Wednesday, December 24, 2008

happy holidays!

Almond Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing and Candies

the lot of 'em

holly leaves and coconut-hair cookie man

snowflake, star and wreath

little cookie man
Merry Christmas everybody!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

in between the butter and sugar

In the midst of the sugar-frenzy that seems to be happening all around this month, it seems like a good idea to throw in a quick savory recipe here. I know lavish holiday meals are just around the corner and it's the season for indulgence and rich, sophisticated dishes, but in between the butter and sugar, a simple pan of roasted veggies is a nice contrast. I've my own plans for roasting a turkey in my tiny little oven and making pies and dressing and all those wonderful and seasonal comfort foods, but before those tasks are under way, let's have an un-fussy dish of cauliflower, oven-roasted, with a little olive oil and herbs, shall we?
Oven-Roasted Cauliflower with Lemon Thyme


1 medium head of cauliflower, cored and cut into florets
1-2 Tb. olive oil (depending on how much cauliflower you have)
1/2 tsp. dried lemon thyme (or regular thyme)
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a roasting pan, combine the cauliflower, olive oil, thyme, and a little salt and pepper to taste, and spread to make an even layer. Roast in the oven for 30-45 minutes (stir once about half-way through cooking) or until cauliflower is beginning to brown and is cooked through.
Satisfying, isn't it?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

cookies. continued.

Something delicious happened. Fig pinwheels.
The. Best. Cookie. Ever.
(At least for now...)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

and so it begins...

In the weeks before Christmas my pantry begins to fill with cocoa powders, sugars, molasses, and spices, my fridge fills with pounds of butter, blocks of shortening, and dozens of eggs. And then it begins. Holiday Baking. Four weeks of doughs and batters, mixing, melting, rolling, piping, icing, and...tasting. It's a production, certainly, but it just wouldn't be December without a counter constantly full of cooling cookies, and I have to admit, I love every minute of it.

So I'm happy to share one of my favorites with you here. I make these cookies every year, and more often than not, they are the ones I choose to kick off the baking spree. Spicy and sweet, warm and soft, they are an old favorite and will make your kitchen smell like Christmas.

Molasses Raisin Gems

(The original source of this recipe has been long lost - I received this version from my mother, but if anyone knows the origin of this one, please let me know and I'll be sure to give proper credit)


3/4 Cup vegetable shortening
1 Cup granulated sugar
1/4 Cup molasses
1 egg
2 Cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. salt
1 Cup raisins
Turbinado sugar for rolling (approximately 1 Cup)

Beat shortening and sugar together in a large bowl until fluffy. Add the molasses and egg. Combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and salt in a separate bowl and gradually add this mixture to the shortening mixture. Add the raisins to the dough using a wooden spoon to incorporate. Cover and refrigerate the dough for about 1/2 an hour or until well-chilled.
In the meantime, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
When dough has been chilled, remove from the refrigerator and roll into 1 1/2 inch balls. Roll the balls in the turbinado sugar, one at a time, and place 2 inches apart on greased or lined cookie sheets. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. The cookies will appear cracked on the surface and should still be quite soft when removed from the oven. Allow cookies to cool for a minute, then carefully remove them using a spatula, and let cool completely on wire racks.
This recipe should yield approximately 36 cookies, and they do freeze remarkably well.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

bitter greens and ginger knobs

Judging by the next recipe here, and according to the old adage that 'you are what you eat,' some might be tempted to call me saucy and bitter. (Of course, some might call me that without any edible prompting... But only after a really crumby day at work...) Really I'm normally quite pleasant :) and so is this little bowl of greens and tofu:

I know some folks are just never going to love tofu, and that's okay by me, but I adore it and use it often in quick stir-fries. If you prefer, substitute chicken, pork, shrimp, or even beef - heck, you can even omit it altogether! These greens are so tasty, they're great on their own.

Broccoli Rabe and Tofu Stir-fry


2 Tb. vegetable oil (soy, peanut, canola, grape seed, etc.)
1 large bunch broccoli rabe (rapini), chopped
4 scallions, chopped (green and white)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 thumb-sized knob of ginger, peeled and minced
1 package firm or extra-firm tofu, sliced and patted dry
3 Tb. dry white wine (optional)
4-6 Tb. Tamari
1 Tb. cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 Cup water

