Holiday Baking

I love holiday baking. I think the thing I look forward to most at Christmas time is baking cookies. In fact, between my mom and me, we usually have made so many cookies that our Christmas dessert always ends up being a cookie buffet. Even as a kid and later a teenager, my mom, sisters and I would set aside a whole day just to bake cookies before Christmas. We always listened to Nate King Cole and Frank Sinatra Christmas albums (along with a cheesy 80s Christmas album that is thankfully no longer in the music rotation) while we baked. Those were always my favorite days; no worrying about cleaning the house for guests or getting ready to go anywhere, just baking and listening to music while wearing sweat pants.

Recently I made my triple chocolate cranberry oatmeal cookies again to have the dough on hand in the freezer. Those are always a favorite of mine. Also, today I'm sharing recipe for two more family favorites. I think the original recipes were from Gourmet magazine, but we've been making these for so many years, I'm not 100% sure where the recipes came from anymore. Well, at any rate they are both good, and I hope you will want to give them a try this year. Enjoy!

Chocolate Caramel Treasures

1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg white
1 cup finely chopped toasted pecans
10 plain soft caramels (1 inch by 1/2 inch each)
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2/3 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips

Cream butter and sugar together in a mixer until light and fluffy. Add egg yolk, milk and vanilla and beat to incorporate. Sift together flour, cocoa powder and salt, and beat into butter mixture until incorporated. Gather the dough into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator to chill until firm enough to roll into balls, at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silpats. Place egg white in a shallow bowl and beat lightly with a fork. Place pecans in a separate shallow bowl.

Using a sharp knife or bench scraper divide the dough into 30 equal pieces. (I like to divide it into 3 pieces and then divide each of those pieces into 10 pieces). Roll each piece of dough between your palms to form a ball. Roll the ball in the egg white and then the pecans. Place on baking sheet.   Repeat with remaining dough. You should have 15 cookies on each baking sheet. Press the center of each ball of dough with your thumb to make a depression. Bake until cookies are puffed slightly, but still look a little soft in the center, about 10-12 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately press the centers of the cookies again with the back of a wooden spoon. Transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

Make the filling: Heat the caramels and cream in a small saucepan over low heat until melted and smooth. Spoon into centers of cookies and cool completely.

Make chocolate drizzle: Place chocolate chips heatproof bowl and microwave at 30 second intervals (stirring between each interval) until smooth. Pour chocolate into heavy duty Ziploc bag. Snip off corner to form a small hole. Drizzle chocolate over cookies and let stand until set.  (To speed this up you can place them in the refrigerator until set).

Makes 2 1/2 dozen cookies.

Notes: Can be made 2 days ahead. Store in airtight container at room temperature with waxed paper between each layer of cookies. The caramels can usually be found on the candy aisle of the grocery store. Be sure to buy soft, not hard caramels. 

Cherry Streusel Bars

2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted cold butter, cut into 1/2 inch peices
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 tablespoons 2% or whole milk
Nonstick cooking spray

7 ounces cherry jam
1/2 cup dried cherries

1 cup shredded sweetened coconut
3/4 cup sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place a piece of foil in a 9 x 13 inch pan so that it hangs over the long slides of the pan (to create a sling to help you remove the bars later). Spray the pan and foil.

Place all crust ingredients in food processor and pulse until combined and clumping together. Set aside 1 cup for streusel topping. Place remaining mixture into prepared pan and press into pan to form a smooth layer. Bake until pale golden, about 20 minutes. Cool 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, wipe the food processor with a paper towel (no need to completely wash it). Place the cherry jam and dried cherries in processor and process until almost smooth. Spread filling on crust.

Add coconut and almonds to the 1 cup of crust mixture that was set aside to make the streusel. Sprinkle streusel on top of cherry filling. Bake for another 30 minutes until lightly golden. Cool in pan. When ready to cut and serve, use the foil sling to remove the bars. Place on cutting board, slip off of foil, and cut into bars.

Makes 12-16 bars. 

Note: Can be made one day ahead. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.  


Christmas Morning

I love Christmas morning. As a kid I would often get up at 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning, knock on my parents door, and ask to open presents. The answer was of course "no" and I was told to go back to bed. I would lay in bed wide awake, waiting as the minutes slowly passed. Finally at 6:00 my mom would let me get up. I would then go wake my sisters screaming, "It's Christmas!" We would all file downstairs in our PJs and open our stockings. While we looked into the stockings my mom would start breakfast. Often she made this raspberry coffee cake.

