Category: Recipes

Compose yourself.

January. A long, dark month here in the mid-Atlantic, peppered with freezing rain and snow squalls and the occasional polar vortex. I braise and stew and roast along with the rest of the northern hemisphere, steaming up my kitchen with warming wintery aromas and rib sticking cuisine. Sometimes, though, I’d like a little sunshine in my kitchen. I’d like a little freshness, perhaps some non-earth tone food.

Enter the salade composee. There’s much to love about salads composed of leftovers, fresh greens, snappy vegetables, and a puckery vinaigrette: they are rarely the same twice. They should come together in minutes, because (in my unassailable opinion) they ought to be cobbled together primarily from the little nerts stashed in containers in your fridge. They are easy to decomposee if you are 6 and are suspicious of sugar snap peas or harbor a distrust of beets. They are beautiful to the eye, because vegetables are the earth’s snarky answer to the sky throwing down a rainbow. (Take that, you blue-eyed ingenue! Gorgeous, and bursting with fiber and nutrition. When was the last time your fancy-pants arch helped someone poop? ) And they are delicious because of lemon vinaigrette. Ask anyone how they feel about lemon vinaigrette after a month or three of roasted squash and braised kale: they’ll feel great about lemon vinaigrette. Lemon vinaigrette promises that summer will be back some day. And lemon bars, too, but we’re all avoiding refined sugar these days, no?

We ate a lusty salade composee on a dreary evening last week. No one complained that they didn’t like anything at dinner because they served their non-whining selves from a heaping platter of food, and if you didn’t want your potato salad to touch your carrot salad, you were empowered to make that happen. Hypothetically.

There’s no real recipe for a salade composee, but there is a method to making a sublime one, rather than a merely good version. Mix up your vinaigrette. I use 3 parts olive oil to 2 parts lemon juice, about ½ teaspoon of dijon mustard to help emulsify everything, and season generously with salt and pepper. A pinch of sugar can smooth it out….literally, just a pinch….if it is too sharp to your palate, but I prefer a little pucker.

Assemble your elements:

Proteins: A leftover chicken breast, shredded. Cubed tofu. A forlorn garlic sausage, warmed slightly and diced. A piece of fish, leftover or quickly seared, cooled, and thinly sliced. Hard cooked eggs. Some rinsed and drained beans. A few handsfuls of toasted walnuts.

Carbs: For this salad, I tossed leftover cooked redskin potatoes with some of the vinaigrette and some scallions to make a potato salad. You could do the same with any grain, or just rummage around for a leftover grain salad that didn’t go over well with the family the first time. Refresh it with vinaigrette, and repurpose. Cooked pasta, canned beans, toasted stale bread.

Unadulterated veg: Greens, of course, plus things that are wilting in the crisper. Halved grape tomatoes, crisp cucumber slices, red cabbage shreds, coarsely chopped sugar snap peas. Consider cubing an avocado, an apple, or a pear.

Special veg: Dabs of whatever is left over. Ginger carrot salad. Roasted broccoli. Steamed green beans. Roasted red peppers. Sauteed kale. Pickled anything.

Finishing touches: Olives, cheeses (nice cheeses. This is not a moment for preshredded cheddar), sesame or sunflower seeds. Crumbled bacon. Fresh herbs. Diced dried apricots.

Pull together a nice assortment of toppings. Grab a big platter, and a big mixing bowl.

Start with greens: toss about 2 handsful of greens per diner with some, but not all, of the vinaigrette. Arrange on the platter. Then toss the toppings, one at a time, with a little more vinaigrette. The extra step of tossing the elements separately to ensure everything is dressed and seasoned will elevate your leftovers into a harmonious meal, likely tasting better they did the first time around.

Arrange everything artfully atop the greens. I’ve used the traditional Cobb salad presentation in these pictures, arranging everything in neat-ish rows, but reasonable people can disagree on the best way to present these salads. Don’t, though, toss everything in a big bowl. You need the presentation to really get the full sunshine effect.

At my house, this is dinner, as is. Pick up a crunchy loaf of bread and cut up a plate of fruit, and all of a sudden, you have leftovers fit for company.

Some Damn Sexy Macarons

Macarons are so very, very good. The french kind, delicate crisp shells that shatter when you bite into them, giving way to a chewy almond center, sandwiched together with a thin layer of buttercream. They are addictive and wonderful and generally run between $3-4 dollars apiece at fancy bakeries.