Heat oil in a large wok over medium-high heat. Add the broccoli rabe and scallions and cook, stirring constantly, until wilted and just cooked (3-5 minutes depending on how soft you like your greens). Add the garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant - about 30 seconds. Add the tofu and cook until heated through. Pour in the white wine (if using) and simmer until nearly evaporated. Add the Tamari and the cornstarch/water mixture and bring to a simmer, stirring constanly. Continue to cook until sauce has thickened to your liking. Remove from heat and serve with steamed rice.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

the fruits of November

No recipe here, but I thought I'd share with you the little fruit platter I made for my Grandparents' 50 wedding anniversary this past weekend.
I was a little concerned when handed this assignment, as November isn't really known for it's bounty of fruit around here. I made do with one of my favorites - cinnamon-dusted apples, some pecan halves, dried figs and Turkish apricots, and a crisp bunch of red grapes.
Accentuated, of course, with some of the many leaves now decorating my yard...

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

soup season

Sometimes simplicity is in order.

6 ingredients.

A bowl of broth, a hint of heat, and spoonfuls of tiny pasta and cauliflower.

Perhaps it sounds unremarkable, but one of my favorite spots serves a version of this soup that I continually crave. I find it warm and familiar like my favorite quilt. The broth is nourishing and satiating, but the flecks of red pepper keep it from being a bore. And if you don't mind pasta that has become a bit more than al dente, this soup is even better re-heated the next day.

Sicilian Cauliflower Soup


6 1/2 Cups homemade clear chicken broth*
1 large head cauliflower, cut into very small florets
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 Cup uncooked ditalini pasta
1 tsp. hot red pepper flakes (more or less depending on your tastes)
salt and pepper

Bring stock to a simmer in a large stockpot. Add cauliflower, garlic and red pepper flakes. Continue to simmer with the lid on, until cauliflower is tender.

While cauliflower cooks, boil the pasta: fill a separate large pot with fresh water and bring to a boil. Salt the water and cook the pasta until al dente according to package instructions. Drain pasta and add to the soup. Season with salt and pepper.

*Quality of the ingredients is essential in this recipe as there are very few. The success of the soup will depend on the quality of the broth.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

a hint of winter

There's something about the scent of maple-coated oats and pecans toasting in the oven that almost makes me excited about the fast-approaching winter. Almost. I'm still enjoying what little bit of fall we have left in these parts. The trees are losing their leaves almost as quickly as they turn. Cold air is whisping in and the sky has been grey and dim this past week. Sure signs autumn is on her way out with winter on her heels. I'm thinking warm thoughts and toasting marshmallows in the wood stove these days. And filling the house with the aroma of homemade granola.

I love a recipe that is so readily adaptable - it's great fun to swap out ingredients and design to your own tastes. I'm slowly filling a recipe box with such winners. This fantastic granola is my current favorite adaptation of Molly's wonderful original.

Maple Pecan Granola with Cranberries
(Inspired by Molly's recipe for French Chocolate Granola)


3 Cups rolled oats (I use Bob's Red Mill, of course...)
1/2 Cup coarsely chopped pecans
1/2 Cup oat bran
2 Tb. granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
6 Tb. pure maple syrup (I use Grade B habitually)
2 Tb. almond oil
1/2 Cup dried cranberries (mine are fruit-juice sweetened)

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

Combine the oats, pecans, oat bran, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Set aside. In a small saucepan, combine the maple syrup and the almond oil over medium-low heat, stirring just until combined and loose.

Pour the maple syrup/almond oil mixture over the oat mixture and stir until well-blended. Spread this mixture in a thin layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 1o minutes. Give it a good stir, and return to the oven for an additional 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, give it another good stir to keep large clumps from forming, and when cool completely, add the cranberries and store in an airtight container.

Thank you Molly for the wonderful inspiration!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

a little sweet

A big black cast iron skillet nearly full of shimmering hot oil is not normally how I like to start my weekend mornings. In fact, it's not really how I like to start any day.
I can't deny the pleasure I got from these fresh home-made doughnuts and a hot cup of black coffee on a recent cold Saturday morning. I'd been
itching to make these little cider doughnuts ever since I came across this recipe months and months (years?) ago. I finally took a deep breath and poured all that oil into the skillet, wincing with each glug of the bottle, and got to frying up these little treats. Yum. Yum. Yum. Yum. Yum.
(Pardon the bite missing...I just couldn't help myself...)