Although I love big breakfasts, I am not a fan of spending too much time making breakfast. It is the morning after all and I'm usually hungry. This coffee cake is really easy to make though. My mom would whip it up as we unloaded our stockings, and then she would pop it in the oven to bake while she sat and watched us open the rest of our gifts. The cake is really, really good warm. She would let it cool just enough so that we could eat it, and while it cooled she would whip up a batch of scrambled eggs or other breakfast items.

Even though it's not Christmas yet, I found myself wanting this coffee cake the other day. So, I share the recipe with you now. Perhaps you will want to make it on Christmas morning, or some other day; it is really good any day of the year.

Miles loves looking at the lights on our tree. I can't wait for him to celebrate his first Christmas. I'm so excited that I'll probably wake up at 5:00 am that day.

Raspberry Coffee Cake

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup whole or 2% milk
1/2 cup raspberry preserves
Powdered sugar, for dusting the cake

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter or spray a 9 x 13 inch glass baking pan.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixer, beat the cream cheese, butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix to incorporate. On low speed add half the flour mixture, the milk and then the remaining flour mixture. Mix until just incorporated.

Spread the batter in prepared pan. Spoon the preserves in 12 dollops onto of the batter. Using a knife, swirl the preserves into the batter to form a marbled effect.

Bake for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool for 10-15 minutes on wire rack. Sift powdered sugar over. Serve warm.

Serves 8-10

Notes: Although this is best eaten warm, it is still very good at room temperature.


Lasagna at Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving, the all-American holiday complete with turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, lasagna, pumpkin pie, the list goes on. That's right, you read that correctly, I said lasagna. We always have lasagna at Thanksgiving along with the traditional fare. Because my mom is a vegetarian she makes a lasagna so that she will have a substantial main dish too. But somehow everyone in the family ends up with a square of lasagna on his or her plate. I guess we just can't pass up lasagna even if we are stuffing ourselves with a bunch of other food (pun intended).

It's just as well that my mom makes the lasagna though. She definitely cannot make the turkey (thankfully another relative assumes that role). She once made a turkey when I was in high school. She got a free turkey from the grocery store for spending so much on groceries. She decided to cook the turkey thinking that she could make things like turkey sandwiches, enchiladas and so on for my step dad and me to eat.

Since she rarely cooked meat she didn't own a roasting pan that would fit the turkey. She purchased a foil pan and began cooking the turkey in that on a cold November evening. My sisters and I were doing our homework at the kitchen table as the turkey baked. Then I thought I smelled smoke.

"Is something burning?" I asked.

"Mom, something is burning!" my sister yelled. My mom came in and opened the oven door. Smoke billowed out. The foil pan had a large hole in it and juice from the turkey was spilling out onto the bottom of the oven and burning.

Being of no help at all my sisters grabbed their papers and ran upstairs shutting their bedroom doors to avoid the smoke. I tried to help my mom by opening the windows to let the smoke out. The turkey wasn't done though, so we had to let it continue cooking. My mom slid a sheet pan into the oven on the rack below the turkey to catch the drippings, but there was still a lot of it on the oven floor burning away.

My eyes started to water from all the smoke and it was suddenly freezing in the house with all the windows open. Mom suggested I head for my room as well.

"Smoked turkey is served," my mom laughingly called upstairs over an hour later.

What a sight we were. Eating dinner in puffy jackets with the hoods pulled up because it was so cold in the house with the windows open. Our eyes burning and watering from all the smoke. We all laughed and told my mom she was never, under any circumstances to make a turkey again. And to this day she hasn't.

Her lasagna is still there at Thanksgiving though. She usually makes a simple lasagna with layers of ricotta, noodles and marinara sauce. I was having some friends over the other day, and thinking about our tradition of lasagna at Thanksgiving, decided to make a butternut squash lasagna. (Speaking of butternut squash, I am also loving this recipe again lately).The picture below is not the best, but it was tasty. Here is how I made it:

Butternut Squash Lasagna

1 large butternut squash, quartered lengthwise
1 teaspoon lemon zest
scant 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg + 1 pinch, divided
scant 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Extra virgin olive oil
15 oz whole milk ricotta
1 cup grated parmesan cheese, divided
1 egg
1/2 cup packed basil leaves, chopped
16 no boil lasagna noodles
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
4 cups whole milk, warmed
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup all purpose flour
Freshly ground black pepper

Make the squash filling: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Scoop out the seeds from each squash quarter with a spoon and discard. Place squash quarters on sheet and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover with another piece of foil and roast in oven until tender when pierced with a fork, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove from oven and allow to cool until you can handle the pieces. Scoop out the squash with a spoon (or peel away flesh with a pairing knife), and transfer to a food processor. Add lemon zest, cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg. Process until smooth (may take a few minutes). Season to taste with salt and pepper if necessary. Squash mixture can be made one day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.