But I can make them at home. And so can you. And your friends will love you even more. And you may get marriage proposals: I’ve had two macaron-induced offers.

They aren’t simple. I wish they were, but no, this is an advanced project. I’ve been working on truly mastering them for a little over a year, and I’m a good baker to start with, and I’m just now ready to post about them. Go ahead and try, though…even so-so macarons are better than no macarons.

Start the night before, by separating your eggs. Repurpose the yolks. Leave the whites on the counter, loosely covered, overnight, to age. This allows some of the water content of the eggs to evaporate, creating a more concentrated albumin, which is essential to the unique structure of macarons. I’ve tried a couple of times to make them with fresh egg whites, and they were good, but definitely more meringue-ish and less macaron-ish.

While you are at it, weigh out the rest of your ingredients. What? No scale? Really? Either buy or borrow one. Macarons are finicky and eggs vary in size and powdered sugar has a very inconsistent volume… need to weigh your ingredients to get these right. Plus, you’ll use a scale all the time once you have it. I love my OXO version. Also, if you are going the salted caramel route, it is a good idea to make the caramel sauce the night before to ensure that it cools completely to room temperature.

In the morning, leap out of bed like a kid at Christmas. We’re making macarons today! Step one: line two rimmed cookie sheets with parchment. Set up a piping bag with a 1/4″ plain tip (or a reasonable approximation thereof). Make sure your mixer bowl is super clean, since we are whipping egg whites.

Step two: buzz the almond meal and powered sugar together in a food processor. Or whisk really well to get out any lumps, if you don’t have a food processor. The almond meal I buy is a little coarse for macarons, so the food processor step actually mills it down a bit, too.

Now: whip those whites! Using a stand mixer, whip the aged egg whites to stiff peaks, sprinkling in the granulated sugar around the soft peaks point. You want thick, pearly, hold-it-upside-down meringue at this point. Don’t give up too early.

Then: fold in the almond meal mixture. Fold until everything is evenly mixed, then keep going, folding and schmearing against the side of the bowl, until the mixture falls in ribbons, not blops, off your spatula. Remember Newtonian solids? That’s what you are going for….a solid that flows almost imperceivably. You achieve this by essentially beating the air back out of the egg mixture, which goes against baker’s conventional wisdom, but has its own frenchy name: macaronnage. You are such a pro!

Scrape your macaron batter into the piping bag, and pipe quarter-sized rounds onto the prepared baking sheets, actually touching the tip to the sheet and piping at an angle. I found this YouTube video to be a revelation, after several rounds of imperfect piping. My piping is still imperfect, but that’s because I’m not a perfectionist and I like playing “Macaron Matchup” when it comes time to make sandwiches. But the shaping works much better using this tip-on-tray technique, rather than piping from above in a circle.

Age them again. I know. But think of how delicious they will be! And how people will be so very impressed! Just leave the piped trays on the counter for an hour, to allow a thin crust to form on the shells.

Bake ‘em. You need to play with this a bit. In my wonky oven, 300 degrees for 14 minutes is just right, but keep an eye on them. Too dark=too chewy.

Cool the shells on a cooling rack, then match them up and sandwich with about a teaspoon of your delicious and sticky filling of choice. I’ve used jam and ganache, but buttercream—especially salted caramel buttercream—is my favorite. Chill these guys in the fridge, but serve them at room temperature.

So good.

Salted Caramel Macarons
Compiled from many, many versions on the internet
Makes about 30 macaron sandwiches

For the shells:
125 grams almond meal
200 grams powdered sugar
100 grams aged egg whites
60 grams granulated sugar

For the salted caramel buttercream:
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature

To make the shells, combine almond meal and powdered sugar in a food processor and buzz until well combined, about 30 seconds. In a clean bowl, whip the egg whites to soft peaks. While continuing to whip, sprinkle in the granulated sugar, and whip the mixture to stiff peaks. Fold in the almond mixture with a spatula until well incorporated, then continue to fold and beat the mixture until it is a thick fluid, falling off the spatula in ribbons.

Pipe the mixture onto parchment-lined baking sheets, and set aside, uncovered, until shells are no longer tacky to the touch, about 1 hour. Bake in a preheated 300 degree oven for 14 minutes, rotating once during baking to ensure even heat.

Cool baked shells on a cooling rack.