Cider and Spice Doughnut Holes

(adapted from 'Cider Doughnut Holes' in the September 2007 edition of Every Day with Rachel Ray )

Makes approximately 24 doughnut holes

1 1/2 Cups flour (plus more for rolling)
1/2 Cup sugar
2 Tb. buttermilk powder (found in the baking aisle of many grocery stores)
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 Cup apple cider
1 large egg
2 Tb. butter, melted
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Vegetable oil or shortening for frying (enough to fill a deep skillet 1/2 to 3/4 full) - I used a mixture of vegetable shortening and canola oil
2 Tb. (more or less) powdered sugar for dusting

Heat oil (or shortening) in a deep skillet (cast iron is perfect) until hot, but not smoking. (The original recipe suggests 360 degrees on a deep-fat thermometer - I can't verify this as my thermometer slid right into the oil and had to be removed deftly and relocated to the kitchen sink...) You want the oil to be hot enough that when the batter goes in it begins to brown immediately, but not so hot that it starts to burn (it's doughnuts, not blackened catfish). Watch this closely as you fry - the temperature may need to be adjusted after adding the first batch.

While oil is heating, combine the flour, sugar, buttermilk powder, spices, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk together to combine. Add the cider, egg (beaten), butter, and vanilla to the flour mixture and stir to combine. Put half of the batter in the refrigerator while you work with the other half.

With the remaining batter, form tablespoonfuls into small 1 1/2 to 2 - inch balls, by rolling the dough in floured hands. Place balls on a plate and when all the dough has been formed, begin to fry the doughnuts. Carefully transfer the balls, one at a time, into the hot oil. Fry gently for about 2-4 minutes or until doughnuts are golden brown on all over, turning when necessary with a slotted spoon. Do not crowd the pan. Remove the doughnuts with a slotted spoon and place them on a paper towel-lined plate to absorb some of the oil. Repeat with the remaining refrigerated dough. Sift powdered sugar over the doughnut holes while they are still warm, and try to save some for sharing...

Thursday, October 9, 2008

foraging fantasy

When autumn arrives and the crisp air is filled with the scent of fallen leaves and the smoke of bonfires, I start craving something warm, earthy, and fragrant. I wish I could tell you that I went out into the woods, just at dawn, clad in wool and toting a rustic basket, to forage for wild mushrooms to fulfill such a craving. The imagery is perfect. The reality, however, is that I wouldn't know where to begin in picking the edible from the poisonous. So, for now, I'll be satiated with intensely flavored dried mushrooms, a few of the old button variety, and some very good wild rices. I hope you will be too.

Wild Rice with Mushrooms and Fennel

(adapted from 'Wild Rice With Fennel and Porcini' originally published in the February 1995 issue of Gourmet magazine)


1/2 oz. (14 g.) dried Porcini mushrooms

3/4 Cup boiling water

2 Tb. sherry

1 Cup wild rice blend

2 Cups water

1/2 tsp. salt

1 1/2 Tb. butter

2 small (or 1 large) fennel bulbs, chopped (1 cup), a few fronds reserved for serving

1/2 Cup shallots, finely chopped

8 oz. white button mushrooms, sliced

Pinch of salt

Ground pepper

3 Tb. sherry

1/2 Cup fresh parsley, coarsely chopped

Grated Parmesan cheese for serving (optional)

In a heat-proof bowl, pour boiling water over dried Porcinis. Add in 2 Tb. sherry, and let steep 20-30 minutes, or until mushrooms have softened. Remove mushrooms (reserving the soaking liquid), chop coarsely and set aside. In a small saucepan, simmer the reserved soaking liquid until reduced to 1/3 cup. Carefully strain liquid to remove any sediment.

Combine the strained mushroom soaking liquid, wild rice blend, 2 cups of water, and 1/2 tsp. salt in a medium pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer about 45 minutes, or until rice is cooked through (if there is additional liquid left after rice is fully cooked, drain it away).

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the butter over medium-high heat. Add the shallots, fennel, Porcinis, and button mushrooms. Season with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Saute until fennel is soft and mushrooms are golden - about 10 minutes. Add the remaining 3 Tb. sherry and stir, scraping up any browned bits. Cook another minute or so, until all the liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat, add the cooked rice and chopped parsley, and mix to combine. Serve garnished with reserved chopped fennel fronds and a grating of Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Serves 4 as a side, 2 as a meal The sherry used in this recipe (I used an Amontillado sherry) does wonders for developing the flavor of the already hearty Porcini and compliments the fennel nicely too. The aroma is heavenly. However, if you prefer not to use sherry, I'd suggest replacing it with tamari or soy sauce. Or, omitting it altogether and using a good stock instead of water to cook the rice.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

cider... continued.

Samuel Smith's vs. J.K. Scrumpy's

Scrumpy's is the clear winner.

