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The Milkshake that Never Was: Also Known as the Concrete

This weekend I had ambitions, and one of them was to make a milkshake with my kids. I let the boys thumb through my very dear friend’s book (coming out in paperback–congrats Ried!) to pick a milkshake that we’d make together. Their first choice was a cold-buttered rum shake that while sounded perfectly fantastic to me, would most definitely raise the eyebrows of every friend and parent to whom Julian would relay the experience of how his mother let him drink a rum-fueled shake (the babysitter still looks at me funny ever since she caught Julian drinking from the bourbon bottle–that he filled with sweet mint tea; he has been reading too much Tintin, yes).  So I scrapped that option. And then Julian turned to a chocolate-covered-pretzel concrete, a mixture of soft frozen custard and chocolate covered pretzels that sounded like pure bliss in a bowl.

We had unexpected company, we missed a birthday party we were supposed to go to, we kept the kids up until past 11pm Saturday night simply because we were having too much fun with friends and good wine to break up the party. And I kept thinking that we’d make the milkshake later, tomorrow, in the morning. We’ll have ice cream for breakfast, for lunch or instead of dinner–we’d make it and I’d take photos of the boys with ice cream dripping off their faces, we’d make a mess and love every second of it. They’d love me and I’d love them and no one would care that there was ice cream splattered across the room or that I just fed my children chocolate and dairy fat as a meal.

And it just didn’t happen.

So on Sunday night long after the kids were tucked in, I went to the kitchen, flipped open Adam’s book, and made the concrete on my own. It took like eight seconds as the recipe is two ingredients long: frozen custard and chopped chocolate-covered pretzels. All it takes is a bowl, a spoon, and the lightest bit of effort to stir. Unlike my empty milkshake promise to the boys, the recipe held true to form, it delivered a bowl of salty-crunchy-cold-and-creamy deliciousness.

I sat on the sofa watching my guilty pleasure vampire soap opera and ate pretzel concrete. I kind of failed–I mean, I didn’t make the concrete with the boys like I told them I would. I didn’t make it with the exact ingredients called for (frozen custard, where are you in Brooklyn?). But I can’t remember the last time that failure tasted so damn good.

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Julian’s Chocolate Chip-Ricotta Breakfast Bread (or, how my kid got me to cook with him)

The date: Last Sunday, April Fool’s Day.

The time: Too early.

The place: My Brooklyn kitchen.

It was a rare Sunday morning, meaning my two kids, my husband and I all slept past seven in the morning. I should say three of us, actually, as it was the sound of the fourth person in the house, my six year-old, that woke us all. We laid in bed, my husband and I listening for a minute, unable to understand what the noises were. Clang, twang, clang. “Julian, what are you doing down there?” My husband called out to my son, who was presumably three floors down from us in our Brooklyn brownstone.

“I’m making breakfast!” He yelled up.

We exchanged looks of pure panic and like man on fire, my husband catapulted himself from bed and raced downstairs. Just in time, too, as Julian had begun to saw through a mango with a bread knife.

We shared an uneasy laugh, scolding Julian for using a knife without a grown-up present, and also just relieved not to have to rush him to the ER on a Sunday morning for severing a digit.

“Do you want to make something together?” I asked Julian.

While this might sound ordinary, it was actually a big moment in our kitchen. Because Julian never, ever wants to help me cook. People always think that because I cook for a living, my children must love to help me out in the kitchen. Which couldn’t be further from the truth. They like the idea of helping in the kitchen, but when it comes to the actual measuring and mise-en-place, they loose interest faster than it takes for the oven to preheat.

So when, that April Fool’s morning, Julian said he actually wanted to cook with me, I jumped.

Before I had kids, I always envisioned this bucolic ideal of cooking with my children: a kid on a step stool, me in an apron, us whisking and sifting together, decorating holiday cookies and making morning pancakes. Laughter, joy, smiles, good times. But what do you do when reality and disinterest dash the dream? I’ve learned to accept that my kids just don’t like to help in the kitchen (and when I say kids, I actually mean just my older son, since the little guy is still a little too small to really help, though he is a master at stirring dry ingredients with a wooden spoon so slowly you wonder if it would be quicker to just stir them with chopsticks). It bothered me for a while, and when friends and others said to my son “Oh, you must love to cook with your mommy in the kitchen!” I learned to give a half smile and say sheepishly “we’re working on it” while ruffling Julian’s hair.

When it comes to kids and food, persistence is key: getting them to try new foods, new restaurants, new flavors. And as it turns out, persistence pays off with preening a kitchen helper, too. So when Julian said he wanted to cook together, I beamed with pride.

We decided on a breakfast loaf. Julian insisted on chocolate chips and to temper their sweetness, I decided on orange zest and ricotta. The resulting loaf was fantastic, with the crumb being moist and hearty, and the flavor not too sweet, making the bits of chocolate dotting a slice all the more rewarding.

Julian helped with the whisking, with the ingredient prep, and even with the cleaning up. Rhys, my two-year-old, was in charge of adding the chocolate chips (and we all know how that goes, one for me, one for the cake, three for me, one for the cake).

The loaf came out of the oven golden and perfect. And Julian refused to eat it. REFUSED!

I didn’t understand it, but I accepted it. And I ate the cake. And Rhys ate the cake. And Matt ate the cake. And Julian did not. And the next day, when there was a sad and lonely slice or two remaining, Julian tried the cake. And he loved it. He ate it with gusto and with the pleasure that comes from consuming something you created. It occurred to me that just as you can’t force someone to eat something they don’t want, you can’t force someone to cook. They have to want to cook, want to learn. And while the cooking bug might not bite Julian often, when it does, I’ll be ready and happy to lend a hand.