Make the buttercream:
In a small heavy saucepan, combine the water and granulated sugar. Stirring occasionally, bring to a boil. Once the mixture begins boiling, stop stirring, and just watch it as colors to a deep amber shade. Remove from heat, add cream (it will sputter and spit) and stir until smooth. Stir in the vanilla and salt, and cool completely.

Cream the butter with a stand mixer, then drizzle in the cooled caramel sauce. Crank the mixer and whip until light, about 2 minutes. Pipe about a teaspoon of buttercream onto the bottom of half the macaron shells, then top with a same-sized shell, pressing to spread filling to the edges. Chill to set filling then serve at room temperature. There will not be leftovers, but if, theoretically, there were, store chilled.

Maple Shrimp Tacos for Fall

Most maple sugaring happens in the early spring, when freezing nights are followed by progressively warmer days, and the freeze-thaw cycle gets the sap flowing. But despite being “out of season,” maple is a quintessential fall flavor at my house. I use it in baking, and in our house-favorite mustard-maple vinaigrette. I glaze sticky pork loins with it, and drizzle it on oatmeal with crunchy apples. It is a comfort flavor to me, one that evokes cozy meals in a warm house.

This fall has been exceptionally busy for my family. The kids are at a new school, further from our neighborhood, so they don’t get home until almost 5pm. I’m working 3 days a week, doing legal policy for a food advocacy non-profit, and both Peter and I have been traveling more than usual. Add in homework, piano lessons, sports, and volunteer commitments, and dinner is no longer the relaxed family time that it was when the kids were younger. Oh wait. It wasn’t relaxed then, either, with toddlers popping up from their chairs and fussing about the food, and power struggles over table manners.


I guess we all need a few extra simple suppers in the arsenal. These boldly flavored tacos fit the bill: quick, one-pan preparation, self-assembled at the table, so Certain People who don’t care for shrimp can leave them out of their tacos, and crunchy, colorful vegetables in a creamy, kid-friendly dressing. Plus, on the off chance that you have leftover broccoli slaw, you can tuck it into grilled turkey and cheese sandwiches later in the week for killer Georgia Reubens, perfect for fall.

Maple Shrimp Tacos
Serves 4

For the shrimp:
¼ cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon adobo sauce (from the canned chipotles)
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined

For the Spicy Broccoli Slaw:
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 chipotle chile, minced, or more to taste
3 tablespoons lime juice
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 12-ounce bag broccoli slaw
1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves

To serve:
8 corn tortillas

Whisk together maple syrup, olive oil, soy sauce, and adobo sauce in a medium bowl. Add shrimp, and toss to coat, then set aside to marinate for 10-15 minutes.

To make the slaw, whisk together the mayonnaise, maple syrup, minced chipotle, lime juice and salt. Add the broccoli slaw and cilantro, and mix well. Chill until ready to serve.

Heat a grill pan over medium. Remove the shrimp from the marinade and grill, turning once, until just opaque, about 3 minutes total. Transfer shrimp to a plate and keep warm. Working in batches, warm the tortillas on the grill pan until pliable and browned in spots, about 20 seconds each.

Divide shrimp between tortillas, and top each with a heaping ¼ cup slaw. Serve immediately.

Disclaimer: This post constitutes my entry into the Think Outside the Griddle blogger contest, sponsored by the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers.


Umami. My favorite flavor: round, earthy, bass-notes that make foods taste delicious. If you haven’t gotten your head around umami, think about tomato, mushrooms, steaks, anchovies, soy sauce, miso. It is the difference between ranch dressing and caesar dressing. And the reason that a plate of spaghetti with simple tomato sauce just needs a little Parmigiano Reggiano.

The umami flavor comes from glutamates, a group of amino acids that (among other functions) enhance flavor. Glutamates occur naturally in these umami-bomb foods. But because humans can’t leave well enough alone, we’ve also isolated glutamates to make MSG, and synthesized glutamates to make hydrolized proteins, and added them in copious quantities to processed foods, which makes them delicious. But just as there is a big difference in the way our bodies process natural sugar in an apple versus refined sugar in a cookie, there is a big difference in the way our bodies process natural glutamates in dried mushrooms versus hydrolized vegetable protein in a can of soup. Personally, I opt for the whole foods approach to umami, every time.