(Not that I minded being the judge...)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

soaking up September

September's rolling out in a cloak of fog and drizzle, little yellow leaves trailing behind - bright red, orange and brown soon to follow. To my mind this is great hiking weather. So this past weekend we stretched our legs on a few mountain trails - climbing and trekking and resting on rocks jutting out into a foggy abyss. I love this weather for wandering.

I also love this weather for soup (Well, I love any weather for soup, but fog and drizzle and cool autumn air gives me a great excuse)...

Or chowder, as the case may be. This recipe for Corn and Potato Chowder is a favorite. As far as soups go, I don't usually follow a recipe preferring instead to raid the pantry and fridge for some sort of spontaneous combination. However, I actually crave this particular chowder now and again, and lucky for me, it's super simple, very quick, and I almost always have the ingredients on hand. This one is a keeper.

Corn and Potato Chowder
(adapted from a recipe originally published in the January 2006 issue of Cooking Light magazine)


2 Tb. Olive oil
1 Large green bell pepper chopped
4 Scallions (green onions) chopped, plus more for serving
1 - 10 oz. Bag of frozen white sweet corn (yellow would be fine also)
1 1/4 Cups water
2 tsp. Seafood seasoning*
1 Tb. chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/8 tsp. Ground cayenne pepper (if desired)
4 medium Russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 Cup Half-and-Half
1 small handful chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp. salt

Heat olive oil in a stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the green peppers and scallions and cook, stirring often, about 5 minutes or until softened and beginning to brown. Add the corn, water, seafood seasoning, thyme, cayenne, and potatoes and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer 10 minutes or so until potatoes are cooked through.

In the meantime, sit back and have a seasonal brew with a buddy:

Mmmmmmmmmmmm. Punkin Ale.

When potatoes are tender, add the half-and-half, parsley and salt. Stir to incorporate, remove from heat, and serve garnished with chopped scallions.

*Use the seafood seasoning of your choice (Old Bay if you're a Marylander...) Personally, I tend to switch back and forth, one day using Old Bay and another using McCormick's Seafood Seasoning. This particular batch was made with the latter. Generally speaking the seafood seasonings I've come across all contain a combination of some or all of the following: celery seed, mustard seed, red pepper, lemon, salt, garlic, onion, bay, paprika, cloves, allspice, ginger, mace, cardamom, and even cinnamon.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

the fridge and the washing machine

(for Wendy's Fridge Door Competition)

Who doesn't love perusing the scraps, notions, and odds and ends on someone else's fridge door? That blank canvas of an appliance is often littered with little hints of our days. A collage of mementos, reminders, and whatever else needs a home begins to form and soon we have a centerpiece for the center of our home.

Except, of course, if you happen to have just bought a new refrigerator...

and can't bear to sully it with your cacophonous array of bits and pieces.

So, let me tell you about my washing machine...
Currently the home of all things fridge-door related, my washing machine has become the place to post our crazy magnets, pretty postcards, artwork from youngsters, and notes on such topics as harvesting onions, etc...

So, I guess dirty laundry really can say a lot about a person...

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

tomatoes for days

I know a cold front is on the way, and I know it's September, and I know I've already mentioned my excitement about the coming fall, but the truth is, I still have tomatoes. And after all the boiling, peeling, seeding, chopping, and canning, after the freezing and drying, salsa and soup, I wanted something a little less laborious to do with the last of the tomatoes. So I decided to try this:
Oil-Packed 'Sun-Dried' Tomatoes with Rosemary

To make these I sliced several pounds of Roma tomatoes into eighths (halves and quarters were too large for my dehydrator), laid them out on dehydrator trays, and sprinkled them with rosemary salt.*
I then put them in the dehydrator until they were dry but still pliable. My machine ran overnight and then for a few hours the next day to get them to this state. If you don't have a dehydrator, the tomatoes can be dried to this state by spreading them on a baking sheet and placing in a 200 degree (Fahrenheit) oven until done.
Once the tomatoes had dried sufficiently, I packed them into a clean jar with a tight-fitting lid, added two small sprigs of fresh (washed and thoroughly dried) rosemary, and filled the jar with a nice olive oil to cover the tomatoes by at least 1/4 inch.**

Easy, delicious, and the best way I know to eat September tomatoes.

*To make rosemary salt:
Combined the leaves of 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary with approximately 1 1/2 cups medium-grind sea salt in the bowl of a food processor until rosemary is finely chopped and incorporated into the salt. Store in an air-tight container.