Julian’s Chocolate Chip-Ricotta Bread

Makes one 9-inch by 5-inch loaf

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter at room temperature or nonstick pan spray
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/3 cup canola or grapeseed oil
  • 3/4 cup plain Greek-style yogurt
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch by 5-inch loaf pan with butter.
  2. Whisk together the flours, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.
  3. Use your fingers to rub the sugar with the orange zest  in a large bowl until fragrant. Add the eggs, ricotta, and almond extract. Whisk in the canola oil and lastly the yogurt. Switch to a wooden spoon and stir the dry ingredients into the sugar mixture until nearly combined, then add the chocolate chips and stir until mostly mixed in. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan.
  4. Bake until the center of the cake resists light pressure and a cake tester comes out with only a crumb or two attached, 40 to 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely before running a paring knife around the edges of the load and turning it out onto a plate. Slice and serve.

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Changing Seasons Pasta: Hen of the Woods, Cauliflower, Black Forest Ham

Today, we sprang forward. So while the day was brighter for longer, and my mind was made up for light lanky asparagus stalks and creamy-sweet peas, my pantry (and the market) was still stocked for winter. It’s a tough time of year for anyone with a seasonally-triggered appetite. All signs lead to spring yet the grocery store and farmers’ markets are still brimming with hardy winter holdover (yeah, I’m talking to you turnip and rutabaga).

My solution was to let the market talk to me. Rather than walk in with a game plan, I let whatever was looking good plant the seed for dinner. Tonight it was some really beautiful hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, tawny brown and dark rimmed around the edges with curvaceous high-collared tops. Instantly my thoughts turned to cream. Parm. Pasta. Some leftover steamed cauliflower in the fridge. A mahogany-rimmed Black Forest ham in the deli case. A quick saute with garlic was all it necessitated. That and a simple sauce of butter, reduced cream, Parm, some pasta water, salt, pepper. A very un-seasonal hit of fresh basil. Some crumbled blue cheese over the top just because I had it around. A teeny squeeze of lemon gave it a slick of tang, waking it up from an otherwise wintry clutch.

The kids and I ate it with great gusto. My mother-in-law declared herself a hen-of-the-woods convert. It was quick in preparation, light in planning and forethought, and hit just the right balance of rich and bright, creamy and textural. It was like layering a winter sweater with a spring jacket–not a wardrobe pairing that lasts for long, but feels really nice for the time being.

Penne with Ham, Hen of the Woods, and Creamy Cauliflower-Parm Sauce

Serves 4

Black Forest ham adds a hint of smokiness that I really like, especially against the cheese in the sauce. You can totally leave it out for a vegetarian variation, or substitute it with bacon for a richer alternative.

  • 1/2 pound penne pasta
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 pound hen-of-the woods mushrooms, broken into individual pieces
  • 1 cup steamed cauliflower (or any leftover wintry vegetable), roughly chopped
  • 2 to 3 slices Black Forest Ham, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup cream
  • 3/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped basil
  • Juice of 1/4 lemon
  • Blue cheese for crumbling (optional)

1. Boil the pasta in salted, boiling water until al dente. Use a coffee cup to scoop out about 1/2 cup pasta water and set aside. Drain the pasta.

2. Heat the oil and 1 tablespoon of butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and a generous pinch of salt (about 1/4 teaspoon) and cook, shaking the pan often, until the mushrooms are singed and brown around the edges, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in the cauliflower, ham, garlic, and pepper and cook until the garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute.

3. Pour the cream and reserved pasta water into the emptied pasta pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Season with black pepper and then add the Parm and remaining 1 tablespoon of butter. Stir until mostly dissolved. Add the mushroom mixture to the pan followed by the pasta, basil, and lemon juice. Stir to combine. Taste and season with salt and serve with blue cheese sprinkled over the top.

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Filed under Dinner, Pasta, Quick Food, Recipe, Uncategorized

So Good It Got Eaten Before I Could Shoot It: Sticky Toffee Pudding

Ever since I started my job at Tasting Table four (!) weeks ago, my cooking life has changed dramatically. While I am cooking and testing and eating and trying and experimenting at work, I get home too late to make dinner. So like lots of working moms, I cook on the weekends (one week I roasted a few chickens and left instructions for Matt to use the leftovers to make enchiladas, chicken with pasta, etc; another week I did the same thing with a giant batch of chili but it got made into chipotle pie, chili-mac, and nachos) and this past weekend, man did I cook! I binge cooked actually. On Saturday morning, Matt left with the boys, I had the house to myself for the first time in weeks, and I tore. it. up. I threw open the fridge door and became maniacal in my single mindedness to put anything and everything in a pan and cook it. That we were having friends over for dinner was a happy coincidence. That I hadn’t planned a thing to make for dinner was totally out of form. One month ago I would have had every course planned, every herb plucked, every flavor profiled and balanced. But for this get together, I was uncharacteristically (and happily) haphazard.

I admit, the dinner may sound a bit odd if you only consider what I made. But once our friends arrived, everything strangely came together (well, except for one thing, but it has now become my new targeted recipe fixer-upper, so from here out I won’t stop until I get it nailed–more on that later).

The day began by me throwing two chicken carcasses leftover from a previous roast chicken dinner in my too-big All Clad stockpot (a Christmas gift that I was too lazy to exchange for a smaller size). I covered them with water and adding a couple of yellow onions, celery, and carrots. Black peppercorns, a fresh bay leaf, salt, and a few sprigs of thyme also went in. I brought it to a simmer, reduced the heat to a bare bubble, and let it go, covered, the rest of the day.