Traditional cooks have found many ways to add umami without reaching for the MSG. Kombu dashi, the base stock of Japanese cooking, uses glutamate-rich seaweed to impart soulful flavor with just a few ingredients. In Southeast Asian cuisine, shrimp paste and fish sauce are ubiquitous, adding rich bass notes without actually making food taste fishy. Colonial Brits brought this concept home, brewing Worcestershire sauce with anchovies to enrich the cuisine of the motherland. And the secret to Italian minestrone has always been to toss the rind from a wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano into the simmering stock to add a meaty richness to a vegetable soup.

Which brings us to the point: Parmigiano Reggiano. It is a magical ingredient in the kitchen, because of its concentrated umami. In fact, one resource I found (albeit of dubious trade organization origin) lists Parm as second only to Roquefort cheese in glutamates, with levels five times as high as other umami benchmarks like mushrooms and tomatoes. It is my go-to flavor booster for creamy sauces that are too sweet, or a crumb topping that tastes flat. A handful can round out the bitter flavors of dark leafy greens, and its rind…yes, the part you threw out last month, grumbling about wasting an inch after paying 22 bucks a pound at Whole Foods…turns a pallid broth or stock in the stuff of food memories.

In this lovely little treatment, I’ve taken the last (please be the last! My freezer is groaning under the weight of bagged roasted tomatoes, and I can’t face another tomato salad) of this summer’s tomato glut, roasted them with garlic and rosemary, and simmered the concentrated tomato goodness with stock and Parm rind. Then, because we do like our creamy goodness around here, I’ve nestled a pepper-spiked, umami-rich Parmigiano Reggiano flan in the middle of each bowl. This is dinner party food. Or Tuesday lunch with your husband food, if he’s working from home and you are working from home and everyone is wearing flannel pants but let’s have a date lunch anyway. Or rainy Sunday food, because rainy Sundays are the best cooking days of all. Find an opportunity make it, then take a moment to savor the umami of it all.

Rustic Tomato Soup with Parmigiano Reggiano Flan

For the soup:
About 4 pounds assorted tomatoes
2 heads garlic
1 large yellow onion, peeled and chopped
3 large sprigs rosemary
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups flavorful stock (chicken or not-too-sweet vegetable)
1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes
1 2″x 3″ piece Parmigiano-Reggiano rind
4 cups stemmed spinach, coarsely chopped

For the flans:
1 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 1/2 cups half-and half
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, plus more for serving
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
butter for the ramekins

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Cut the tomatoes into roughly the same size chunks, leaving cherry tomatoes whole, halving Romas, and chunking up larger slicing tomatoes. Slice the top 1/2″ off each of the garlic heads. Combine chopped tomatoes, garlic heads, chopped onion, and rosemary in a large bowl. Pour olive oil over everything, and season with the salt. Toss to combine, then pour out onto two rimmed baking sheets, shaking gently to settle everything into a single layer. Ensure the garlic heads are cut side down, then roast in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes, until tomatoes are blistered, onions are lightly charred in spots, and the garlic is soft and aromatic. Reduce the heat to 300 degrees after taking the tomatoes out.

Remove the garlic and rosemary from the pans, then scrape the tomato mixture into a 4 quart pot, making sure to get all juices and crusty bits into the pot. Squeeze the roasted garlic from its skins and add to the pot, along with the stock, chile flakes, and cheese rind. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, uncovered, for at least 15-20 minutes. Fish out the cheese rind, and use a stick blender to puree soup somewhat, leaving plenty of texture. Stir in the spinach, taste for seasoning, and continue simmering until spinach wilts.

While the soup is doing its thing, combine the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese with the half and half in a small pot over medium heat. Stirring frequently, heat the mixture until bubble appear at the edges and wisps of steam escape, then remove from heat, cover, and set aside for about 15 minutes.

Butter 6 1-cup ramekins and place them in a deep baking dish. In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, egg yolks, salt, and pepper. Strain the cheese-infused half and half into the egg mixture, then whisk well to combine. Divide custard between the prepared ramekins. Pour very hot tap water into the baking pan so that the ramekins are sitting in at least 1 inch of water, then transfer to the oven (remember, you turned it down to 300?) and bake until set, about 40 minutes.

When ready to serve, run a sharp knife around the edge of each flan and turn out into a wide soup bowl. Ladle soup around the flans, and generously garnish with fresh cracked pepper. Serve hot.


Disclaimer: This blog post constitutes my entry into the Legends of Europe Market Basket Recipe Contest.

Midweek Minestrone

Wait….was that a chill I felt in the air? A freshening of the breeze? The scuttle of fallen leaves? It is here, people! Fall! The best season of the year.

