, but there was a very appetizing picture that reminded me of one of the best Italian dishes I’ve ever had—a short-cut pasta with pancetta and arugula at a restaurant called Gnocco, which is in the East Village on Tompkins Square North.

The Sizzling Herb Pasta is very herby and calls for large quantities of parsley, sage, and rosemary; parsley and rosemary I had in the fridge from a potluck about a week ago, and two nights ago I wrapped tilapia in sage leaves, then prosciutto, and then sautéed it in butter and olive oil. Garlic, lemons, and (of course) olive oil, I always keep on hand. I had leftover bacon from Jeremy’s birthday (it’s his favorite food)—or so I thought until halfway into the cooking process.

(Me) "Where’s the bacon?"
(J) “Oh, I’m sorry, I finished it.”
(Me) “What? When?”
(J) “When I made that bacon-and-cheese sandwich the other day.”
(Me) “And you used all of it?”
(J) “…”
(Me) “You put three-quarters of a pound of bacon on a sandwich?”
(J) “…It wasn’t that much. It was like, seven or eight strips.”
(Me) “…”
(J) “…I’ll go out and get you some bacon.”

More serendipity occurred, because we had forgotten it was market day in Tompkins Square, and there’s a stand there that sells amazing organic, free-range, thick-cut bacon from upstate New York. So J returned with good tidings of great bacon, and everything was all right.



Zest of 1 large lemon
1 large garlic clove, minced (I used more than this because we love garlic!)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 can (15 oz) white beans, drained and rinsed (I used about 2/3 this much because J was dubious about the inclusion of white beans in pasta, but they were delicious)
6 (or more!) thick smoked bacon slices, cut crosswise into 1- to 2-inch pieces
12 to 14 oz dried fusilli
(I thought this dish ought to have its pasta al dente, so I didn’t think this would be good with regular fusilli,
and I didn’t have any of the good kind of fusilli,
so I used little short-cut ziti.)
1 ½ cups coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley (I used about ¾ cup, but should have used a little more)
1.4 cup coarsely chopped fresh sage
2 to 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh rosemary
Coarse salt (always sea salt in my kitchen!) and freshly ground pepper
Grated Romano for seasoning (I even had the Romano on hand!)


In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon zest, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil. Stir in beans and set aside.

In a medium heavy skillet, cook the bacon pieces over medium-low heat. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper towel to drain. Pour off bacon drippings, reserving ¼ cup in the skillet.

Meanwhile, prepare the pasta according to package directions (be careful not to overcook—leave the pasta al dente).

Drain pasta and lightly toss with beans and their marinade in serving bowl.

In the skillet, heat the bacon drippings over medium-high heat. Add the parsley, sage, and rosemary to the hot drippings and sauté quickly, 10 to 15 seconds. Drizzle and scrape the bacon drippings and herbs onto pasta mixture and toss gently to blend. Season with salt and pepper to taste; serve immediately.

The combination of lemony garlic and intensely herby bacon was surprisingly vivid/excellent. There’s a lot of flavor going on in this simple-looking little pasta, but it was invigorating and yummy (especially with the green market bacon!). The white beans absorbed the lemon marinade nicely and were a unique, zesty addition. Maybe more of a summertime pasta, but bacon in the winter is always a good thing!

Weekend Pie Blogging – Chess Pie

Ah, thou mysteriously-named and devastatingly good pastry, thou tartlet!

I feel like Chess Pie best represents my blog because of its quintessential down-home deliciousness and its amazing ability to metamorphose into elegant gastronomical complexities and back again to the simple, no-primary-ingredient boon that caused its legend inventor, when asked what sort of pie it was, to respond, “Why, it’s jes’ pie.”

In addition to the satisfying “jes’ pie” myth of the pie’s name-origin, there are, in fact, several other contending explanations (none of which concern the game of chess, as it happens). One is that it’s the archaic form of the word ‘cheese,’ though chess pie, of course, has no cheese in it—either the recipe evolved from an English recipe for cheese pie, or ‘cheese’ simply referred to the filling’s curdlike texture (etymologists point out that other recipes follow this format—namely, some cheesecakes). Other pie historians say the recipe originates in Chester, England; another charming explanation is that it is named after a breadbox-type furniture once popular in the South—a pie chest. (“Ma, where’d you put the chest pie?” “in the pie chest, dear.”) The name supposedly dropped the “t” once pie chests went out of fashion.

I once wrote a spoken-word poem about New-York-midwinter nostalgia for the South that said ‘whatever button she pushes in the ballot box / my mom can make pie out of only eggs, sugar and butter!” Which is more or less accurate. You’ll find many variations on the ingredients of chess pie and their quantities, but the one that’s always worked out best for me is the one my mom gave me, featured below. Actually, it’s pretty hilarious, because I’ve tried many other combinations of ingredients and amounts, and this one always comes out the best (by far)—but the quantity of filling it produces is never right. It’s not quite enough for two full pies (they come out deliciously but fairly shallow), but it’s definitely too much for one. I’ve tried reducing all ingredients by a third, but it doesn’t come out right then, either. The best results happen, frankly, when you make one and use the rest of the filling for tartlets (or, if you’re brave about eggs, eat it guiltily with a spoon).



2 unbaked pie shells (If you’re ambitious, make your own; otherwise, I like the kind that come folded in the box.)
¾ cup unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
4 tablespoons cornmeal (At home we use fresh-ground cornmeal, and it really does make all the difference.)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
6 egg yolks, beaten
1 cup milk


Preheat oven to 325°F.

Melt butter in saucepan.

Add sugar, cornmeal, and flour. Remove from heat.