Make the ricotta mixture: Mix the ricotta, egg, 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, basil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in large bowl. Set aside.

Make the sauce: Melt butter in large saucepan over medium high heat. Add flour all at once and whisk for 1 minute. Add the milk and continue whisking. Bring to a simmer, then lower heat to medium and continue to whisk until thickened, about 5 minutes. The mixture should coat the back of a wooden spoon. Add a pinch of nutmeg and season with salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 9 x 13 inch baking dish. Ladle 3/4 cup sauce on the bottom of the pan. Layer ingredients in this order: 3 lasagna noodles, 1/2 butternut squash mixture, 1/2 cup sauce, 3 lasagna noodles, 1/2 ricotta mixture, 1/2 cup sauce, 3 lasagna noodles, remaining butternut squash mixture, 1/2 cup sauce, 3 lasagna noodles, remaining ricotta mixture, 1/2 cup sauce, 3 lasagna noodles. Pour remaining sauce over the top of the lasagna. Sprinkle with mozzarella and remaining 1/2 cup parmesan cheese. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 10-15 minutes until cheese is browned on top and lasagna is bubbling. Allow to rest for 10 minutes before cutting.

Serves 8-12

Note: You can make the lasagna 1 day in advance. Simply cover with foil after layering and refrigerate overnight. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour before baking.


Again and Again

You know a recipe is good when you find yourself making it again and again. One recipe that I make at least a few times every fall is Giada DeLaurentiis' Apple Crostata. The crust is rich and flaky and the apples bake up perfectly. It's much easier to make than apple pie and to me tastes better. I like that it's supposed to be rustic and imperfect. It needs no adornment, though you could serve it with a dollop of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream if you wanted. I've also used this dough to make other crostatas filled with jam or fresh figs. This was my first time making it this year and I'm sure it won't be the last. A good consideration for Thanksgiving too if you want to make something yummy and homemade but want to skip the work of making a pie. Enjoy!

Apple Crostata

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter cut into 1/2 inch cubes
ice water

3 large Golden Delicious or Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/8 inch thick slices
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 egg white
2 tablespoons sliced, toasted almonds (optional)

To make the crust: Place the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture looks like a coarse meal. Add 3 tablespoons ice water and pulse until the dough comes together in a ball. If the dough does not come together in a ball add another tablespoon or two of ice water. Gather the dough into a disk and wrap with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm about 45 minutes to an hour.

To make the filling: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine the apples, 1/4 cup sugar and lemon juice in a bowl and toss to combine. Let stand 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, remove the dough from the plastic wrap and place on a lightly floured surface. Roll out to an 11 inch round (you can trim off any ragged edges with a knife or pizza wheel). Gently drape two sides of the dough over the rolling pin and transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Pour off any accumulated liquid from the apple mixture and place apples on top of the dough leaving a 2 inch border. Fold the dough over the filing in pleats to form and 8 inch round leaving the middle exposed. Whisk the egg white with 1 tablespoon of water and brush over the crust. Sprinkle with remaining tablespoon of sugar. Bake the crostata until golden brown, about 40 minutes. Let cool on pan on wire rack for 10 minutes. Then slide off of pan onto rack to cool completely. Sprinkle with almonds before serving.

Serves 6

Note: The crostata is best served the day it is baked.


A Halloween Tradition


Cinnamon Rolls.

My husband's family has been eating chili and cinnamon rolls on Halloween for decades. They are originally from Washington which means that Halloween evenings were cold. Roy's grandmother wanted to make something warm for her kids before and after they went trick-or-treating, and one year she thought of chili and cinnamon rolls. The combo has lived on ever since. When I married into the family I jumped on the chili-cinnamon roll bandwagon. I like to make a double batch of each and invite friends to come over for a bowl and a roll and to pass out candy. It's a fun tradition, and the recipes that follow are nice to make on any cold evening (or the cinnamon rolls for breakfast for that matter). Both are adapted from America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook.

Turkey Chili

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 white or yellow onions, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 chipotle chiles in adobo, minced
1/4 cup chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
2 pounds ground turkey
1 28 oz can tomato puree
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
1 15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 15 oz can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 15 oz can kidney beans, drained and rinsed

Garnishes (optional)
Diced avocado
Minced red onion
Shredded cheese
Sour cream

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions, bell pepper, chipotle chiles, chili powder, cumin, oregano, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook until vegetables are soft, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the turkey and increase the heat to medium-high. Cook until no longer pink, about 10 minutes, breaking up the meat with a spoon. Stir in the tomato puree, diced tomatoes with their juice, beans, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer, then cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for 45 minutes. Remove the lid and simmer for another 45 minutes until the chili has thickened. Season with additional salt if necessary.