Along with the fresh air, blowing out summer’s rank humidity, comes a fresh school year. A new schedule for us: homework, piano practice, swimming class (times two, one Tuesday and one Thursday) and a return to seated homecooked meals after a summer of sandwiches and pretzels by the pool.

At times like these, I’m much more likely to reach for a comforting family favorite, leaving the experiments for less-hectic days. Midweek Minestrone is a warm meal-in-a-bowl, crammed with vegetables and protein, garlicky and a little spicy from the sausage, just waiting for a chunk of crusty bread to dunk on in. It comes together in a low maintenance steps, with lots of time between them for helping with math or admiring an acorn collection. It improves with a day or 3 in the fridge. Mmmm….soup is good food.

Midweek Minestrone
Serves 4-6

3-4 links Italian sausage-hot or sweet-casings removed
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
2 cups (1 large or 2 medium) chopped zucchini
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes with Italian seasonings (or use plain, and add some oregano, maybe a little fennel)
3 cups chicken stock
1 14-ounce can white beans
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
grated parmesan cheese, for serving

Crumble the sausage into a large dutch oven, over medium heat. Stirring occasionally, brown the sausage, then transfer to a paper towel lined plate to drain. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat (if you are using a lower fat sausage, you may actually need to add a splash of olive oil) and add the chopped onion to the pan. Cook down the onion for 10-15 minutes, until starting to caramelize. Add the zucchini, garlic and salt, and cook until zucchini has given up some of its liquid. Add tomatoes, stock and reserved sausage, bring to a boil, and reduce heat. Simmer for 10-20 minutes, until zucchini is very tender. Add beans and vinegar, warm through, and taste for seasoning; balance flavors with salt and black pepper. Serve piping hot with parmesan cheese on top.

Challah back!

In my next life, I will be Jewish. My own spirituality has been most alive when I am engaged in Talmudic-method argument about matters of faith and ritual; to me, the Jewish tradition stands at the crossroads of faith and reason.

And the food! Growing up without a strong food tradition, I attached myself, duckling-style, to the first food that truly stirred my soul. Matzo ball soup. Long-braised brisket. Latkes. And loaves of pillowy challah, rich with eggs and symbolism.

But perhaps the strongest argument for my reincarnate conversion is the celebration of a new year in the fall. My inner clock, perhaps influenced by the American school calendar, absolutely understands fall as the moment of fresh start in the year. While most northern hemisphere cultures are celebrating the harvest, it is Jews alone who acknowledge the new energy that a chill can bring. The trees put on their best outfits. The squirrels and farmers are energetically stockpiling. My family moves in lockstep, basking in the not-yet-disrupted order of routine. It is a new year. L’shanah tovah!

Honey Apple Challah
adapted from The Shiksa in the Kitchen
Makes 2 round challah loaves: one for your family, one as a gift.

1 1/2 cups lukewarm water, divided
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (or 1 packet)
1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
2 eggs, divided
3 egg yolks
3/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 tablespoon kosher salt
6 to 7 cups flour
3 medium granny smith apples
2 tbsp turbinado sugar (optional)

Combine 1/2 cup water with the yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar in a large mixing bowl, and set aside to proof. While the yeast bubbles, whisk together remaining 1 cup water, 1 whole egg, egg yolks, honey, canola oil, vanilla, and salt. Add to proofed yeast mixture and stir to combine, then begin adding flour, one cup at a time, until you have a soft dough that is sticky but still workable. Turn out dough onto a well-floured countertop and knead until smooth and velvety, about 5 minutes. Transfer dough to a clean oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside to rise. After about 1 hour, gently deflate dough, fold in thirds like a business letter, and allow to rise again.

While the dough rises, peel, core, and chop the apples. Toss with the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and a pinch of salt and set aside.

After the second rise, gently move dough back onto a floured counter top and divide in two. Working with one half at a time, divide dough into 4 even portions. Roll or pat into a rough 12″ x 3 ” rectangle. Scatter a handful of apples (about 1/8th of the mixture) over the rectangle, then pull edges together over the apples and pinch shut to form a 12″ apple-filled rope. Repeat until you have 4 filled ropes, then brain into a round challah. Please look at Tori’s excellent photo tutorial on shaping for more information on these steps; they aren’t hard, but the visual helps.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Transfer the shaped challah to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Whisk together the remaining egg with 2 tablespoons water and a pinch of salt, then generously brush the challah with egg wash. Sprinkle with a tablespoon of turbinado sugar, if using, to add a crunchy holiday sparkle to the loaf. Set aside to rise one last time for at least 45 minutes, until dough has doubled (poke dough gently; the impression of your finger should remain). Shape second portion of dough in the same way while the first one rises.