Combine beaten egg yolks and milk; add to mixture in saucepan, blending well. Pour into unbaked pie crusts.

Bake for 30-45 minutes (It really does vary quite a lot from oven to oven; this is a pie you’ll want to watch carefully). Check pie often because the top may brown too quickly. If so, place a cookie sheet on rack directly above pie and continue to cook until pie is done (Cornmeal rises to top of pie, forming a thin, crisp crust).

Variations on the pie are deliciously endless. Lemon Chess Pie is a popular favorite, as is Chocolate Chess pie. I’ve made both, and enjoy them, but nothing beats the original thing. Recently I made a lemon chess pie with a new recipe; the flavor was delicious, but I thought the cream and egg whites made it a little too smooth, and without as much cornmeal it lacked much of that wonderful gritty crust I like so much. Many chess pies often include corn syrup, like pecan pie filling; I think the flavor is too distinct, it makes the texture weird, and do not recommend this.

One last warning before you put that first, buttery bite in your mouth—it is possible to eat a whole chess pie in one sitting. I would know. In fact, I think that’s why Mom’s recipe is supposed to make two—so we can each have one.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Dinner in the Dark...Who's With Me?

Okay...this is maybe a little out-there for some of you readers. But one of the participants, K. J. Holmes, is a teacher/mentor/friend of mine and an exceptional artist, and all of the projects I've seen her participate in have been sort of life-altering and, well...I just really want to do it, okay? And I want to extend an invitation to any other interested culinary bloggers. Come on, you know it sounds awesome.

What: DARK DINING - A Sensory Feast Served to Blindfolded Guests
When: Monday, February 20 and Tuesday, March 7 at 7 PM.
Where: CAMAJE Bistro, 85 MacDougal Street, NYC
(West Village between Bleecker and Houston)
Price: Four course meal plus wines, $70 per person, tax and gratuity additional.
How: Reservations required. Please call 212-673-8184.

For Additional Information and Schedule of Upcoming Events: Visit
Contact: Dana Salisbury 917-686-7474


In "Dark Dining," guests stretch their senses while feasting blindfolded and in silence on a luxurious four course meal.7 PM Monday, February 20 and Tuesday, March 7. Brought to you by Dark Dining Projects Founder Dana Salisbury and Chef/Owner Abigail Hitchcock of New York City's CAMAJE Bistro. No visual distractions; you are wearing a featherweight mediation mask that blocks all light. You aware of others around you, yet fully immersed in your own sensations, which are stunningly alive. Complex and delicious aromas reach you from the kitchen where chef Abigail Hitchcock is preparing a four course meal with wines. You eat turning the tastes and textures over on your tongue trying to ferret out the secrets of the menu. Simple things, and simply being, take on new depth and lightness.

The evening's events unfold around you, some nearly imperceptible and others impossible to ignore. Under the artistic direction of Dana Salisbury, dancers Silvia Birklein and K. J. Holmes bring soft, rippling air currents and light mists. The breathy sound of a Japanese flute played by a shakuhachi master James Nyoraku Schlefer floats in the air; its ethereal clarity transforms the room until it seems to hover in time and space. In stark contrast, the sharp, quick and unbelievably complex rhythms played by Douglas MacKenzie on the mrdangam, kanjira and morsing, percussion instruments from the South of India, bring you back to the present, grounding you squarely in the here and now and the voluptuous Zen of sensory feasting.

The evening's mysteries, at least a few of them, are disclosed, when, at the end of meal, guests are handed a sealed card revealing the menu.Vegetarians and other dietary requests can be accommodated and should be specified when making reservations. Guests will remain blindfolded during the entire meal; however, they will be guided to bathrooms which will remain completely lit.

Abby Hitchcock has been a private chef, run her own catering company, and cooked for Martha Stewart Living Television, The Tea Box at Takashimaya in New York City, Vong in London, and the BBC's Good Food Magazine. She has been mentioned in the New York Times, New York Post, Daily News, WOR 710, Time Out, Zagat Wire, and many more media.

New York Dance and Performance Award ("BESSIE") winning Dana Salisbury is a multidisciplinary artist whose recent work, inspired by the sensate and imaginative life of the blind, explores non-visual perception. Her dances and videos have been seen in New York at PS 122, Judson Church, DTW, Dixon Place, University Settlement and the 92nd Street Y. She has created site-specific performance/installations at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum and the Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn. Her visual art has been exhibited widely in museums and galleries.

Zagat Survey (2006) writes, "Wonderful French-American bistro fare comes in 'cozy' quarters at this 'laid-back' Village 'refuge'; factor in 'reasonable prices' and 'terrific cooking classes and wine tastings', and it's a puzzle why it remains largely 'undiscovered.'"

Friday, February 17, 2006

Kitchen Sink Mashed Potatoes

This week’s Virtual Recipe Club (VRC), brought to you by Biscuit Girl at You Gonna Eat All That?, is themed “potatoes” (in honor of St. Patrick’s Day?). I have an infallible mashed-potato thing I make, but in the post-Atkins age we live in, mashed potatoes, a once-frequented side-dish, are now a rare indulgence.

That said, don’t expect me to try and healthify this recipe. I mean, no matter how much butter and salt you leave out of mashed potatoes, they’re still simple carbs and they’re still bad for you; and if it's not made of potatoes, well, then, it's not mashed potatoes, is it? So I say, if you’re going to go for it, go for it.

The only other thing I’m going to say about this recipe is that it was the only Thanksgiving item there weren’t leftovers of this year. Yes, I know, I’m awesome.