Serve with optional garnishes.

Serves 6-8.

Cinnamon Rolls 

Sweet Dough
3/4 cup buttermilk
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled to warm
3 large eggs
4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 envelope rapid-rise yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
Vegetable oil

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
pinch salt
1 tablespoon melted unsalted butter 

3 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
3 tablespoons buttermilk
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place buttermilk in microwave safe cup and microwave until it reaches 110 degrees on an instant read thermometer. (I did this by doing 20 second intervals and stirring after each interval. It took about 40 seconds total). Crack the eggs into a large liquid measuring cup and whisk briefly. Whisk in buttermilk and butter.

Place flour, sugar, yeast, and salt in mixing bowl fitted with hook attachment. Mix briefly to disperse the ingredients. With the mixer on low speed add the buttermilk mixture and mix until the dough comes together, about 1 minute.

Increase the mixer to medium-low and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. (After 5 minutes check the dough. It should stick to the bottom of the bowl but clear the sides. If it is sticking to the sides add flour 1 tablespoon at a time until it clears the sides).

Turn the dough onto a clean counter or cutting board and knead for 1 minute (press the dough away from you with your palms, then fold back toward you, then rotate 90 degrees, and repeat). Transfer the dough to a large bowl that has been lightly oiled with vegetable oil. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Place dough in warm area and let rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

Mix the brown sugar, cinnamon and salt in a small bowl. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and press into a 12 x 16 inch rectangle.  Brush the dough with butter. Sprinkle with the sugar mixture leaving a 3/4 inch boarder on the top. Press on the filing to adhere it to the dough.

Roll the dough into a tight cylinder and pinch the seam closed. Roll the cylinder over so it is seam side down. Gently stretch it to 18 inches in length. Cut into 12 evenly sized rolls. Spray a 9 x 13 inch pan with cooking spray and arrange the rolls cut side down in the pan. (At this point you can place the rolls in the refrigerator for up to 16 hours, and then proceed with the rising).  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until nearly doubled in size and pressed against each other, about 1 hour.

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake until the rolls are golden and puffed, 25 to 30 minutes.

Remove from oven and place on wire rack to cool for 5 minutes. Meanwhile sift the powdered sugar into a large bowl. In a small bowl whisk the mascarpone cheese, buttermilk and vanilla until smooth. Add to the powdered sugar and whisk until smooth. Drizzle over the cinnamon buns. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 12 rolls.

Notes: You can substitute regular oregano for the Mexican oregano. Also, I use mascarpone cheese for the cinnamon rolls because I like it better than cream cheese, but cream cheese will work just fine if that's what you like or have on hand. Also, the cinnamon rolls are best the day they are baked, but can be stored in an air-tight container at room temperature for one day. 


A Home

What makes home feel like home? Recently Roy and I bought our first house, and we've been thinking about this question. While we got what we wanted in terms of square footage, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, etc. it's the feel of the house that's important to us. We think it should be a place where we really enjoy spending time. A place where friends and family feel welcomed and comfortable. A place for Miles to play and invite his friends over.

When I think about the word home, I think about Meghan's house. Meghan has been my friend since 6th grade. Her house was one block from ours, and it felt like a second home growing up. Her mom, Mrs. D, would take me to and from school each day (along with Mrs. J another awesome mother in our neighborhood whose daughter was Kim - a fellow partner in crime with Meghan and me).

When I walked up to Meghan's house, as I did almost daily, I would see the white picket fence, green grass and colorful flowers that Mrs. D had chosen for the home. Next to the front door there was always a seasonal quilt.  Mrs. D is an amazing quilter and creates beautiful quilts for every season and holiday. At this time of year I'm sure she has just put up her Halloween or Fall quilt.

The inside of their house is just as warm and welcoming as the outside. Mrs. D decorates her home with great taste and has several items with blue and white patterns to reflect their Dutch heritage. I have many memories of posing for photos before school dances on their spiral staircase, stretching out on comfy couches in their bonus room, and unrolling my sleeping bag on Meghan's bedroom floor. Mrs. D always let me and other girlfriends come over, and rather than simply letting us hang out in her house, she made us feel like we were part of the family. I spent the night there more times than I can count. Meghan and I and other friends who had joined would stay up late scrap booking, snacking and talking. Mrs. D. would always make us something yummy for dinner, have homemade cookies or hot chocolate ready for us in the evening, and serve us a big breakfast in the morning. I'm forever grateful for the time I spent there and how welcomed I always felt.