**Notes on storage and safety:
I will be storing my oil-packed tomatoes in the refrigerator. They should keep in the fridge for several months, though the oil will solidify. I've read other recipes that claim they can be kept in a dark, cool pantry, however I prefer the safer route of refrigerated storage. In addition, some recipes recommend dipping each tomato slice in vinegar before packing into the jar. This method supposedly helps acidify the the liquid and inhibits the growth of bacteria. I haven't tried this, but would consider it for the next batch. I'm curious about the flavor the vinegar would impart and, of course, if it helps preserve the fruit, so much the better.

A good book on this type of food preservation is Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning.

I'd love to hear from anyone else who's made their own oil-packed tomatoes. What method do you use?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

and while we're on the subject...

I just have to mention cider.

I do love fresh apple cider in the fall. There's nothing quite like it and there's probably no need to ask for anything more.

However, I've noticed slight fermentation can yield a welcome variation...
Goodness that's a tasty beverage.

Thank you J.K. Scrumpy. Thank you for making a hard cider that actually tastes like real apples. And thank you for doing so organically.

(And thank you for putting it in 22 ounce bottles - nice one!)

I feel a cider tasting is in order this fall - who's with me?

Sunday, August 31, 2008

the sky is falling

Apparently it's raining apples.

And really, I'm terribly excited about this. I'm ready for Fall. I wasn't sure at first since this summer has been unseasonably cool and just gorgeous, but the apples are here. And you can't argue with them. They smell like autumn. Their colors mimic the turning leaves: green, gold, pink, and red. The crack of the first bite is as eye-opening as that first cold morning after a long, sticky summer. So when I'm given a shopping bag full of rosy, sweet, free, orchard apples I know that cool weather, and hot tea is just around the corner and that sometimes the best accompaniment to a brisk day and a hot cup of tea is a sweet and flaky piece of warm apple strudel...

Simple Apple Strudel with Cardamom


12 sheets of Phyllo dough, thawed overnight in its packaging in the refrigerator

(When working with Phyllo dough, I thaw the entire package - any leftover dough can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and placed back in the freezer for later use)
1/2 stick plus 2 Tb. butter, melted (more, if needed)
1 1/2 Lbs. apples (approximately 6 medium), peeled, cored, quartered, and sliced*
1/3 cup plus 2 Tb. granulated sugar
1 Tb. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom (grind whole green cardamom pods in a spice or coffee grinder for the best flavor)
pinch of salt
whole green cardamom pods

freshly ground cardamom
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Combine apples, 1/3 cup of sugar, cornstarch, cardamom, and salt in a large bowl, cover with a towel and set aside.

On a clean work surface, place one sheet of the thawed Phyllo dough. Cover the remaining sheets with a clean, damp cloth. Lightly brush the single sheet with a bit of the melted butter and layer on another sheet of dough. Lightly brush the second sheet with a bit of the melted butter. Continue to layer the sheets of dough, brushing each layer with butter before adding the next until you have used all 12 sheets (don't butter the final sheet). Gently spoon the apple mixture into the center of the layered dough, leaving a border of 2 1/2 - 3 inches on each side and a border of 4 1/2 - 5 inches on the top and bottom:

Carefully fold each side in over the apple mixture, then bring up the bottom edge to cover. Brush the top of the folded bottom edge with some of the remaining butter and fold the top edge over the bottom to cover the apple filling completely. Press together gently. Place strudel seam-side down on a silpat (or parchment) lined baking sheet. Brush the top with the remaining melted butter, sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar, and make 3 slits in the top. Bake strudel for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until top is golden.

Remove pastry to a wire rack to cool, slightly. Serve warm with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, if desired.
*Any type of firm-fleshed apple is suitable here. I used a fairly sweet variety, but a tart variety is always a good choice for baking. Depending on the sweetness of your apples, you may want to add more or use less sugar.

Friday, August 22, 2008

the omnivore's hundred

Because I'm a sucker for these things...

This is a little game offered by Andrew of Here's how to play:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment here at linking to your results.

(Forgive me - I have no idea how to electronically 'cross things out'...)