2/3 lb. bacon (I always use organic, or at least nitrate-free, bacon)
3 leeks, washed well and drained, and finely chopped (white and pale green part of leek only)
3 pounds russet (baking) potatoes (about 6 large)
1/2 cup milk
½ stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
¾ cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
¾ cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper to taste


Fry bacon until crispy. Crumble and set aside. Reserve drippings.

Peel potatoes, leaving little scraps of peel on for flavor and texture. Cut into small, equal-sized pieces and bring to a boil in enough water to cover them by one inch. Simmer 10-15 minutes or until tender.

While potatoes are simmering, sauté leeks in bacon drippings over medium-low heat, about five minutes or until soft. Pour off excess grease.

Drain potatoes and return to pot. Cook them over moderate heat while shaking the pot for 30 seconds to let any excess liquid evaporate. Add butter and mash. Add milk and cheese; combine evenly.

Fold in crumbled bacon and leeks. Add more milk if necessary; salt and pepper to taste.

Indulge while hot.

(Cook’s note: Be sure not to salt before adding in the cheese, which can make the potatoes almost salty enough by itself.)

Crab Cakes...of the not-crumby variety

My father, who has diabetes, commented that there weren't any really diabetic-friendly recipes on my blog yet (besides the spaghetti squash, which I added subsequently). He had a point – I’m definitely partial to sweets and, more generally, carbohydrates! But being in the diabetic kitchens of my father and my grandfather (who was diabetic for nearly 70 years!), as well as a brief tenure as camp counselor for kids with diabetes, I’m well aware that food doesn’t have to be sweet or carby to be delicious…and it wouldn’t hurt any of us to eat a good deal more vegetables and proteins (and less, say, pie).

So this recipe is a shout-out to my dad! A seafood connoisseur, he knows as well as anyone that there’s only one thing worse than crummy crab cakes: crumby crab cakes. Crabmeat diluted with bread- or cracker-crumbs makes the cakes taste cheap and bland and, worst of all, less crab-like.

This awesome recipe only has 8-10 saltines to a pound of crabmeat…that’s basically just enough to make it stick together, and amounts to about one saltine per cake. Altogether, these cakes are about 4g of carbohydrates apiece. And that’s how a crab cake should be.

Cook’s notes:
1) If buying fresh crab legs and shelling them seems an inappropriate effort for crab cakes (and I pretty much agree), don’t go straight to the canned stuff; many markets carry fresh crabmeat packed in water (like Goldsmith Seafood’s).
2) Lump crabmeat, as opposed to shredded or even backfin, makes a huge difference, if you can afford it.
3) Surprisingly, this recipe is just as excellent without the Serrano chiles, but it’s obviously something totally different. My dad has a pepper allergy, so for this post I’ll be leaving them out (and going easy on the white and cayenne peppers, of course)…but were you to add them back in, it would be 1-2 fresh Serrano chiles, seeded and minced, added in at the same time as the crabmeat.



1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
⅛ teaspoon cayenne
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
⅛ teaspoon salt
1 pound fresh lump crabmeat
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup chopped green onions
8 to 10 saltines, crushed (I go for less, rather than more)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
12 lime wedges


Combine the egg, mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, cayenne, Worcestershire sauce, white pepper and salt in a bowl; mix well.

Stir in the crab meat, parsley, green onions, crackers and chiles. Shape into 12 patties. Place on foil-lined tray.

Chill, covered, for 30 minutes or longer.

Sauté the crab cakes on both sides in the butter and oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until brown and crisp; drain.

Serve with lime wedges.

The recipe makes 8 large cakes or 10 small ones. Mmmmm. Enjoy, Dad!

Recipe from True Grits cookbook
by Inc. Junior League of Atlanta

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Olive Oil Tasting, College-Style

By some strange coincidence, Jeremy received three different kinds of fancy extra-virgin olive oil for his birthday last week. I combined his three with the two in my kitchen and held an olive oil tasting for three (Jeremy, Glod, and me). The five competing oils were:

1. Vetrice – unfiltered, harvested in Tuscany in 2005
2. Diletta MaleNchini – hand pressed in Antella, Firenze, Italy
3. L’Antico – bottled in Modena, Italy
4. De Cecco – bottled in Fara San Martino
5. International Collection’s Chipotle Pepper flavored Olive Oil

We sampled each alone, then with toasted cubes of rosemary garlic bread, then were free to add any combination of an assortment of condiments to them (crushed red pepper, freshly-grated parmigiano, oregano, balsamic vinegar, sea salt). Glod supplied a palate-cleansing glass of white wine for each.
Our conclusions:

1. Vetrice – This label is well-known throughout Italy and had a reputation for premium quality and complexity. The bottle we had is pressed from the first pick, and had a spicy, grassy taste. For me, it was a little too aggressive (very bitter, astringent, and green-tasting) by itself, but it was good cut with the cheese, and I imagine the pungent flavor would add a measure of complexity when cooking with it. Ideally, I would use it in pesto; it would go especially well in a parsley-based pesto, or with dandelion.

2. MaleNchini – Another fancy, first-pick oil with a pungent nose, light green color, and strong green taste. This one was less spicy than the Vetrice, but had a bitter fruitiness in the green flavor. It reminded Glod of the smell of a specific plant that grows in Poland. Well received by both Glod and Jeremy; again, too green for me by itself, but great with balsamic and would be delicious with tomatoes (I’m thinking bruschetta?).

3. L’Antico – This is a pretty bottle that I bought in our local natural market for about $15—so a medium-nice oil that I’ve used often and happily, both raw and when cooking. It’s buttery with almond overtones, a mellow, rich flavor. Perfect by itself or seasoned with pepper and oregano; adds a pronounced olivey taste to pasta dishes and sautées. My personal favorite, but Jeremy and Glod both thought it was boring.