Bake challah in the preheated oven 40-45 minutes, rotating pan at least once during baking to ensure even browning. Cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.

Midsummer’s Harvest Dream

So I got back from this:

And found this:

A few sweaty hours in my neglected garden yielded, along with an unseemly pile of weeds and bitch-ass raccoon*-bitten tomatoes, an inspiring pile of tasty and delicious veggies. We have passed the tipping point in the “work in, harvest out” balance. Squeals of joy from beet and chard lovers all around!

So what to do with it all? I have ideas! I started with this, which was delicious, and this, which is insanely moist and flavorful. Next time, I’ll skip the frosting so I don’t feel so bad about eating it for breakfast. Which I did, anyway, this morning, but felt a little bad about it.

And then I made one of my favorite cooking-in-the-summer recipes, which should not be confused with not-cooking-in-the-summer recipes, in which vegetables are pure and perfect and just raw or grilled with a little salt and olive oil. But yes, cooking: greek-style greens pie. Basically spanakopita, but loaded with assertively flavored swiss chard and beet greens instead of spinach. These greens really stand up to feta’s punch, so you taste verdant green-ness, not just briny tang. Not that there is a thing wrong with briny tang, but, you know, balance. In all things.

The magic here is in the crispy, flaky phyllo crust. If you fear phyllo, I’m guessing that you’ve never played with it. To me, phyllo is a great ingredient for “good enough” cooking… perfection is necessary, or expected, with phyllo. You layer a sheet or two in a pan, brush (do you have a pastry brush? Worth the 5 bucks you’ll spend on it; I use mine weekly) with melted butter or olive oil or a mixture of the two, then layer some more. If the edges look funky, tuck them in. Or fold them over. Or cut them off. It’s all good.

I love this recipe because it doubles and triples as your harvest doubles and triples. Freeze pans of greens pie, unbaked, as a way to preserve the harvest (because greens tend to come all at once, it seems). Or bake a bunch and bring them to friends with new babies. Or who are tapping their toes, waiting for new babies, as the case may be.

I also love it because it is delicious, and my 7 year old agrees.

**Remind me to tell you about the bitch-ass raccoon. Soon.

Greek-Style Greens Pie
Serves 4 as an entree with a chunky Greek salad or 6-8 as a side dish

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
10 cups chopped summer greens, such as kale, chard, beet greens, and turnip greens, center ribs removed
2 eggs
4 ounces crumbled feta cheese
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ cup chopped scallions
½ cup chopped parsley
9 phyllo dough sheets, thawed

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a very large skillet over medium heat. Saute the onions and garlic, stirring frequently, until golden and tender. Add the greens and allow to wilt, stirring often to bring wilted greens to the top. When the greens have cooked down, continue sauteing until the pan is dry, another 3 or 4 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.

Combine eggs, feta, salt, pepper flakes, scallions, and parsley in a large bowl. Add the cooked greens, and stir to combine.

Pour the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil into a small bowl. Use a pastry brush to lightly coat the inside of a 9×9 square baking dish with the olive oil. Unroll the phyllo sheets and cover with a damp cloth while you work. Stack 3 sheets on a cutting board and lightly brush with olive oil, then fit into the bottom and sides of prepared pan. Repeat with 3 more sheets, and fit into pan at a 90-degree angle to the first sheets.

Fill pan with greens mixture, then oil and layer 3 more stacked sheets of phyllo on top, folding and tucking to enclose filling. Brush top with any remaining olive oil. Use a sharp knife to score pie all the way through, into 6 portions.

Bake pie in the preheated oven until puffed, golden, and crisp, about 30 minutes. Cool slightly then re-cut along scored portion lines. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Comfort Food

I really should have served this in an earthenware bowl. Rice pudding is not “presentation” food, even rice pudding this good.

This month has been rainy and blah and trees are mildewy and the basement has flooded and now we need to spend our new shed budget on getting the basement waterproofed and re-drywalled and re-carpeted. Good times.

And it is still rainy today. And rain is in the forecast until Thursday. And I don’t live in Seattle.