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison (not my cup of tea, I probably will never try this)
2. Nettle tea (why I've never tried this I just don't know - I'm sure I'll encounter it one day)
3. Huevos rancheros (in the past, when I used to eat eggs for breakfast I often made them with cheese and salsa - does that count?)
4. Steak tartare (raw beef? or worse yet, horse meat? again, not my cup of tea)
5. Crocodile (alligator I've eaten several times, remarkably, it tastes like chicken...)
6. Black pudding (not too excited about that one either)
7. Cheese fondue (cheese and wine = yummy)
8. Carp (I'm relatively sure I've had carp, but apparently it wasn't memorable)
9. Borscht (I know there must be better versions than the last borscht I made - I'll keep looking... Roasted beets, though, I find delicious)
10. Baba ghanoush (a very nice way to eat eggplant)
11. Calamari (when not over-cooked, I like it very much)
12. Pho (I've had several types - I adore soups, however, I'm not so adventurous with the variety of cuts of meat, marrow, and tendon - I often stick with chicken)
13. PB&J sandwich (well, of course. in fact, I still eat them on occasion, though now my jams and jellies are a bit nicer and my peanut butter is less sugary)
14. Aloo gobi (a favorite)
15. Hot dog from a street cart (when in New York...)
16. Epoisses (new to me - have not tried this one)
17. Black truffle (I've had tiny amounts of white truffles and truffle oil, but I don't think I've come across black truffle just yet)
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes (oh, goodness! most recently it was blackberry - a house-warming gift. it made a nice spritzer with a bit of seltzer (champagne would have been nicer, though))
19. Steamed pork buns (I don't eat much pork, but I have tried these - they looked too good to pass up)
20. Pistachio ice cream (I can't believe I didn't try this sooner! It's a new favorite, though I prefer the gelato over the ice cream)
21. Heirloom tomatoes (I'm currently inundated with these beauties. there's nothing like a real, ripe tomato)
22. Fresh wild berries (I'm lucky enough to have wild raspberries, blackberries and mulberries on my property - they're wonderful (and free!); as a child on vacation in Maine I used to pick wild blueberries to have with breakfast - I miss those...)
23. Foie gras (not for me)
24. Rice and beans (in sooooooo many variations! this is a truly satisfying combination)
25. Brawn, or head cheese (again, not for me)
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper (hot! but a necessity when making jerk)
27. Dulce de leche (heavenly!)
28. Oysters (not my favorite)
29. Baklava (classic - honey, nuts and butter - mmmmmmmmm.)
30. Bagna cauda (if it comes my way - I'll eat it)
31. Wasabi peas (I've had these, but I prefer wasabi edamame)
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl (not a fan of clams, but soup in a sourdough bread bowl is a mighty good meal)
33. Salted lassi (mango lassis are an old favorite - I prefer sweet to salty here)
34. Sauerkraut (of course! though it took me years to learn to love it - fresh and homemade is the way to go for me)
35. Root beer float (still a nice treat)
36. Cognac with a fat cigar (that's quite sexy - I'd do it)
37. Clotted cream tea (tea is dear to me; pastries also...)
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O (jello-shooters we call them... if you've never had one, don't worry, I've had enough for us both...)
39. Gumbo (recipe coming soon to figsandtwigs... possibly. nothing brings back memories of New Orleans in the same way)
40. Oxtail (eh, not too excited to try that)
41. Curried goat (I've heard it's wonderful, but I'm not a fan of goat)
42. Whole insects (well, I'm not rushing out to buy a bag...)
43. Phaal (sounds scary - I've never seen it on a menu around these parts... I'd take a taste, though)
44. Goat’s milk (I don't drink much milk (I prefer soy, most times), but I did make a very nice ice cream with goat's milk a while back - supposedly easier to digest - goat's milk)
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more (I have a taste for whisky - though I prefer whiskey (bourbon)...)
46. Fugu (I don't trust my luck with this one)
47. Chicken tikka masala (mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm...)
48. Eel (on sushi - I don't like eel. I decided.)
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut (I don't understand all the fuss; I've had much better...)
50. Sea urchin (I don't wanna - you can't make me...)
51. Prickly pear (I brought back cactus candy from Las Vegas - it was prickly pear flavor - yummy. I think I've also had a prickly pear margarita - do those count?)
52. Umeboshi (I'll try it if I come across it)
53. Abalone (maybe, one day)
54. Paneer (I need to try to make this again - the first time it didn't work; delicious dish, though)
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal (I've had my fair share (more, probably - it's hard to avoid, sometimes) but never the Big Mac)
56. Spaetzle (homemade is the best)
57. Dirty gin martini (I like my olives black and my martinis 'clean' (?) - just some gin and a tiny bit of vermouth - actually, I prefer bourbon - didn't we cover that???)
58. Beer above 8% ABV (those crafty Belgians...)
59. Poutine (that doesn't look appealing)
60. Carob chips (uh, yes - I don't recommend them)
61. S’mores (last year's round of backyard happy hours all ended with s'mores made over the coals on the grill - why? they sure were good though...)
62. Sweetbreads (I can't see them in my future)
63. Kaolin (I probably ate a lot of dirt as a child - does that count?)
64. Currywurst (nope - never tried it)
65. Durian (hmm... maybe if I hold my nose, I could manage a taste?)
66. Frogs’ legs (what do they do with the rest of the frog?)
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake (all of them, beignets and elephant ears are especially seductive to me)
68. Haggis (nope and I have no plans to try it - when I was in Scotland I saw canned haggis in a tourist shop - good grief!)
69. Fried plantain (goes quite nicely with the aforementioned beans and rice - Cuban style)
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette (I don't think I'd eat the chitterlings, and I'm not sure what andouillette is, but I have had andouille - thank you New Orleans)
71. Gazpacho (it's cold soup - I need mine hot)
72. Caviar and blini (blini - yes, caviar - no; how about those beluga lentils??? yum.)
73. Louche absinthe (tasty and very, very strong)
74. Gjetost, or brunost (have not come across this one)
75. Roadkill (why?!?! we make jokes here all the time, but really - why?!?!)
76. Baijiu (I'll be looking for this)
77. Hostess Fruit Pie (a few...)
78. Snail (I've tried the broth, but couldn't convince myself to actually eat one of the critters)
79. Lapsang souchong (I want to love this tea, but it's just soooooo smokey)
80. Bellini (yes, please - another round!)
81. Tom yum (thank's Tom - your soup is really good...)
82. Eggs Benedict (not for me)
83. Pocky (I remember this)
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant. (not yet - if given the opportunity - of course!)
85. Kobe beef (no, I might take a tiny taste if offered)
86. Hare (same as rabbit? not my favorite)
87. Goulash (well, my relatives are Hungarian... ask me about my paprikosh...)
88. Flowers (nasturtiums, marigolds, lavender, jasmine, rose, hibiscus, chrysanthemum... I grow them and add them to salads)
89. Horse (never. ever.)
90. Criollo chocolate (if it's chocolate, I'll take two)
91. Spam (I regret this)
92. Soft shell crab (I was born in Maryland, but I still can't eat a crab with its shell, but pass the Old Bay, please)
93. Rose harissa (I'm dying to try this)
94. Catfish (many times - a southern staple; fried in cornmeal and served with okra - alllllllllllright)
95. Mole poblano (it's becoming more and more common here)
96. Bagel and lox (I love a good bagel - no lox, please)
97. Lobster Thermidor (is there really any reason to eat a lobster any other way than steamed with drawn butter??? I ask you. Really. Sheesh.)
98. Polenta (I love polenta! and grits (with cheese)...)
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee (wasted on me, I'm sure, as I'm no coffee connoisseur)
100. Snake (it's surprisingly good...and...tastes like chicken...)