4. De Cecco – Yes, the kind you can get in any supermarket for less than six dollars. I use a lot of olive oil and keep it around in case of emergencies. I put it out on the table as a “control group”/just for laughs – but Glod and Jeremy actually liked it quite a bit! It has a flatter, less-interesting-and-more-processed taste than L’Antico, but it’s mild, pleasant, and soaks into parmigiano very well.

5. Chipotle – This was one of Jeremy’s new acquisitions, and we threw it in just for fun, even though it can’t be compared to the other unflavored oils. It was very weird; the peppers are smoked before they are pressed, and the smoky flavor was even more present in the olive oil than the peppery-ness! It actually needed a little extra kick, which we supplied with the Aji J and I brought back from Ecuador. All in all, it was a little too off-putting by itself, but would be really interesting in Spanish dishes (we have an empanada party in the works) or on fish.

All in all, the tasting was really fun, enlightening, and overall, a nerdy success.

For fun: a recipe that would go perfectly with Oil #1 (and with vegetarian diets, as I have been prompted to write about):

(Cook’s note: I had never made spaghetti squash, and when I got it in my CSA share, I didn’t know what to do with it. This recipe was a successful experiment; it has a really cool texture, like angel hair pasta.)


1 (3 1/2- to 4-lb) spaghetti squash
1/4 cup walnuts (3/4 oz)
1/2 garlic clove
1 1/3 cups packed fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 1/2 tablespoons finely grated Pecorino
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest


Pierce squash all over with a sharp small knife. Cook in a microwave at high power for 8 minutes, then turn over and microwave until squash gives when pressed gently, 8 to 10 minutes more. Cool squash 5 minutes. (Cook’s note: I didn’t pierce the squash deeply/thoroughly enough, and it exploded in the microwave, which was exciting but messy. Be careful!)

While squash is cooking, toast nuts in a dry small heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until fragrant and a shade darker, about 6 minutes, then cool completely.
Pulse nuts and garlic in a food processor until finely ground. Add parsley, oil, cheese, water, salt, pepper, and zest and pulse until parsley is coarsely chopped.
While squash is still hot (very hot! careful!), cut off stem from squash and discard, then carefully halve squash lengthwise (it will emit steam) and discard seeds. Working over a bowl, scrape out squash flesh with a fork, loosening and separating strands. Toss with pesto in a bowl. Enjoy!

This recipe came from

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Tea for Two

“Under certain circumstances, there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”
- Henry James

This month’s Dine & Dish, hosted by The Delicious Life, is themed “Amazing Graze.” “Almost every cuisine has a version of small plates. Tapas. Dim sum. Meze. Izakaya,” articulates Sarah in her description of the theme. Nibbling suddenly sounds so exotic! But my Valentine’s Day excursion to Lady Mendl’s Tea Salon revealed that the art of nibbling was ultimately perfected at (drumroll…) English tea time.

Lady Mendl’s, at 56 Irving Place (Irving and 17th), is behind an antique oak door in a restored 1834 townhouse. There’s no sign—just a small placard with a tea cup; I passed it three times even though I was looking (and had also actually been there before). Inside is a parlor filled with roses, candles, and etiquette books, which you can peruse while you wait for the prescribed hour, usually 2- or 5-o’clock (we attended the later service); tables are set by reservation only. Jeremy arrived in full formal regalia and bearing a bouquet of vanilla-scented organic white roses; he found me in a satin dress browsing through a pamphlet about posture. We were seated upstairs in a room with a big Victorian fireplace, and we had it almost entirely to ourselves (there was one other couple in the room, and no other tables were set up), which was a romantic surprise. Mozart was playing when we first arrived, but it quickly gave way to crooning jazz and, later, a piano rendition of the “Peanuts” theme song.

(Note: this is my third or fourth visit to Landy Mendl’s, and at no point have I ever seen any other men there, besides Jeremy. I don’t understand why! The food and tea are marvelous, and compared to places like Alice’s Tea Cup, it isn’t that girly an experience. I was sure that for Valentine’s Day the place would be jammed!)

We were promptly presented with a mixed green salad gently moistened with a mild, peppery vinaigrette. The halved cherry tomatoes were some of the most flavorful ones I’ve ever had (particularly notable, as tomatoes are not in season). Then we each selected a tea from an elegant list of English teas, black teas, herbal teas, green teas, and oolongs. I chose Imperial Red, which is a chocolaty, earthy, black tea blend; Jeremy had an oolong (called Dragon-something). They both arrived in mismatched China pots and were frequently refreshed throughout; there was a dish of crystallized ginger on the table, and each saucer contained an ornamental sugar cube. We also each had a glass of champagne.
The etiquette book I consulted while in the parlor explained that High Tea (or “meal tea,” as opposed to afternoon tea, which is just tea and a snack) is supposed to have five nibble-sized courses: salad, sandwiches, scones, dessert, and biscuits/cookies. Lady Mendl’s, of course, followed the rules of etiquette (dare I say it?) to a

The sandwiches were amazing. There were four kinds:

1. Turkey on white bread – the meat was minced and mixed with a tad of light mayonnaise and chopped cranberries. Delicious!

2. Smoked salmon, open-face, with dill cream cheese on pumpernickel (Jeremy’s favorite);

3. Sun-dried tomato and goat cheese on wheat (totally good but the heaviest and least interesting of the four);

4. My favorite, white-bread cucumber sandwiches with minted crème fraiche. OH they were good.

These were all, of course, tiny, crustless, and very fresh.