I moved on. To my lentil-walnut pâté. Then to tapenade made with some Picholines I had in the fridge along with fantastic seedy mustard, and rosemary-garlic infused olive oil (warm some olive oil and add rosemary and garlic and time does the rest). A half-handful of grated Parm mellowed out the twang. Then I made matzo balls (here’s where things start getting kooky). I envisioned them to be tiny flavor bombs innocuously bobbing in my four-hour chicken stock. A few years back, I made the best matzo balls EVER–I called them meatzaballs because I made them with some chicken (from the soup) pulsed in with the matzo, eggs, and duck fat. Just because I was in that deep-fridge-diving mode, I added cilantro and cumin. Not a good idea in the least, but lesson learned, and now I have a new project recipe to think about (and Passover really is just around the corner).

I’m happy you’re still reading because the best really happened next: sticky toffee pudding. I have been working on this recipe for about ten years, and just this past Christmas did I finally perfect it (at least for now, I’m sure I’ll find some way to better in the many decades to come). For all these years I had been using too much butter, too much brown sugar, and not enough leavener. Well, it has all been fixed and you can reap the rewards of many years of trial below.

Of course we all know that there is no “pudding” in sticky toffee pudding. It is actually a cake made of dates that gets soaked in a toffee-like caramel sauce. It’s rich and decadent and divine and ridiculously simple to make (I do mine in the food processor).

The other hit of the night were big fat gorgeous pork chops Matt got from our local happy animal butcher shop. I always joke that I never send Matt out to shop because he comes home with $80 pork chops, and this time was no exception. I made a quick spice rub pulling out whatever spices happened to be at the forefront of the cabinet: Piment d’esplette, dried rosemary, dried thyme, dried fennel, salt, pepper. Pulsed in the coffee mill-cum-spice grinder, it was a beautiful South of France nod to the thick chops which I pan seared in my gigantic 14-inch cast iron skillet and finished in a 375° oven.

My friends brought a stunning fennel, orange, and red onion salad and a pitch-perfect beluga lentil side dish (and several bottles of wine plus a stunning bottle of dessert wine from the Finger Lakes). The menu worked so nicely that it was like I had it all planned out: pâté, tapenade, cheese, bread, dates, fennel salad, Beluga lentils, pork chops, and sticky toffee pudding. Of course the wild card was the meatzaball soup. Well, at least I know what I’m working toward.

And true to form, the sticky toffee pudding was so good, that I got all caught up in the love and praise and sugar-coated warmth of friends around me and forgot to take a picture. And then it was gone.

How about sending me your pictures to show?

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Makes 9 servings (1 8-inch square pan of pudding; the recipes doubles nicely into a 9- by 13-inch pan)

For the pudding

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus 1 tablespoon at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup pitted dates
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups warm water
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the sauce

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup loosely packed dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon, brandy, or whiskey (or no alcohol at all)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350° and grease an 8-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon of softened butter.
  2. Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl.
  3. Process the dates and sugar together in a food processor until the dates and sugar are well combined (not smooth but like a coarse date sugar). Add the eggs, warm water, and vanilla and process until combined. With the food processor running, pour in the melted butter. Stop the motor, open the top, add the dry ingredients, and pulse until there aren’t any dry streaks.
  4. Pour the batter into the pan and bake until the center domes and resists light pressure, 25 to 30 minutes. Meanwhile, make the sauce: melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the sugar and whisk until dissolved and the mixture is smooth. Cook until it starts to bubble all across the surface and then pour in the heavy cream. Whisk to combine, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook gently for a few minutes to let the cream loose its raw taste. Pour in the bourbon, cook 30 seconds more, and turn off the heat.
  5. Remove the baking dish from the oven and pour about half of the sauce over the cake, using a rubber spatula or spoon to help push it around, spooning it from the edges (where it collects) to the dome. Place the cake back in the oven and bake 10 minute. Remove from the oven and cool completely before slicing and serving with the remaining sauce poured over the top.

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Easiest Holiday Cookies EVER: Mandelbrot (Jewish Biscotti)

To commemorate the holidays, all of the families in Rhys’ nursery class were asked to bring in a dish that is meaningful to their holiday celebrations. My first thought went to lefse, a thin Norwegian flat bread made from potatoes. When I was growing up, the best part of the holiday buffet table was always Nana’s lefse. She spread them with a thin swipe of lingonberry jam, and rolled them into tight cylinders. Nana’s lefse were more tortilla looking than other lefse I have seen, which look almost like lavash in size and thinness.

When I was 16 my Nana passed away and over the course of a decade, my grandma passed down Nana’s recipes and cooking equipment. I put dibs on the recipes, her Jell-o molds and tins of various design (fish, tubes, Bundts, grape clusters), and Nana’s coffee pot. I also inherited her lefse pin (a large rolling pin with striations in it so the potato dough doesn’t stick) and like a total moron, gave it away. Ugh, that stupid decision still gnaws away at my soul and makes me want to cry. So when I spotted a lefse pin on sale at Sur la Table a few weeks back, I snagged it and thought myself the luckiest person alive.

Of course I’d make lefse for Rhys’s holiday party. Of course! I picked up lingonberry jam at a small Swedish sweet shop in the West Village. I had the potatoes ready to boil. I looked in the recipe box at Nana’s recipe at to my shock, it was a recipe FROM THE BACK OF A LEFSE MIX!!! No way Nana! Devastated (I mean, it’s like learning your mom’s mashed potatoes come from potato flakes!), I turned to the internet and discovered this lefse website and quickly became intimidated–would I need a lefse boogie board to roll out the dough? What about that lefse stick? A lefse grill? Did Nana have all those lefse toys (somehow, in her itty bitty Chicago kitchen without even a proper counter–she did all of her cooking prep work on a formica kitchen table)?

Okay, by now it’s nearly 10am and the party is at 2:30. In between which I have to drive and deliver my dad to Delta at the airport. Lefse was quickly escaping my grasp…should I try anyway? I quickly envisioned myself happily ricing potatoes, making the dough, rolling the super thin pancakes, the dough sticking, the frustration growing, the dough tearing, flour getting everywhere, nothing working, and me throwing dough across the kitchen, stomping my feet, and having a full-on potty-mouthed tantrum. Okay, skip that. I made mandelbrot instead.