I've been thinking about the days spent at Meghan's house as I prepare to raise my own kids in this home. That's the way I want our home to feel. A place with freshly baked cookies, flowers in the garden, kids' sleepovers. Hopefully I can be the type of welcoming mother that Mrs. D was and still is. Now, if only I knew how to quilt.

So, here I am in my new house. It's cold and rainy today. The perfect weather for hot chocolate! I'm now sipping this hot chocolate as I finish this post. Maybe this house will start to feel like home sooner than I thought.

Hot Chocolate

2 cups 2% milk
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, plus more for serving
1/2 cup whipped cream (optional)

Combine milk, cocoa powder, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon in small saucepan over medium-high heat. Whisk mixture until it just starts to boil. Remove from heat and pour into mugs. Garnish with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Serves 2.



Sicilians love eggplant. My great grantparents were from Sicily, so we are an eggplant loving family. It was not until I was an adult that I met someone who did not like eggplant. What?! How could anyone not like eggplant? To me that was like someone not liking an apple. I thought that eggplants were something almost universally loved.

Well, a lot of people do love them, but I've come across several others that don't. My guess is that most of these folks have probably just had bad eggplant. A greasy version of eggplant parmesan in a mediocre Italian restaurant does not do eggplant justice. Also, eggplants really need to be eaten in the late summer (August to October). They will be bitter if eaten out of season. So, don't be tempted to buy one, or even order one in a restaurant for that matter, unless it's eggplant season.

Also, choose smaller eggplants over the huge ones as they will be less likely to be bitter. When purchasing an eggplant it should be smooth, shiny and a deep, vivid purple color (I'm talking about the typical eggplant you commonly see here in the US. There are other varieties too). Eggplant can be stored unwashed in a plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper for a few days.

I will share a simple Sicilian pasta dish with eggplant. If you like eggplant you will like how this recipe pairs it with a simple tomato sauce, fresh basil leaves, and salty ricotta salata cheese. If you don't like eggplant, perhaps this dish will change your mind.  This is commonly referred to as Pasta Alla Norma as rumor has it that the dish was created in the 1800s after Bellini's opera Norma. (Yes, I had to look up this fact).

Pasta Alla Norma

2-3 small to medium eggplants (about 1 pound total)
1 white onion, sliced into half moons
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 28 oz can plum tomatoes, crushed by hand
12 large basil leaves
2 cups shredded ricotta salata cheese
1 pound spaghetti
Extra virgin olive oil

Cut the eggplants into batons that are 1/2 inch wide and 1 inch long. Place in colander and toss with 1 teaspoon salt. Let drain for 30 minutes. Briefly rinse the eggplant and pat dry with paper towels.

Heat large saute pan over medium heat. Pour enough olive oil into pan to cover the bottom of the pan. When oil is hot, drop in half of the eggplant and fry until golden on all sides, about 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to plate lined with paper towels to drain. Repeat with remaining eggplant.

Add a little more olive oil to pan if it has become dry and saute onion until soft, about 12 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes and garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes  and 1/2 teaspoon of salt and bring to a simmer. Lower the heat to medium and allow the sauce to bubble and thicken for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente, about 9 minutes. When pasta is cooked, add to sauce along with 1 cup cheese and torn basil leaves. Spoon into serving dishes, passing remaining cheese on the side.

Serves 4-6.

Note: If you can't find ricotta salata substitute with pecorino romano cheese.


Berries and Cream

  • Wow, the month of August has flown by! Although I haven't posted much this month, I have made a few good things. I'll share two desserts that I like to make in the summer, both of which I made recently.

The first is a recipe for strawberry granita that was featured in Bon Appetit a few years ago. A granita is an icy frozen dessert, which is perfect for a hot day, like we have been having in Southern California lately. The best part is there is no special equipment required.

  • Strawberry Granita

  • 1 pound sliced, hulled strawberries (about 2 cups)
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 1/2 cups cold water
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup chilled whipping cream (optional)

  • Puree strawberries, sugar, salt, water, and lemon juice in blender until smooth. Strain into 8x8x2 inch metal baking pan. Cover with foil and place in freezer. Stir with fork every hour until frozen, about 4 hours. At the four hour mark, scrape granita down length of pan forming icy flakes. Return to freezer. Simply spoon into dessert dishes when ready to eat. If using cream, beat whipping cream until firm peaks form. Divide cream among dishes. Spoon granita over and serve immediately. 

Note: Granita can be made two days ahead.