So, I made some rice pudding today. Caramel Apple Rice Pudding, to be precise, adapted from a Dorie Greenspan recipe I found in Bon Appetit.

I’ve been playing with rice pudding a bit lately. It’s not a food from my own childhood; my mom has an aversion to “mushy foods,” so things in the rice pudding-polenta-tapioca-oatmeal world were right out. But after discovering it’s diner-y goodness in my 20s, I’ve been working on perfecting my own version. I like a super creamy rice pudding, so I’ve always gravitated towards recipes that contain eggs, imagining sort of a custardy effect. But this version, made with arborio rice, was a revelation. No eggs, no cream, just arborio rice (the kind often used for risotto), whole milk, a little sugar and vanilla. And yet, here it is: a truly aspirational thick and rich rice pudding. The glorious caramel apple topping, which is jacked with cream, made it seasonal and company-worthy. Another time, though, I’ll use Dorie’s rice pudding and just stir in a handful of golden raisins. Comfort food perfection.

Caramel Apple Rice Pudding
Serves 4-6

For the Pudding:
3 cups water
1/2 cup arborio rice
4 cups whole milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Caramel Apple Topping:
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons orange juice
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup cider
2 cups peeled, chopped apples
1/3 cup heavy cream

To make the pudding, bring the water to a boil, with a pinch of salt. Add the rice, return to a boil, and cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Drain rice into a mesh strainer and set aside. Pour milk, sugar and another pinch of salt into the same pot, and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Add the par-boiled rice, return the mixture to a simmer, and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until thick and creamy, about 45 minutes. Stir in the vanilla, and serve warm or at room temperature.

To make the caramel apple topping, combine the sugar and orange juice in a nonstick saute pan over medium-high heat. Cook, swirling the mixture carefully in the pan, until sugar melts and takes a deep amber hue, about 5 minutes. Take the pan off the heat, add the butter and salt, continuing to swirl, then pour in the cider. The caramel with seize up, but that’s ok. Return to the heat, and cook, stirring, until the caramel melts smoothly again. Add the apples, bring to a simmer, and cook until tender, about 5 more minutes. Pour in the cream (whee!) and continue to cook until thickened, 4-5 more minutes.

Serve pudding topped with caramel apples, in earthenware bowls, on a rainy night.

Holy Crepe!

An autumnal cold front blew through the mid-Atlantic yesterday afternoon, driving out the last lingering late-summer heat. After running around, opening windows and shutting down the AC, my thoughts turned to dinner. Of course. I think about dinner a lot.

It would have been just the moment to make a butternut squash soup, or a cozy cider-braised chicken, or maybe my favorite pork tenderloin recipe, with onions and a maple pan sauce, just asking to be served over spicy mashed sweet potatoes. But my cupboard was fairly bare, devoid of butternut squash, chicken and pork tenderloin. I did, however, have a pound of super-creamy fresh ricotta from Blue Ridge Dairy Company, and that was inspiration enough.

Cheese manicotti, or crespelle, if you prefer, are a favorite here. The basic recipe comes from Peter’s old girlfriend, a stylish and sassy Italian-American woman who trained him well for me. Thank, Jen-sub-one. Simple crepes, rolled around a rich herb and ricotta filling, lightly sauced-and-cheesed, and baked until bubbly: yum.

Crepes are very manageable. You don’t need a crepe pan; in fact, I think that an 8-inch non-stick saute pan (the one you probably make eggs in) is preferable to the authentically-French steel crepe pan. Unless you’ve totally jacked up the non-stick coating, you don’t even need to butter the pan for crepes, which lets you cook them hot and fast without worrying about the butter solids burning and smoking up the kitchen. Heat the pan, then lift it off the heat, pour in a quarter-cup of batter, and swirl the batter around to coat the pan in a thin layer. If you are getting lots of holes in your crepes, and this bothers you, add a little more batter at the start of the process. Return the pan to the heat, and cook about 30 seconds, until the edges are dry and pull away slightly from the pan. Flip the crepe–using your fingers or a flipper, unless you need a new party trick and want to master airborne crepe flippery–and cook another 15 seconds on the second side, then slide it onto a plate. Repeat. You’ll find a rhythm; it actually goes pretty quickly. I managed to crank out a dozen crepes in the time it took my kids to agree on 3 books from the crinkly 4-page Scholastic Books catalog…about 10 minutes.

The first one will be funky looking, and the next three should be lightly sprinkled with sugar and a few drops from a lemon wedge, rolled up and noshed on by hungry cooks and kids. It would be a travesty to skip this important step.