Mandelbrot is known as Jewish biscotti. It is usually made with oil instead of butter and with almonds. Mandelbrot was probably the first baked good I ever made and the recipe has been the same since I was old enough to lick the dough from a spoon: butter, sugar, vanilla, eggs, flour, salt. Done. no leavener, no nuts, no oil. My husband is not a huge fan. He thinks they’re boring and kind of plain. I think they’re quite simple, semi-sweet, tender, buttery, and lovely. “Can’t you dip them in chocolate,” he asked? I glared at him. “You dip them,” I threatened. That ended that conversation.

This is a simple cookie. You make the dough, shape it into two long flat rectangles on a baking sheet (like biscotti) then bake it off. When it’s blonde and just starting to brown around the edges, you slice the bricks into 3/4-inch wide pieces, and then turn each on its side. It bakes for another 20 minutes (flipping the cookies over midway through). These are delicious with coffee, tea, or just out of hand. It’s a straightforward cookie without sprinkles and frosting and chocolate drizzles or dragés. And this time of year, a little simplicity is kind of a nice thing.

Mandelbrot Cookies

Makes about 2 dozen

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/2 teaspoon table salt)

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Using a stand mixer, a hand mixer, or a wooden spoon and elbow grease, beat the butter with the sugar on medium-high speed until the mixture is airy and light, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium-low and add the vanilla. Beat in the eggs one at a time, increasing the mixer speed to medium-high between additions to ensure the batter comes together before adding the next egg, and scraping down the sides of the bowl between additions.

2. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour and salt. Mix on medium-low speed until just combined.

3. Set a parchment paper or silpat-lined half-sheet pan (18- by 13-inches) on your worksurface so the long sides are at the top and bottom and short sides are to the left and right. Place half of the cookie dough on the lower third of the baking sheet and place the remaining half on the upper third. Fill a bowl with cold water and set it next to the pan. Dip your hands in water and pat the dough out into two long rectangles. The rectangles should be about 1/2-inch thick and about 15 inches long. Re-wet your hands as needed so the dough doesn’t stick. Smooth out the top and square off the corners as best you can.

4. Bake the two long rectangles until they are golden and spring back to light pressure,  about 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheet midway through. Remove the pan from the oven and slice each rectangle into 1/2-inch thick pieces. Remove the rounded ends of each slab (these are a treat for all of us impatient bakers–they’re super yummy hot, yum!) and turn the sliced pieces on their sides.

5. Return the pan to the oven and bake until the cookies are golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes longer, turning the cookies midway through if you like. Remove from the oven and cool. They keep very well  in an airtight container for up to ten days.

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A Simple Meal in 20 Flat: Salt and Pepper Trout with Green Beans, Brown Butter, and Toasted Almonds

After a giant belt-loosening wallet-draining feast like the one I enjoyed last Thursday, I ground myself with basic, simple, straight forward food. Nothing too rich, too fancy, or too time consuming—just a good meal my kids will eat that doesn’t dirty every pan in the house.

We had a fun day in the city yesterday and took the boys to see the Muppets (my older son, Julian, totally jammed to “We Built this City” it was a truly fantastic sight! And thankfully no one was sitting in front or behind my little head banging Starship thrasher), followed by chess in Union Square, a walk through the holiday market, and bubble tea in the East Village. On our way home, I witnessed a horrible accident on the Bowery: a Vespa got smashed by a car making a left turn. Thankfully the driver was fine and while we weren’t involved in the bang-up, I did my civic duty and waited 30 minutes for the cops to arrive (insane). By the time we made it over the bridge home to Brooklyn, it was nighttime, the boys were hungry, and I was wiped.

I popped into Greene Grape Provisions, my local food shop for all things twice as expensive as they should be yet often worth it, especially in the meat and seafood department. Since I wanted dinner on the table quickly, I knew I had to either go veg or go with a quick protein. After all the intense meat eating of last week, I opted for a quick trout saute, paired with steamed green beans that get a good sear in browned butter. The duo of a meal counts on five ingredients total: trout, butter, green beans,  sliced almonds, and lemon. If you count salt and pepper then I guess it’s seven. Plus you can get it done in less than 20 minutes Hallelujah.

Farmed rainbow trout has a nice flake and a mellow flavor. It’s a good graduation from benign tilapia and a heck of a lot cheaper than salmon or tuna (don’t let the head-on attribute throw you–this just means it’s super fresh! After it’s cooked, I use kitchen shears to easily snip the head off–and it’s fun for the kids to look at!). Plus it’s a sustainable fish to choose since it is domestically farmed in an eco-friendly manner. I like to give it a fast sear in a nonstick pan with a little butter. While it browns in butter on my left burner, on my right burner I steam up some green beans (you can totally do it in a microwave too–add a few tablespoons of water to a microwave safe bowl, cover with plastic wrap, poke a few vent holes in the top, and zap until tender, 6 to 8 minutes). They come out of the pan and in goes some butter–it browns fast because the pan is already hot–add sliced almonds to toast, and then toss in the cooked green beans. Salt, pepper, lemon on the fish, done. It is the opposite of a Thanksgiving feast, but man am I thankful for it!

Salt and Pepper Trout with Green Beans, Brown Butter, and Toasted Almonds

Serves 4

  • 1 pound green beans, topped and tailed
  • 2 whole trout (about 1 pound), gutted and cleaned
  • Kosher salt and a few twists of black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 lemon sliced into quarters

1. Bring 1 inch of water to a simmer in a Dutch oven or large pot. Insert a steamer basket and add the green beans to the basket. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to low, and steam until the beans are tender, 6 to 8 minutes. (When you remove a bean to test it, recover the pot quickly so all of the steam doesn’t escape!) Turn the heat off and transfer the beans to a medium bowl. Pour out the remaining water and place the pan back on the burner. Wipe the pan out with a kitchen towel.

