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Winter Shortcakes in this month’s Fine Cooking

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Fine Cooking editor Jennifer Armentrout called my shortcakes “one of the best things I’ve tasted in the test kitchen all year.” Wow, high praise indeed…thanks Jen! Last spring, I baked up a storm, trying to figure out the most decadent and plush shortcake bases for my winter shortcakes story featured in the February/March edition of Fine Cooking. I found the secret to extreme tenderness and nearly obscene richness by using hard-boiled egg yolks in the shortcake dough (thanks for the idea James Beard!) in combo with sour cream. YOWZA.

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While Jennifer’s favorite was the roasted pear with gorgonzola dolce and honey (photo above), mine was hands-down the apple and oat shortcake only available online as a special bonus. Check it out–there is rye flour in the shortcake blend which adds a really beautiful flavor. Especially with a good peaty scotch on the side…cheers!

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New Book Alert!

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Look what I just got! An advance copy of the cookbook I collaborated on with Melissa d’ArabianSupermarket Healthy. This is the second book I helped Melissa write–I am so proud to call her a colleague and friend. She is one smart, focused, and inspiring woman. Published by Clarkson Potter, December 2014.

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Cooking with Diego Rivera in Mexico

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In June, 2014, I traveled to San Miguel de Allende in central Mexico to cook with Diego Lopez Rivera, the grandson of the legendary artist, Digeo Rivera. In addition to eating killer chilaquiles and bonding over mezcal, we talked about what it’s like to live within the shadow of one of the 20th century’s most formidable muralists and political activists, Diego Rivera. Published in Saveur, November 2014.

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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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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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