Next, use the crepe pan to saute some onions and garlic in olive oil, then add in some good crushed tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper and simmer while you assemble the manicotti, just 10 or 15 minutes.

Stir together the filling. Ricotta is the diva of this dish, so try to find some good stuff. Italian markets will have fresh ricotta, as will many dairies and farmer’s markets. And it is easy to make yourself if you have the time and inclination. I’d avoid supermarket ricotta for this recipe.

Next, an assembly line of crepery:

And once everyone’s nestled into a pan, lightly sauced and cheese, and baked until bubbly, it’s dinner time.

(Some of our manicotti were left nekkid for small individuals who like everything better “plain”)

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Bruschetta*, optimized.

Bruschetta is summer on a plate. Tomatoes, basil, fruity olive oil on a crisp and flavorful slice of bread….simple, perfect food. It’s all you need for dinner when the heat index is approaching triple digits and there is a pitcher of sun tea on the counter. Or a bottle of sauvignon blanc in the fridge.

But bruschetta can also be lackluster, even when you use those garden-ripe tomatoes and your best olive oil. Tomatoes have a very high water content, that varies with the time of year and type of tomato. While I don’t generally embrace fussy procedures designed to fix barely-perceivable flaws in recipes (I’m talking to you, Christopher Kimball), in this case, I think a little fussing really elevates the whole tomatoes-on-toast thing. And really, I’m not asking that much of you.

Start by coring, then chopping some summer tomatoes. Try to use ones that have never been refrigerated…chilling tomatoes speeds the conversion of natural sugars into starches. So if you can get your tomatoes from the farmer’s market, the “locally grown” table at the supermarket, or from your neighbor’s garden on a moonless night, those are the ones to use here. Some people squish the goo out first. I like the goo; I like the texture of the seeds.

Once you have chopped up a bunch of tomatoes (one per person if this is dinner….maybe one per 2 or 3 people if this is a cocktail snackie), combine them in a bowl with a big (BIG!) pinch of coarse salt. And if you like garlic in your bruschetta, which I do, add 1 minced clove for every two tomatoes. Don’t overdo the raw garlic; we are seeking balance here. Balance, peace, enlightenment, through tomatoes.

Set the tomato-salt-garlic mixture on the counter for at least 20 minutes, or maybe an hour or 2. If you leave it too long, the salt will actually start to change the texture of the tomatoes for the worse, but there’s a wide sweet spot in there in which the water is being drawn out of the tomatoes, concentrating their tomatoeness as they are subtly seasoned with salt and garlic.

While that magic is happening, make toast. You can make it in the toaster or the oven or on the grill, but please, start with good bread. Grocery store baugette is not good bread, at least at my grocery store. But there are lots of places these days where you can get a nice, rustic, slow-risen, flavorful and sturdy loaf of bread. Ciabatta works well here, as do most loaves labelled “artisan” (human hands add a lot to the bread-making process). I really like Panera’s sourdough baugette for bruschetta. Take your good bread and slice it about as thick as your pinkie finger. Drizzle with some olive oil, and toast until you get some color on it…brown color. If you are grilling, go for a touch of char.

When you are ready to serve, drain off the liquid that has accumulated from the tomatoes. You can use a strainer or just pour it off carefully to minimize your dish pile. There’s flavor in the liquid, yes, and if you are into tomato water cocktails, this is a pretty good approximation, but me, I just dump the stuff down the drain.

Return your now-optimized tomatoes to a bowl, and bathe with a few glugs of good olive oil. Add copious fresh basil, either torn or thinly slivered, and gently toss. Arrange your toast on a platter, slightly overlapping, and then top with the tomatoes, not worrying at all about keeping everything on the toasts. This is food that should require fingers…or crusts of toast…greedily nabbing unclaimed tomatoes.

Serve immediately, but slowly, on the patio, with cool drinks. Ahhh.

Enjoy the rest of your summer! I’m going to do the same, and will be back with more random food thoughts in early September. Promise.

* My dear friends, the name of this dish is pronounced “brew-sket-ta.” With a melodic “r”. But not, despite the best corrective efforts of servers at Italian chain restaurants around this great nation, “brew-shet-ta,” no matter how melodic you make the r. Just as we don’t insist on calling pizza “piz-za” nor tortillas “tor-til-las,” we can embrace the proper pronunciation here, too.