Serves 6

    The other recipe I would like to share is Panna Cotta. It is an Italian, custard-like dessert made with cream and set with gelatin. It only takes a few minutes to make, and it can be infused with a variety of flavors and eaten alone or topped with fruit, chocolate or other sauces. I've even made it with candied kumquats. My favorite way to make it is simply with vanilla bean and some macerated strawberries. It's the perfect dessert to serve to guests as it looks pretty and can be made ahead. Here is how I make it.

    Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Strawberries

    2 cups heavy cream
    1 cup whole milk
    6 tablespoons granulated sugar plus 1 teaspoon
    1 packet unflavored, powdered gelatin
    1 vanilla bean
    Pinch of salt
    3 cups strawberries, quartered
    1 teaspoon lemon juice

    Place the milk in small saucepan. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds. Add the seeds and the pod to the milk in the saucepan. Sprinkle gelatin over milk and let stand 5 minutes. Then place saucepan over medium heat and cook stirring until gelatin dissolves but milk does not boil. Add cream, 6 tablespoons sugar and salt and stir until sugar dissolves, about 2 more minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Pour through strainer into large liquid measuring cup (or anything with a spout as it make it easier to pour). Pour the strained mixture into glasses or ramekins. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set, at least 6 hours.

    30 minutes before serving, combine the strawberries, lemon juice and remaining sugar. When ready to serve, remove the panna cottas from the refrigerator and top with strawberries.

    Notes: Can be made up to two days in advance. I usually put the panna cotta in pretty glasses so I can serve it directly in them, but, for a different and more sophisticated presentation, allow the panna cottas to set in ramekins. When ready to serve, dip the bottom of the ramekin quickly in hot water and run a parring knife around the edge of the ramekin. Invert onto plate and spoon strawberries over the panna cotta. 

    Serves 4


    For J

    My sister J is the artistic one the family. She can create art using any medium. Really. She works on movies as a job, but she can do anything that requires a creative eye. For my baby shower she sewed a huge baby quilt, and even though it was her first time quilting, it was perfect. I am amazed at how she can just decide to create something and do it. Look at this painting she did for me.

    I am not artistic at all, and I'm not even a particularly creative person. But, I can do one thing that she can't. Cook. She's getting better as she's gotten older and has had to cook for herself. Still, she doesn't enjoy cooking much of the time. So, she shares art with me, and I share food with her.

    J recently found out that she is allergic to gluten. I know that it is a trend right now for everyone to be giving up gluten, but she really is allergic to it. Luckily it is a trend right now, so there are a lot of options for her. I know that in baking you can substitute different types of flours for wheat flour thus making many things gluten free. I haven't tried any of that though, since lucky for me I can still eat wheat flour. However, I do look out for things that are normally made without flour. I recently saw these cookies on Martha Stewart's website and knew I would have to try them to share the recipe with my sister. J seriously loves peanut butter and chocolate, so I know she will like the flavor. Plus they are made without flour  are very easy to make. So, here you go J. Enjoy!

    Flourless Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

    1 cup smooth peanut butter
    3/4 cup sugar
    1 egg, lightly beaten
    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1 cup chocolate chips
    1/2 cup roasted, salted peanuts

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper or silpat. Stir peanut butter, sugar, egg, baking soda, and salt until combined. Stir in chocolate chips and peanuts. Scoop heaping tablespoons of dough onto baking sheets, and space cookies about two inches apart. Bake one sheet at a time until cookies are puffed and golden, about 12 to 14 minutes. Cool on sheet 5 minutes. Transfer to rack to cool completely.

    Makes 2 dozen. Store in airtight container for up to 3 days.


    My Grill Pan

    I'm a sucker for my grill pan. It's the one pan I can use to make a panini at lunch, grill some veggies at dinner, and flip to the griddle side to make like 10 pancakes at once in the morning. In the summer when I don't want to turn on the oven or use a lot of dishes I'll often make entire meals using the grill pan. Roy is happy since it's his job to do the dishes. He's really happy if what's coming off of the grill pan is some sort of burger. He requests the "Tomatillo Burger," as he calls it, quite often so I made it the other night. I saw this recipe in Gourmet a few years ago and it has been a favorite in our house ever since. Something about a crisp, raw tomatillo is so good on this burger. You can round out this meal by throwing some corn on the cob or zucchini on the grill pan as you cook the burgers. No grill pan? No problem. You can obviously use a real grill or even a cast iron skillet. But seriously, you should get one.