2. Place the trout flesh-side up on a cutting board. Season each trout with a few pinches of salt and pepper. Melt 1 tablespoon in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 trout, flesh-side down, and cook until browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Slide a spatula under the trout and flip it over (as shown, above). Cook it skin-side down until the flesh feels firm (not rock hard but not spongy) to light pressure, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a platter. Repeat with another tablespoon of butter and the other trout.

3. While the second trout is cooking, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in the pot used for the green beans over medium-high heat. Once the butter is melted, add the almonds, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook until they’re toasted, stirring often. (The butter will brown as well). Stir in a pinch of salt and then add the cooked green beans, tossing to combine with a few more pinches of salt. Divide the beans among 4 plates.

4. Slice off the head and fins from the trout and divide each fish into 2 fillets (kitchen scissors work nicely). Place a fillet on each plate, squeeze a lemon wedge over each fillet, and serve.

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Filed under Dinner, Fish and Seafood, Quick Food, Recipe, Side dish, Uncategorized, Vegetable

Midnight Brunch Spoiler! Orange Blossom and Almond Shortbread!

Sometimes life seems like no more that a series of weird coincidences. Like when I met my fabulous literary agent Angela Miller: when I left Cook’s Illustrated nearly ten years ago, I asked the formidable Jack Bishop (Cook’s editorial director and renown cookbook author) for advice on getting an agent. He gave me Angela’s name and I took that back pocket ticket with me to Brooklyn when I moved here in 2002. Not a month after the big move, I threw my back out and fell behind in my work–getting in touch with Angela got pushed to the back burner. Eight months later in the summer of 2003, the NYC blackout happened, I met Suvir Saran (who happened to be a neighbor) and like kismet, I found out Angela was his agent too. Like I said, in New York, and especially in Brooklyn, weird coincidences seem to happen.

Which is how I met Emily Cavalier, the brains behind the blog Mouth of the Border and the fantastic dinner party series, Midnight Brunch, which I am cooking for this Friday. My sister-in-law Caryn-Ann, went to the University of New Hampshire and was (still is, actually) good friends with Emily. When Emily moved to Brooklyn from New England, Caryn-Ann connected us–see, Emily was trying to figure out how to get a footing in the world of food. We met at a coffee shop in Fort Greene–I think it was 2006. God knows what I said to her–I was like a year postpartum, severely sleep deprived, and probably epically behind on work…to say I was upbeat and congenial  probably would have been a stretch to say the least! Caryn-Ann got married last summer and guess who I run into–Emily! Not only is Emily a lovely person who happens to live a whole two blocks from me in Clinton Hill, but in the five years since she moved to the city she carved out quite a niche for herself planning food events and spearheading press campaigns.

I am amazed at Emily’s indie spirit and confidence and so honored to be collaborating with her on this third installment of Midnight Brunch! We cooked up a fantastic menu that calls on ancient spice trade for inspiration–you know, the routes of Vasco de Gamma, long-ago sea pirates, and intrepid mariners who sailed around the world in search of black pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves. What better time than now to cook up a feast showcasing spices used throughout the holiday season. I mean, imagine apple pie without cinnamon, bread stuffing without a kick of black pepper, a holiday ham without its requisite clove studs, and egg nog without a dash of nutmeg! This Friday, 11/11/11 (can you get any more auspicious?) we’re cooking up a bevy of deliciousness–lamb “vin”daloo, Sicilian meatballs, Persian rice with pistachios and saffron, and smoky honey-glazed sweet potatoes with cilantro and peanuts to name but a few dishes (all paired with stellar craft cocktails thanks to mixologist Brian Quinn featuring SNAP ginger liqueur, Elijah Craig 12-year bourbon, and Banks 5-island rum).

When I was thinking about a cookie to accompany Emily’s cardamom panna cotta, I envisioned Portuguese and Spanish sailors returning home from a many months-long sea adventure and how, once they set foot on land, they must have been  bowled over by the fragrances of their homeland. The romantic in me went straight to the sweet perfume of orange and almond blossoms, which are so intoxicating, especially by moonlight. What better way to honor the end of the 11/11/11 Midnight Brunch journey than with these flavors. Orange Blossom and Almond Shortbread is somewhere between an English Hobnob and Scottish shortbread, buttery and crisp yet nutty and toasty thanks to almonds and just a smidge of whole wheat flour. A cinch to make, it also keeps beautifully for up to a week in an airtight container, making it a worthy treat to bring along on your epic journeys this holiday season.

Orange Blossom and Almond Shortbread

Makes 16 rectangles or 32 triangle-shaped cookies

  • 1 cup sliced almonds
  • 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
  • Zest of 1/4 orange
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar plus more for dusting
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 teaspoons orange flower water
  • 1 stick plus 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Lightly coat a 9- by 13-inch baking dish with nonstick pan spray and set aside.

2. Place the almonds in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until they finely chopped, about four 1-second pulses. Add 3/4 cup of sugar and the orange zest and pulse to combine. Add the flours, confectioners’ sugar, and salt and process for 3 seconds to thoroughly combine. Sprinkle the orange flour water over the dry ingredients and then drizzle in the honey. Add the butter pieces and pulse until the mixture is like coarse cornmeal and rides up the sides of the food processor, about 12 to 15 1-second pulses.

3. Turn the mixture out into the pan and spread evenly. Use the bottom of a measuring cup to press the crumble dough into a dense, even layer. Drag the back of a knife through the dough (but don’t go to the bottom of the pan) to mark the dough into 3 rows crosswise and 6 columns lengthwise.