Monday, August 18, 2008

spicy. sweet. sour.

I may never master living 'in the moment.' I can hardly bear to be idle. My hands must always be at work, making, preparing, fixing, creating something - anything - that will prove useful in the future or that will serve as a memento of the past. One eye on the horizon and one on the sunset, I suppose. While I admire those who can find balance between the two, I know my mind prefers to wander, waver, speculate, and reminisce, constantly preparing to make perfect memories. And I have, much to my delight, created a vast trove of such memories - each growing more golden with time.

One occasion that has become such a giddy recollection is that of one friend's September birthday several years ago. I remember, with a smile, our night of Salsa dancing and bar hopping in Morgantown (I remember, with a headache, the next morning...). I remember, also, our 'welcome' dinner on her front porch, girls gathered around, laughing in the twilight, drinking West Virginia wine and eating such a feast of eggplant, tofu and hot and sour soup made lovingly by the birthday girl herself.

Jenny C. - I'll see you soon!

Szechuan Eggplant and Tofu with Brown Rice* *adapted from Mollie Katzen’s ‘Szechwan Eggplant & Tofu’ from The New Moosewood Cookbook

For the rice:

2 Cups water
1 Cup long-grain brown rice

Bring the water to a boil. Add the rice, cover and reduce heat to the lowest setting. Cook for 45 minutes.

While rice cooks, prepare the eggplant and tofu.