We were served three kinds of scones: sweet, buttery original ones; cranberry raisin; and cinnamon oat raisin. They arrived with little pots of raspberry jam and clotted cream. The scones weren’t outstanding, but they were definitely adequate and it’s always fun to smear clotted cream on things.

We had eaten too much food already by the time the fourth course arrived—mercifully, dessert. Due to its divine excellence, however, we both managed to clean our plates! Dessert was a crepe cake—a stack of some twenty crepes with vanilla cream in between. READ: I have to learn to make this. Does anyone know if there is a trick to the recipe? …I don’t even have a crepe maker…It was delectable. Fresh mixed berries on the side made it even more so. Divine.

And then, just when we had lost count of courses and were expecting the bill to arrive, we were transported to the Shire from Lord of the Rings and were brought Second Dessert! “Do I look like a hobbit to you?!” I screamed at the waiter. No, no, I didn’t. But how was I supposed to eat more? I had grazed myself silly.

I did eat the chocolate-covered strawberry and do not regret it. But the cookies I had to sneak into my purse for later. (That, I did do).

my dress fit a lot more snugly by the time the bill arrived. We paid what I felt was a fair sum for five extravagant courses – thirty-five dollars each (plus a little extra for the champagne). Then we stood, brushed the scone-crumbs off our laps, made sure the cookies were properly concealed in my purse, and lumbered home for an evening of romantic cuddling, movie watching (we saw “The Chorus”), and digestion.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Truffles Are for Lovers

For all you plan-aheaders out there, my "Valentine's Day Confection" post is coming a little late...but for my fellow fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pantsers, have I got the recipe for you!

These CHOCOLATE GOAT CHEESE TRUFFLES taste complex and difficult - and are a snap to throw together! I know, depending on which camp you're in, you're either thinking "Why would you adulterate chocolate with goat cheese?" or "Why would you ruin goat cheese with chocolate?". But - trust me, folks - the combination (along with the magic catalyst, lemon extract) is impeccable.

Be forewarned that as is, this recipe is not too sweet and can be very grown-up tasting; feel free to add extra sugar! I also like to dust them in powdered sugar after the cocoa; it gives them pretty little spots and makes them yummier.


6 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped
6 ounces (about ¾ cup) fresh goat cheese
2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla
⅛ teaspoon pure lemon extract
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted, for coating the truffles


In a metal bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water melt the chocolate, stirring until smooth.

Remove bowl from pan, and let chocolate cool slightly.

In a bowl whisk together goat cheese, confectioners' sugar, vanilla, and lemon extract until the mixture is light and fluffy.

Whisk in the chocolate until the mixture is combined thoroughly.

Chill the mixture, covered, for 1 hour, or until firm.

Form heaping teaspoons of the mixture into balls and roll balls in cocoa powder.

Chill truffles on a baking sheet lined with waxed paper for 30 minutes, or until firm. The truffles keep in an airtight container, chilled, for 3 days.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Caramel Apples: Birthday Revelry

Last night we celebrated my dear Jeremy’s birthday with a group excursion to Klong, a local Thai restaurant on oh-so-hip St. Marks Place. Klong is my favorite Thai in the city for three reasons: 1) it’s delicious, 2) it’s very well priced (except for the drinks), and 3) the menu is a little more interesting and innovative than other New York Thai restaurants. The fare is evenly split between Bangkok-style street vendor staples—pad Thai, pad see euw, chicken satay, pineapple fried rice, curry—and interesting, authentic alternatives. “Klong” means canal, and these klong-style dishes come from the rural suburbs of Bangkok and heavily feature seafood and an array of fresh vegetables. The Choo Chee Salmon, for example, is served with “Thai herbs and spices blended in mild chu chee chili paste with asparagus and kaffir lime leaves”; they also offer a Siamese paella with curry. The best thing on the menu (in my humble opinion) is a banana wrapped in sticky rice and folded into a banana leaf envelope; it’s served hot with homemade coconut ice cream. Last night, however, there was cake waiting at home, so I refrained from dessert and instead opted for an exceptional cocktail: a basil-ginger-honey mojito. Need I say more?

Replete, the birthday boy and his eight celebrants paraded home for after-party fun. Having come into the possession of a handle of apple schnapps, we decided to make sour apple martinis for everyone. Things that go in a good sour apple martini:

A lemon-flavored vodka
Apple schnapps or Apple Pucker
Cointreau or similar orange liquor
Sour mix (or sugar dissolved in lemon and lime juice) (omit if using Pucker)
A splash of vanilla syrup
Cut with ginger ale, if desired

Martinis were, appropriately, followed by a round of Apples to Apples. Then came cake.

Caramel cake has always been a birthday tradition in my family. I think this is the case because 1) it is beyond delicious, and 2) because it is almost impossible to make well. We’re talking an intensely difficult, imminently screw-up-able cake here. The difficulty is in the icing: a caramel candy that has to be cooked for a precise amount of time at a precise temperature. Dooms that will befall an undercooked or overcooked icing: 1) never hardening and subsequently denuding the cake, pooling on the plate; 2) becoming chewy and taffy-like; 3) hardening too fast and never making it onto the sides of the cake at all. Cakes resemble an archeological excavation in this situation.

Last night's cake was the first one I’ve ever made right! It was a delicious success, served with vanilla ice cream. I’ll include the recipe below, but I also noticed a fellow blogger has also written about this cake.

(My mom makes a regular white cake for this recipe, but I think the bourbon is a nice, complimentary addition.)