4. Place the baking dish in the oven and immediately reduce the oven temperature to 300°F. Bake until golden brown and fragrant, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the pan midway through baking. Remove the pan from the oven, cool for 10 minutes, and then sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar. Cool for another 10 minutes and then use a sharp paring knife to slice completely through the cookies where marked (for smaller triangle shaped cookies, you can also divide each cookie in half on a diagonal at this time). Cool completely and then use a knife to pop the cookies out of the pan. The shortbread keeps in an airtight container for up to one week.

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Filed under Baking, Cookie, Dessert, Holiday, Press/Appearances, Uncategorized

Turnover Ménage a Trois: Choose Your Way—Easy, Warrior, or Somewhere in the Middle

Apple picking is an every fall tradition for my family. Growing up, the most apple picking I did happened at the supermarket—so when I moved to New England in the 1990s, I was totally taken with the quaint charm of picking apples. Now that I’m in NYC, I still obsess about where to pick every year, preferably an orchard that’s not too commercial (but commercial enough to have cider donuts) and always far enough away to feel like an adventure and get a dose of restorative fall foliage.

The constant about apple picking is you always come home with an ungodly amount of apples (and if you are one of the oddballs that can show restraint in an apple orchard, well, please tell me how!). This year I went with my boys to two fantastic orchards: Saratoga Apple, where they grow beautiful heirloom varieties like tart Belle De Boscoop and the Empire-Red Spy crossbreed Fortune, and Lawrence Farms in the Hudson Valley where we went for apples (as well as the hay maze and pumpkins) with my son’s classmates.

First on my list to make was Suvir Saran’s incredible gingery-spiced apple butter (the recipe is in our new book, Masala Farm, that comes out in December). I ate it slathered on top of griddled pancakes with homemade crème frâiche at Suvir and his partner Charlie’s farm a few weeks ago and have been obsessing about the apple butter since. The apple butter took care of a clean 10 pounds, but I still had armfuls of apples to go—at this rate, an apple a day would see me through spring. My thoughts turned to a sheet of puff pastry in the fridge. I whipped up some apple turnovers using apple butter and sugared, grated apples as an after school snack for my boys—which, when you use ready-made puff, is a super easy endeavor. The boys ate them with such gusto that I decided to make turnovers again, this time putting more effort into the process by making my own puff pastry.

Puff pastry, also called pâte feuilletée, is like extra super-flaky pie dough. It’s layered with butter like croissant dough, but contains no yeast. Puff is what you use to make the crisp layers in a napoleon mille feuille (by the way, Almondine in Dumbo makes the best napoleons I have ever ever eaten), lanky strips for twisting into cheese straws, or circles topped with rings that puff into vol-au-vent pastry cups (I used to make many pounds of puff a day when I worked as an assistant pastry chef at No. 9 Park in Boston; Barbara Lynch loves her vol-au-vents).

I’m not going to lie—making homemade puff (even a “quicker” version like the recipe below, which believe it or not, is slightly more streamlined than a classic puff pastry) does require a time investment, however, I find it immensely gratifying—like edible Zen. And the superstar treatment you get from friends when they find out you made your own puff is a fabulous ego boost. The downside is then everyone expects more turnovers because they were just so good that time around. So I made a third batch—this time using pie dough as my casing. Homier tasting than store bought puff and infinitely easier than puff from-scratch, pie dough turnovers are a tasty middle line to walk.

Quickest Apple Turnovers (Using Store-Bought Puff Pastry)

Makes 8 turnovers

I like the buttery flavor of Dufour puff pastry, but have made these with Pepperidge Farm puff (which is half the price) and work just fine.

Ingredients

  • 2 apples
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt
  • + one of the following: 1 teaspoon grated fresh gingerroot; zest of 1/2 lemon, or 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 sheets store-bought puff pastry (two sheets usually come to a package)
  • 1/2 cup apple butter
  • 1 large egg
  • Cinnamon sugar (2 tablespoons granulated sugar + 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon) or coarse demarara sugar for sprinkling

1. Using the large hole side of a box grater, grate the apples into a large bowl. Stir in the sugar, honey, cinnamon, salt, the ginger (or lemon zest or cardamom), and the salt. Set aside.

2. Place one sheet of puff pastry on a lightly floured worksurface and roll into a large square that is about 1/8-inch thick. Divide the dough into 4 equal squares. Into the center of each square add a scant 1 tablespoon of apple butter. Use a spoon to scoop about 2 tablespoons of grated apple filling from the bowl (you want enough to pack the turnover with apple, but not too much so the filling leaks out when you’re pinching the turnover shut). Squeeze out the extra liquid and set the grated apples on top of the apple butter. Repeat with the remaining squares. (Place a thin slice of butter on top of the apples for extra richness if you like.)

3. In a small bowl, beat the egg with 1 teaspoon of water and a pinch of salt. Using a pastry brush, dab the bottom and right edges of each square with the egg wash. Fold the top left corner over to meet the bottom right corner creating a triangle. Press the edges together to seal. Repeat with the remaining squares. Press the tines of a fork into the edges to create a pretty crimp. Brush the tops of the turnovers with more egg wash and then sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar or coarse demarara sugar

4. Transfer the turnovers to a parchment paper-lined rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate while you repeat the process with the remaining dough, apple butter, and apples. Refrigerate the turnovers while the oven heats to 375°F. Bake the turnovers until golden and crisp, 15 to 18 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely before eating.

In Between Apple Turnovers (Using Pie Dough Crust)

 Roll your favorite pie dough (store bought or homemade) into a 1/8-inch sheet. Follow the instructions above for cutting, filling, and crimping. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and preheat the oven to 375°F. Depending on the size of the turnovers, they may need a touch longer to bake.