2 Tbs. peanut or grape seed oil
1 medium red onion, trimmed, peeled and sliced thinly
2 small eggplants, trimmed and sliced into 1 1/2 to 2-inch strips
3/4 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. garlic, minced
2 tsp. ground red cherry peppers
1 – 16oz. package of extra firm tofu, drained, patted dry, and cut into 1 1/2 to 2-inch strips
Chopped scallions (optional)

For the sauce:

1/4 C. Sherry
3 Tbs. Tamari sauce
1 Tbs. cider vinegar
1 Tbs. brown sugar
3 Tbs. cornstarch

Make the sauce:

In a liquid measuring cup combine the Sherry, Tamari, vinegar, and sugar. Add enough water to equal 1 cup. In a separate small bowl, measure the cornstarch. Pour the liquids over the cornstarch and whisk to combine. Set aside, keeping the whisk handy.

Begin the stir-fry:

Heat a large wok or skillet over high heat. Add the oil and when hot, add the onion. Cook, stirring, for 1 – 2 minutes. Add the eggplant and salt and continue to stir-fry for another 8-10 minutes, or until eggplant softens. Add the garlic and ground red cherry peppers and cook 30 seconds. Add the tofu. Give the sauce a quick whisk to re-incorporate and add to the eggplant and tofu mixture. Continue cooking until the sauce begins to bubble and thickens – just a minute or two more (more water may be added for a thinner consistency). Remove from heat, scatter with scallions (if using) and serve with brown rice.

For maximum enjoyment, eat while sitting outside, laughing with friends, and drinking plenty of a light and cool summer wine.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

the herbs

In all the years I never had the space for a proper garden, I always managed to have a sweet little herb bed to cultivate and nurture along - well, inasmuch as one can nurture an herb bed... They require little to no support whatsoever - just some sun and a few kind words (lucky for me!). So, this spring when I found myself in a new home with scads of earth to fill, one of the first things I undertook was the herb bed:

I'm so, so happy I did.

Now we're in the height of summer (fading oh, so quickly) and it's time to save what I can from this verdant and intoxicatingly fragrant plot of earth.
So, today I have two recipes for making the most of a variety of herbs.

First, the butters:
Chive-Parsley and Rosemary-Tarragon Butters

Really, just about any herb works well here - variations abound*


For the Chive-Parsley Butter:

1 stick butter (salted or unsalted - your preference), softened
1 small bunch fresh chives, chopped
1 large handful fresh parsley, coarsely chopped

For the Rosemary-Tarragon Butter:

1 stick butter (salted or unsalted - your preference), softened
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves stripped from stems
1 very large sprig fresh tarragon, leaves stripped from stems

For each butter, combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse to combine; continue to run machine until herbs are finely chopped and incorporated into the butter (cleaning the machine before making a butter using different herbs).

At this point, the butter may be used immediately, refrigerated or frozen for future use: using a rubber spatula, remove the herbed butter and place on a piece of waxed (or parchment) paper, using the paper, roll the softened butter into a small log, wrap tightly and freeze or refrigerate (if you're lucky enough to own a decorative butter mold, I think that would make a very nice presentation). I've been freezing mine to use in the winter when a bit of butter is a warming addition to hot-from-the-oven bread and just the ticket for rubbing under the skin of a chicken to be roasted.

*I also often mix thyme or lemon thyme in with a bit of butter for roasting chicken. These butters are also very nice additions to steamed or sauteed vegetables, corn on the cob, roasted potatoes, etc. I think it would be interesting to try making a lavender butter to use in a shortbread or oatmeal cookie recipe, too - maybe I'll try that one next... Of course, then there's cinnamon and honey butter...

Then, there's the basil...

Basic Pesto

I know pesto is about as common as salsa these days, but it's still a good pantry staple in my household - I make a batch or two each summer and then freeze them to be added a chunk at a time to minestrone's and other soups for a bit of summer in the depths of winter. Also, this recipe is quite adaptable to variations.


1/4 Cup pine nuts, toasted
3 Cups packed fresh basil leaves
1/4 Cup grated Parmesan cheese
3-4 cloves of garlic
1/4 Cup good olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Add the pine nuts, basil, cheese and garlic to the bowl of a food processor. Start the machine and when the contents have just started to come together, add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream through the feed. If a looser consistency is desired, more olive oil may be added. When incorporated, turn off the machine and season with salt and pepper (sometimes a pinch or two of red pepper flakes is a nice addition too). At this point I transfer the pesto to a freezer-safe container, layer a piece of plastic-wrap over the surface, put the lid on, and freeze it for future use. This year, I decided to try putting the pesto into ice cube trays and then transferring the cubes to a zip-lock bag for freezing - we'll see if this really is more convenient...
Of course, it is always tempting to eat it straight out of the bowl on a cracker...