1 cup butter, softened
3 cups sugar
6 eggs
1 cup sour cream
½ cup bourbon (I’ve found this recipe is also really good with spiced rum; in last night’s cake I even used coconut rum)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups flour
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt

2 and two-thirds cups packed brown sugar
Two-thirds cup milk
One-third teaspoon salt
Two-thirds cup butter or shortening


Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour two layer-cake pans.

Cream butter and sugar in mixing bowl until light and fluffy.

Add eggs one at a time, beating at least 30 seconds after each addition.

Whisk sour cream, vanilla, and bourbon in small bowl. Mix flour, baking soda and salt together in separate bowl.

Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture, alternating with the sour cream mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and mixing well after each addition.

Spoon evenly into pans; bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden and resilient. Cool in pans for 10 minutes; remove and cool completely.


Combine all ingredients in saucepan.

Cook over low heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved.

Bring to a boil; boil until soft-ball stage (drip into room-temperature water and see if it forms a ball—or use a candy thermometer. Whatever you do, be careful—if you overcook it, it will harden before you get it spread; if you undercook it, it will never harden at all).

Remove from heat; beat with spoon until of spreading consistency.

Spread between layers and on top and sides of cake.

In addition to being incredibly rich and wonderful, this cake also ages very well—it’s actually better on its second and third days. I suggest making it a day in advance to let the flavors settle into each other.

The evening ended in a rousing round of Squeak (the card game). Delight and deliciousness were had by all. Huzzah!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Four Ways to Deal with a Freezerful of Whole Chickens

During the summer and fall months of 2005, I belonged to a wonderful organic CSA (Community Shared Agriculture) from Norwich Meadows Farm in upstate New York. Each week I brought home seven to 12 pounds of fresh vegetables, and every other week I also got one of a variety of cheeses and of yogurts, and a whole frozen organic chicken.

Now, I like chicken quite a bit. Moreover, I like my chicken local, organic, free-range, and cheap. But I don’t necessarily need a whole one every other week. And so it came to pass that local, organic, free-range, whole chickens accumulated in my freezer.

My CSA ended in late October; I used the last of the chickens yesterday. In celebration of this fact, I would like to dedicate this post to my frozen chickens, which I have so enjoyed.


Maybe this recipe only seemed ambitious to me because I had never roasted a whole anything before…actually, following the directions from the recipe was relatively easy, and left some room for creativity. I also benefited from the superlative directions and illustrations for “stringing up” whole birds in Essentials of Cooking by James Peterson, which was a pre-college gift from my brother (thanks, Shannon!). The recipe itself is from Cucina Ebraica: Flavors of the Italian Jewish Kitchen by Joyce Goldstein.


1 lemon
1 roasting chicken, about 5 pounds (thawed, obviously)
Grated zest of 1 lemon, then lemon cut into quarters
Grated zest of 1 orange, then orange cut into quarters
3 tablespoons peeled and grated fresh ginger root
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
3 tablespoons honey
Orange sections for garnish


Preheat an oven to 350ºF.

Cut the lemon into quarters. Rub the outside of the chicken with one of the lemon quarters, then discard.

In a small bowl, stir together the lemon and orange zests and 1 tablespoon of the grated ginger.

Rub this mixture evenly in the cavity. Put the lemon and orange quarters inside the bird.

Place the chicken on a rack in a roasting pan. Sprinkle it with salt and pepper.

In the now-empty small bowl, combine the olive oil, lemon and orange juices, honey, and the remaining 2 tablespoons ginger. Mix well.

Place the chicken in the oven and roast, basting with the citrus juice mixture at least 4 times during cooking, until the juices run clear when the thigh is pierced with a knife, about 1 hour.

Transfer to a serving platter and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Carve the chicken. Garnish with orange sections.

This recipe turned out beautifully, even for a first-go at roasting, and looked/tasted more difficult than it was. Using a strongly-flavored olive oil helped the recipe quite a lot (but isn’t that always my opinion?). I served it at a little dinner get-together in my apartment, where I don’t have a dining table! I put all the food on my coffee table, and everyone sat on pillows around it on the floor. Sometimes college is a funny place.


This recipe is great for four reasons: 1) my mom taught me how to do it; 2) her mom taught her how to do it; 3) it’s always a crowd-pleaser, and 4) all you need on hand (besides the ever-present frozen chicken) is flour and a Big Pot. This makes it a good recipe for barren college kitchens.

(You’ll have to pardon the “approximate” nature of this recipe—that’s just what comes of learning to do something just by watching it be done.)


1 whole chicken, thawed
Quite a lot of flour


Boil your chicken in a Big Pot. If you are in college and don’t have a big pot…well, that sucks, but worst-case scenario, you can cut the chicken into pieces (which is hard) and distribute it between two pots. I possess a medium-big pot, and it’s always a choice between the labor of hacking up the chicken and the greasy, burned-on splashes on my stovetop from a too-full, medium-big pot.

But anyway, boil your chicken in water, salt, and whatever pot combination suits you. Cook thoroughly (at least a half-hour and probably more, depending on the size of your bird). Remove bird from pot to cool; reserve broth.

(In the winter, I’ve been known to open the window by the stove a bit and set the cooked bird on the sill to cool.)

Filter broth through a strainer or cheesecloth and return to Big Pot.

When chicken is cool enough to handle, remove meat from bones and split into bite-sized pieces. Discard bones.

Bring broth to a boil. Spoon flour into separate mixing bowl; make a small indentation in the middle of the flour and fill with warm water (about a half-cup of water for every 2 cups flour). Combine flour and water with fork or hands until just combined; texture should be stretchy.