    Pork Burgers with Tomatillo and Avocado

    1 lb ground pork
    2 garlic cloves, finely minced
    2 teaspoons minced chipotle in adobo sauce, plus 1 teaspoon of sauce
    1 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    4 slices Muenster cheese
    3 medium tomatillos, husked, rinsed and sliced
    1 avocado, sliced
    1 bunch cilantro
    1/4 cup mayonnaise
    4 hamburger buns
    Vegetable oil, for pan

    Preheat grill pan over medium-high heat. Mix the ground pork with garlic, chipotle, salt, and pepper. Form into 4 patties. Brush grill pan with vegetable oil and grill until patties are cooked through, about 4 -5 minutes per side. During last minute or two of cooking on second side, place a piece of cheese on each to melt the cheese. Also during the end of cooking, toast the buns on the grill pan until golden.

    Spread 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise on the bottom of each bun. Top with meat, tomatillo slices, avocado slices, and a few sprigs of cilantro. Place top bun on top and serve immediately.

    Serves 4


    A Different Kind of Salad

    Panzanella is an Italian salad that uses bread and tomatoes as the main ingredients. It is a good way to use up old bread, and it is a nice break from traditional lettuce salads. To me panzanella says "summer." It is so light and refreshing that it is perfect for a hot day. 

    It was hot the other day, so Miles and I went for a walk along the beach. What a nice departure from being cooped up in the house with postpartum recovery! Finally, it felt like summer. Wanting to keep the feeling of summer going, I went to the store on our way home to pick up some ingredients for panzanella. A couple of pints of raspberry and blood orange sorbets also helped to extend that summery feel. 

    When I make panzanella I like to combine elements from recipes that I have seen from both Michael Chiarello and Ina Garten.


    1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
    1 hothouse or 4 Persian cucumbers, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/4 inch half moons
    1 yellow bell pepper, large diced
    1 orange bell pepper, large diced
    1/2 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
    1/4 cup chopped basil

    1 baguette, ciabatta or other crusty bread, crusts removed and cut into one inch cubes (you need about 6 cups total)
    3 cloves garlic, minced
    4 tablespoons unsalted butter
    2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
    Freshly ground black pepper

    1/2 teaspoon dijion mustard
    1 garlic clove, minced
    2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
    1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
    3/4 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

    To make the croutons: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Heat butter and olive oil in large skilled over medium heat. When butter is melted, add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add bread cubes and toss to combine. Transfer bread cubes to rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Toss with hands to evenly coat the cubes with the cheese. Place in oven and bake until crisped on outside but still slightly soft in the center, about 8-9 minutes, turning once halfway through baking. Set aside to cool completely.

    To make the dressing: Whisk all ingredients together to combine. Set aside.

    When ready to serve toss vegetables and croutons with dressing.

    Serves 6-8

    Notes: Croutons can be made one day in advance. Store in air tight container at room temperature. Dressing can also be made one day in advance and stored in the refrigerator. 


    Back to the Blog

    It's hard to blog with a baby. It's actually hard to do most of the things I used to do with a baby. Cooking, going to the store, visiting friends. These things all need to be carefully planned now. So, my blog has really been the last thing on my mind since Miles was born. When I was still pregnant, a friend told me to be prepared for your life to change drastically when a baby comes. She said, "On some days you will feel accomplished just by having managed to brush your teeth, and that's okay because that is something." At the time I thought that seemed a little crazy - would I really feel accomplished having just brushed my teeth? Now I completely understand what she means. The good news is that Miles is now seven weeks old, and I have found myself becoming more adjusted to being a mom with each passing week. Things are still tough, but I now feel like I can take care of him while also taking care of myself and other things that need to get done.

    Despite the fact that my life is very different, I wouldn't trade being a mom for anything. As you can see from the picture, I have the cutest, sweetest little boy in the world (yes, I'm biased, but that's how it feels). I love the way Miles stares at me with his big blue eyes, the way he kicks his little chubby legs and flails his arms, and seeing his crooked smiles that have recently begun to appear.

    Well, yesterday I had a few spotty bananas and realizing that I hadn't baked anything since he was born, I thought about making banana bread, and ended up deciding to make banana coffee cake. So, in a world where brushing your teeth is a significant achievement, baking a coffee cake makes me feel like a rock star. It turned out pretty good, so I thought I would share the recipe. After looking at several dozen recipes online, here's what I came up with:

    Banana Streusel Coffee Cake

    1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    3/4 cup granulated sugar
    3 very ripe bananas, mashed (you should have about 1 cup)
    2 eggs
    1/2 cup sour cream
    1/2 teaspoon vanilla
    2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
    2 teaspoons cinnamon, divided
    1 1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips, divided
    3/4 cups chopped toasted walnuts, divided
    1/3 cup brown sugar

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a nine inch springform pan with cooking spray.