 

Weekend Warrior Turnovers (Using Homemade Puff Pastry: be forewarned, you need about 3 hours to make puff)

Ingredients

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt (or 1 teaspoon table salt)
  • 2 sticks (1/2 pound) unsalted butter cut into very small cubes
  • Juice from 1/4 lemon
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon ice water

1. In a food processor pulse together the flour, sugar, and salt. Add the butter and pulse until there are only a few pieces about the size of a pea, maybe 6 to 8 1-second pulses. Turn the dry ingredients out into a large bowl.

2. In a liquid measuring cup combine the lemon juice with the ice water. Tablespoon by tablespoon, sprinkle the liquid mixture over the top of the flour-butter mixture. After adding about 1/2 cup, stir and fluff the mixture with your fingers or a fork. Continue to add the rest of the water tablespoon by tablespoon, fluffing the mixture after every few spoonfuls of liquid, until you can squeeze a clump of the dough together and it doesn’t crumble apart easily (if you need to add an extra few tablespoons of water it’s okay! Don’t stress about it–if the dough becomes too tacky, you just add more flour when you’re rolling it). Turn the crumbly, shaggy dough out onto a large sheet of plastic wrap. Enclose in plastic, lightly kneading and pressing on the dough to flatten it out into a loosely shaped rectangle that’s about 1-inch thick. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

3. Flour a cutting board and place the dough on top. Flour the top of the dough and then roll it into a rectangle that’s about 1/4-inch thick. Make a four-fold turn: fold each side into the middle and then fold the dough on top of itself in half. Rewrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

4. Re-flour your board if necessary and place the dough on top with the folded edge at the bottom. Roll the dough into a 1/4-inch thick sheet. This time, do a three-fold turn: fold the dough in thirds like a business letter. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

5. Slice the dough in half crosswise. Follow the instructions above (Quickest Apple Turnovers) for making the apple filling, filling the squares, crimping, glazing, and baking.

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On the Side: Smoky, Spicy, Sweet Potatoes with Roasted Peanuts and Cilantro

Whenever I spend time with Suvir Saran, the incredibly talented Indian chef and proprietor of American Masala Farm in upstate New York and Dévi (pronounced like Davy Crockett) in Manhattan, I always walk away craving Indian flavors. Not necessarily Indian food—I mean, I love the dals, fritters, and pilaus of India, but it’s Suvir’s mastery of spices that rock my world the most. The way he scents homemade apple butter with black peppers, fennel seed, and cardamom. His technique for frying ground black peppercorns to bring out their smoky and spicy hidden agenda. Cook by Suvir’s side and your appetite for spice becomes ravenous.

Our worlds came together during the NYC blackout of 2003. Suvir and I were neighbors in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, and soon after meeting, his partner Charlie, my husband Matt, and the two of us became fast friends. We’d have daylong cooking and eating adventures that would take us deep into Queens and Brooklyn, or as near as our own kitchens to leisurely cook course and course of homey, delicious food. And on one summer day, it included grilled corn with chaat masala.

Chaat masala is a spice blend made from more than a dozen spices including amchoor (dried green mango powder), sanchal (black salt), and asafetida (a garlicky flavored root with a super intense aroma and flavor). It’s often sprinkled over street snacks (called chaats) like bhel puri and papri chaat. I has an incredibly salty-tangy-sour-umaminess that is incomparable to anything else.

Suvir dipped a lime wedge into a small bowl of the spice blend and then simultaneously squeezed the lime while rubbing it over the corn. Oh my, it was like tasting food for the first time! My palate opened, my eyes grew big, and I devoured the corn in a nanosecond.

In American Masala, our first cookbook written together (our second, Masala Farm, comes out this December), we included a recipe for roasted and then fried sweet potatoes that get seasoned with chaat masala, lime juice, and cumin. They’re incredible. But at five-thirty in the evening, there’s no way I’m twice cooking sweet potatoes. So I came up with a recipe that fits into my “two starving kids and no time to spare” lifestyle. I usually make these using tamarind paste for the smoky glaze, but I ran out and couldn’t find it for the life of me (New York: a city where you can find anything you desire if you’re not actually looking for it). I came up with a quick substitute (ketchup, brown sugar, and smoked paprika) that hits many of the same notes.

Smoky Honey-Glazed Sweet Potatoes with Peanuts and Cilantro

Serves 6

A pinch or two of chaat masala, an Indian spice blend made with dried mango, is incredible sprinkled over the finished dish instead of plain salt. It’s available through the NYC-based spice purveyor Kalustyans and at small Indian food shops, too. Chopped scallions are a fantastic and less assertive substitute for the red onions (plus they don’t have to be salted or rinsed).

  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt plus extra for serving
  • 4 medium sweet potatoes (about 2 1/4 pounds)
  • 1 tablespoon ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons roughly chopped cilantro
  • 1 lime, halved
  • 1/2 cup roasted peanuts, roughly chopped

1. Adjust one oven rack to the middle position and another rack to the uppermost position. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Whisk the canola oil, honey, and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt together in a large bowl. Halve the sweet potatoes into quarters lengthwise and then chop crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces. Place the potatoes in the bowl with the oil mixture, toss to coat, and turn out onto a rimmed baking sheet (save the bowl for later). Place in the oven on the middle rack and roast for 25 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, make the smoky glaze. Whisk together the ketchup, brown sugar, smoked paprika, and cayenne in the large bowl you used for the sweet potatoes. Place the onions in a fine-mesh sieve and toss with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Set aside for 5 minutes and then rinse under cold water. Turn out onto a paper towel-lined plate and set aside.