Briefly knead dough on floured surface; roll out to an eighth-of-an-inch thick (if you’re in college and don’t have a rolling pin, use a wine bottle). Dough should spring back when rolled thin. Cut dough into 1-inch wide, 3-inch long strips.

Drop strips, one at a time, into boiling broth. Boil 2 minutes; reduce heat and add chicken. Combine evenly; add black pepper to taste and salt if needed. Remove from heat. Serve hot and delicious.

(By the way, can I just mention HOW MUCH the yuppie, “gourmet” versions of this recipe on epicurious/the rest of the internet irritate me??? Chicken and dumplings are NOT the same as pot pie or freakin’ SOUP. Don’t go putting a bunch of carrots and celery and peas in it. That’s just wrong. It's sort of the same reason I didn't bother posting a picture of C&D--it's mission is not to be pretty! It's doesn't look good - that's not the point! Ugh.)

#3: Supreme Comfort Food – MOM’S CHICKEN SOUP

I was talking to my sister about it the other day, and we both concluded that, solely armed with this soup, we have made friends, coerced people, healed the sick, and eased breakups (okay, that was probably me). This is the best soup ever. EVER.


1 whole chicken (thawed)
Broccoli, chopped until bite-sized, as much as desired (I use one whole head of broccoli)
Carrots, sliced, as much as desired (I go for about a cup)
2-3 cups egg noodles
Salt, to taste
Black pepper, freshly ground, to taste


Boil and de-bone chicken, as described in previous CHICKEN AND DUMPLINGS recipe. Strain broth; chill if time permits.

Skim fat off broth. (If you haven’t had time for broth to chill, there’s a cool trick you can do with ice cubes: drop in a handful and promptly remove them—the fat will cling to the ice cubes. Thanks, Mom!)

Bring broth to a boil over medium-high heat; add egg noodles and cook about five minutes. Salt if necessary.

Add broccoli, carrots and chicken; boil 2 minutes, or until vegetables are slightly cooked but still crunchy.

Remove from heat; pepper and serve.

#4: Healthy Alternative – MEXICAN CHICKEN SOUP

I created this soup myself based on the flavors I discovered in some excellent soup at Rice, but I think it resembles other Mexican chicken soups fairly closely, but without the onions. I, for one, don’t care from pico de gallo in my soup, so this was a delicious alternative.


1 whole chicken (thawed)
½ cup yellow corn kernels (frozen are fine; fresh are, of course, better)
1 cup (cooked) long-grain white rice
Juice of 1 lime
1 small tomato, diced
¼ cup chopped cilantro
1 avocado, cut into bite-sized pieces
Cracked red pepper


Boil and de-bone chicken, as described in CHICKEN AND DUMPLINGS recipe. Strain broth, chill if time permits, and skim off fat. Shred chicken.

Put broth in large saucepan over medium heat. Add corn kernels and cooked rice.

(Interjection/really easy cheat: use leftover-Chinese-food rice after it’s dried out in the fridge for a day or so. It’s the perfect amount/texture and saves you the trouble of cooking rice.)

Add chicken, lime juice, and tomato; stir 1 minute or until hot. Remove from heat.

Add cilantro and avocado; salt and (red) pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

A haiku:

Ah, frozen chickens
You have stayed me through winter!
Have my humblest thanks.

FOOTNOTE: if anyone with authority over these recipes (Mom, Nana, or Kim, for example) has suggestions or changes, please leave them in your comments and I will be sure and make adjustments. Your humble apprentice,


Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Memoirs of a Pound Cake

Cake-making defies all the principles of Saving the Best Until Last. Even now, when baking a cake, I find myself taking a silent moment to grieve for those deprived children who, during visits to my mother’s kitchen, confided in me with sticky fingers that their mothers didn’t let them eat batter…I, however, am a Save-the-Best-Until-Last-er in spite of myself, and so must post my feelings about cake-making in reverse.

The kitchen air was heavy and sweet for days; even after the cake itself was delivered or devoured, for nearly a week the sugar-butter-vanilla fragrance assaulted unsuspecting bread-box openers and oven users. Pound cake was the only baked item my mother didn’t reserve for special occasions; from time to time I’d arrive home from school to discover the cake platter on the counter, a glass cover tellingly fogged and warm to the touch.

Daring to make the initial slice was an expectation-laden responsibility in my home. Whether she was behind the knife or not, my mother hovered like an anticipatory picnic bee to assess the doneness or dryness and buzz a barrage of indignant disclaimers. Servings were evenly dispensed with forks and the occasional afterthought of ice cream or fruit; a reverent silence ritually ensued as we all savored the lavish, buttery sweetness–a yellow, nostalgic taste like homemade whipped cream or housecats sleeping in warm squares of sunlight.

Pound cakes were originally called pound cakes because their recipes called for a pound of lard, a pound of sugar, etc. The constituents of my mother’s moderately Revised Version commingled in a cloud of flour, while I wandered underfoot, lapping at a spatula. Mother would wipe my face with a dishrag and dab vanilla extract on my wrists, telling me that’s what she and her sisters did when they were little girls. I also happened to know that they slept with egg on their faces and socks in their hair and was thus doubtful about the vanilla, but was nonetheless content to dawdle about, smelling my wrists, waiting for the real thing baking in the oven for ninety long minutes.

The oven timer would finally wail, and in a flurry of potholders mother poked at the cake with broom straws. Waiting for it to cool in the pan was agonizing; my hands were ceremonially slapped when I picked at the crust.

I’ve got a baker’s dozen more memories of this cake: egg-cracking, bowl-licking, carrying tinfoiled wheels of cake to sick friends and new neighbors; appearances made by the time-honored cake at housewarming parties, funerals, and family reunions; cake rising in the ovens of my four successive homes, my grandmother’s home, my sister’s; the stained recipe card, aged and almost illegible, lost and found again a thousand times. This Pound Cake recipe has been in my family for generations, passed down through Appalachian kitchens and over sticky fingers of children underfoot, to my very own New York apartment! The ingredients are deceptively simple; but it’s better, I swear on my great-grandmother’s grave, than any other pound cake you’ll ever have.


1 cup butter

6 eggs

1 cup sour cream (don’t try to be all healthy and use light sour cream – it ruins everything)

3 cups sifted plain flour

¼ teaspoon baking soda

3 cups sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla


Grease and flour a Bundt cake pan.

Mix baking soda with sour cream to dissolve.

Cream butter, sugar and eggs with an electric mixer on medium speed, adding one egg at a time.

Add flour and sour cream mixture alternately; add vanilla and mix until well-blended and smooth.

Pour into greased and floured pan. Place in cool oven and bake at 300 degrees for 1½ hours. Cool for 30 minutes before removing from pan.

Wishing We Were Uighur

This article in the New York Times sent Jeremy and I on a wild expedition to find the rarest cuisine in New York—Uighur.

The Uighur (also spelled Uyghur and pronounced “Wéiwú'ěr”) are a Turkic-speaking people who inhabit the steppes in northeast China. Originally descended from nomadic Mongols, their ethnicity and culture were heavily influenced by their proximity to and eventual occupation by China, as well as the advent of the Silk Road and its exotic travelers, many of whom settled among the Uighur.

Café Kashkar, on Brighton Beach Avenue and 14th Street in the all-Russian Brighton neighborhood, revealed that Uighur diversity carries over to its cuisine. One of Kashkar’s featured dishes, for instance, is lagman—and if that sounds a little like Chinese lo mein to you, it’s because that’s what it’s derived from. Kashkar’s lagman noodles were handmade and thus delightfully irregular, served with sautéed meat and vegetables in a flavorful sauce. But that’s whre the similarity to lo mein ended—the meat was invariably tender morsels of lamb, and the sauce was made with a generous amount of chili oil and a touch of curry.

After a lengthy visit to MoMA and the hour-long train ride to Brighton, Jeremy and I arrived at the brightly-lit door of Café Kashkar famished. Inside under the flourescents, silk flowers cascaded over a deli-counter full of kebabs, a TV blared MTV-style Russian pop, and hairy, jovial Russian mobsters brawled congenially over the bill. “If you respect me,” one slurred, gripping the skull of his fellow diner in one hand and his belly in the other, “you will let me honor you with this meal.” Each occupied table had medium-sized bottles of Russian vodka on it, presumably from the liquor store next door. We sat and were immediately presented with a pot of green tea and little Chinese tea cups; the tea leaves inside the pot were not only loose, but whole. The tea was delicious.

Our appetites convinced us to order everything on the menu that was remotely pronouncable (note that the menu items were largely Uighur words written first in Russian and then, badly, in English). I began with a samsa, which is the Uighur version of the Indian samosa: a pastry stuffed with seasoned meat. Samsas are are baked instead of fried and (at least at Kashkar) come only in the lamb variety. The flaky pastry dough concealed a simple, delicious mix of steaming lamb, onions, and spices.

Jeremy had noticed naan on the menu, and seeing that my samsa was even better than Indian samosa, thought that perhaps bread that is traditionally Indian might be too! We both anticipated the crisp, flaky pastry familiar to us, and were very surprised when the naan arrived: its warm bulk gleamed in the breadbasket and weighed more than a pound! “It’s like a super-bagel!” Jeremy spluttered through his first bite. “Like a giant frisbee bialy!” One could imagine Jewish traders carrying wheels of this dense bread cross-continent to China, where Uighur bakers perfected the recipe with an eggwhite glaze and a delicious smattering of sesame seeds.

Jeremy’s lagman arrived, along with my chuchwara—a sort of Turkified wonton soup. The little wonton-like dumplings were filled with (predictably) lamb, and each spoonful brought up a bounty of strange flavors—red pepper, pearl onions, and cilantro. The bowl was huge and quite hot.

Jeremy’s chicken kebab arrived arrived on a sword and had exquisite texture (though a little of that propane-fueled-fire aftertaste that lots of rotisserie items have in the city).

We asked for sodas, and our server brought out two: a pear-flavored one and a (get ready) tarragon-flavored one. No doubt these are Russian, rather than Uighur, but were nonetheless an exciting addition to our meal. The tarragon was particularly good.

After eating as much as we possibly could (and wrapping a considerable amount up to take home), we agreed that, in spite of the utter impossibility of eating more, we couldn’t leave without getting the mysterious chak-chak for dessert. Our server brought us out a double-portion (just to see if we could eat it, I imagine)! Jeremy describes the chak-chak as a “Paul-Bunyon-sized Rice Krispie Treat.” Vaguely reminiscent of funnel cake, chak-chak is fried ribbons of dough, pressed into a pan and doused in honey, then cut and served in blocks. I think it is a Russian dessert, rather than a Uighur one. It was mildly sweet, infernally sticky, and a tasty finish to our meal.

We paid our bill (a modest one for the immense amount of food we ordered—around $30), exchanged grateful words with our attentive server, and rolled home, swinging “I heart NY” bags full of Chinese lagman, Indian/Jewish naan, and Russian chak-chak at our sides…wishing we were Uighur!

Trying saying “wishing we were Uighur (‘Wéiwú'ěr’)” three times fast. =)