3. Take the potatoes out of the oven and turn the broiler on to high. Use a spatula to scrape the potatoes into the bowl with the smoky glaze. Gently toss the potatoes to coat and return them to the baking sheet. Place the potatoes on the upper rack and broil until sizzling, about 2 minutes (watch closely as broiler intensity varies). Remove from the oven and transfer half to a large plate. Sprinkle with half of the onions, the cilantro, the juice of 1/2 lime, and some peanuts. Repeat with the remaining potatoes, onions, cilantro, lime, and peanuts, sprinkle with a pinch or two of salt (or chaat masala, see note above), and serve.

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Filed under Dinner, Recipe, Side dish, Uncategorized, Vegetable, Vegetarian

The Pursuit of Fluffy Pancakes: A No-Whip Solution for the Morning Challenged

In my opinion, early mornings are made for mellow. Not for whisking and whipping on high speed, pulsing until finely ground, kneading, heavy lifting, or doing anything that requires too much attention to the details. Perhaps that’s why I never really made it as an early-to-rise baker (even though I romanced the heck out of the notion). No, at my house, it’s a rare occasion when I pull out any type of kitchen gadgetry before breakfast. I mean, I even make our coffee in a no-tech French press.

My no-plug approach to sleepy-eyed eating can pose a problem if it’s fluffy pancakes that are on my mind, because most fluffy pancake recipes require whipping egg whites. Since I refuse to crack the whip so early in the a.m., I have dedicated many years to coming up with a perfect dump-and-stir pancake recipe and have eaten many thousands of pancakes in the pursuit of pancake fluffiness. Only recently did I finagle a recipe that hits it out of the park.

It took me running out of eggs to figure out the key ingredient: crème fraîche. I mised (as in mise en place—not being pretentious, just didn’t want you to think it was a typo) the dry ingredients and scanned the fridge for eggs only to realize I was out. I raked my brain for alternatives. Eggs equal tenderness, so I had to source an ingredient that could do the same. The contents of my pre-vacation fridge were slim pickings indeed. Pancake salvation presented itself in the form of a spare-tablespoon of crème frâiche in a near empty container. I whisked it into the buttermilk. The resulting pancakes were sky-high and down-pillow fluffy.

While we were on our annual end-of-summer Chicago oblication, we visited family, friends, and ate our way through much of the city (oh those duck hearts at Publican!). Since I have two young boys, we always rent an apartment for our visit—the apartment comes fully decked out with a complete kitchen, making meal-time that much easier. I bought pancake fixings and toyed around with the recipe. I made crème frâiche cakes with a whole egg, with a yolk, extra crème frâiche, oat bran. I came home to Brooklyn with a solid crème frâiche pancake recipe, one I can make pre-coffee, half asleep, and without turning anything on aside from the gas.

 

Crème Frâiche Pancakes

Makes about 1 dozen

 

A few notes:

  • If you want to make these heartier, substitute 1 cup of whole-wheat flour for the all-purpose. Or tack on 1/4 cup oat bran to the 2 cups of all-purpose. In either scenario, have and extra 3 to 4 tablespoons of buttermilk at the ready to loosen the batter if necessary.
  • I wrap leftover pancakes individually in plastic wrap and pop them into a freezer bag. They keep fresh in the freezer for many weeks. Unwrap and microwave in 30-second increments to rewarm. This is a great tactic for school mornings.
  • All crème frâiche is not the same. A tub purchased from New York-based Ronnybrook is thick with the texture of cream cheese, while Vermont Butter & Cheese crème frâiche is more like sour cream. Either works beautifully with the latter producing thicker medium-thick cakes while the former makes sky-high ones.
  • You can use dried buttermilk powder instead of fresh (this is a very convenient item to have in the fridge). Follow the package instructions regarding the ratio of how much buttermilk powder will give you 2 cups of buttermilk and whisk the powder in with the dry ingredients, adding the water into the crème frâiche mixture.
  • Plain low-fat yogurt thinned to a buttermilk-like consistency with skim or 2% milk is also a decent buttermilk substitute.
  • If making chocolate chip or blueberry pancakes, sprinkle the chips or berries over the raw side of the pancake before flipping.

 

For the pancakes

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 tablespoons crème frâiche

1 large egg yolk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

2 cups buttermilk

Canola oil pan spray

 

Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda together in a large bowl.

 

Whisk the crème frâiche, egg yolk, and vanilla together in a medium bowl until smooth and thick. Incorporate 2 tablespoons of the melted butter and then whisk in the buttermilk.

 

Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and use a wooden spoon to gently stir together until the batter looks like thick muffin or cake batter. Only mix until no dry streaks remain—if you over mix, you’ll activate the gluten in the flour and your pancakes will have a tight-textured toughness rather than a fluffy airy interior.

 

Heat a nonstick griddle or a large nonstick skillet over medium heat for 1 minute. Lightly coat the pan with nonstick pan spray and then spoon some batter onto the pan (I use about 1/3 cup per pancake). Cook until golden and flip. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Drizzle 1/2 teaspoon of melted butter over the browned side of each pancake and continue to cook until the underside is golden and the edges of the pancakes are dry (reduce the heat under your griddle or pan to low if the pancakes are browning too quickly—these are thick pancakes and they need time to cook all the way through). Transfer to a plate and cook the remaining pancakes, spraying the pan with more pan spray between batches. Serve with maple syrup or a fresh fruit syrup.

 

Fresh Plum Syrup

Makes about 1 cup

 

You can substitute almost any kind of soft fruit for the plums. Peeled and chopped peaches, nectarines, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries are all fantastic choices.

 

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup sugar

2 or 3 ripe plums (preferably the kind with fuchsia-colored flesh)

 

Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved. Peel off the skin of the plums and squeeze the naked fruit right over the simmering syrup. Shred the fruit using your fingers and letting it fall into the syrup. Simmer until it has reduced to your liking. If it reduces too much, add a little more water to thin it out.

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