    To make the streusel, place 3/4 cup chocolate chips, 1/2 cup walnuts, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and brown sugar in small bowl. Mix with fingers to combine. Set aside.

    In large bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. In a separate bowl whisk together bananas, eggs, sour cream, vanilla, and butter. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until barely combined. Gently fold in 1/2 cup chocolate chips and 1/4 cup walnuts. Pour batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle streusel evenly over the top. Bake for 35-45 minutes until tester inserted into the cake comes out clean. Transfer to rack to cool.

    Serves 8

    Notes: The cake tastes great slightly warm from the oven. It will also keep nicely stored at room temperature for three days.


    French Macaroons, Zucchini Pancakes, and Waiting

    It's impossible to be pregnant forever, right? Today I feel like I've been pregnant for a long time. With my due date only a few days away, I know that whether my son is a bit early or a bit late, he will be here soon no matter what. I am nervous but mostly excited. Earlier in my pregnancy I remember feeling scared at the thought of labor. Now I can't wait for it to begin. It seems weird to welcome pain, doesn't it? Maybe my mind is gearing up for labor. All I know is that the days seem to drag. I've tried to keep myself busy, but I find myself distracted. It's hard to think of anything except that the baby that will be here soon.

    So, while I wait, I cook. Yesterday I made some chocolate macaroons from David Lebovitz's site. You should definitely check it out as his recipes are amazing, and there you will find the recipe for these macaroons if you would like to attempt them yourself. (Note: these are French macaroons, which are two meringue-like cookies made with almonds with a filling sandwiched in between, not be be confused with American macaroons that are made with coconut as I have made previously.)

    Earlier this year, some friends and I visited Bouchon Bakery in Las Vegas, specifically to try their macaroons. They did not disappoint, they were so good! We've talked about them several times since the trip and I have kept thinking that I needed to try to make macaroons myself.

    I had never made French macaroons before, and was a bit nervous because I have heard that the technique must be exactly right to get them to turn out well. Well, they weren't very hard to make, and while I think I could definitely work to perfect my technique, they were pretty good for a first attempt. Not as good as Bouchon, no, but definitely good enough that I had to hide the container, so I wouldn't be tempted to eat one each time I passed the kitchen.

    So, that was yesterday, and today, still no baby. This means that dinner had to be made tonight. I decided to make zucchini pancakes since I had some zucchini in the refrigerator. These make a nice side dish and are good way to make something different with zucchini. A good way to sneak a vegetable to your kids too, perhaps. Hopefully the baby will come tomorrow; otherwise I will have to think of something else to cook!

    Zucchini Pancakes

    2 medium zucchini
    2 tablespoons finely minced red onion
    2 eggs
    6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    3/4 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    Butter (for pan)

    Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat. (I like to use my griddle pan for this, so I can cook them all at once. If you don't have one, then just do two batches in the skillet). Grate the zucchini on the large holes of a box grater. Mix zucchini with all remaining ingredients (except butter). Add the butter to the skillet and once it is melted add the mixture by large spoonfuls into the skillet just as you would for breakfast pancakes. Cook until pancakes are golden brown on each side, about 2 minutes per side. Serve immediately.

    Makes 10 pancakes

    Yogurt Sauce (optional)

    6 oz. plain low-fat Greek yogurt
    1 tablespoon chopped chives
    Zest of 1 lemon
    Salt and pepper to taste

    Mix all ingredients in small bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve.

    Notes: Once the zucchini is grated it will start to give off its water, so it's important to cook the pancakes right after mixing. If the mixture gets too watery, you can add another tablespoon or two of flour. Also, these pancakes are great on their own without the sauce. So, since either way is good,  I give you the sauce recipe in case you want to make them a little more special or want something creamy.  This recipe is adapted from the Barefoot Contessa At Home cookbook.


    Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

    In case my last post made you want even more chocolate, I'll share a recipe for chocolate crinkle cookies that I made for my Bible Study last night. These cookies have a nice chocolate flavor and a chewy brownie like texture. The cookies are formed into balls and rolled in powdered sugar before baking, and they expand while they are in the oven giving them a crinkled looking top. The recipe has been adapted from the Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Baking Cookbook.

    Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

    4 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
    4 tablespoons unsalted butter
    1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
    2 teaspoons baking powder
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    4 eggs
    2 cups granulated sugar
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
    3/4 cup confectioners' sugar

    Place chocolate and butter in heatproof bowl set over a small saucepan of simmering water. Heat, stirring occasionally, until chocolate and butter have melted. Set aside to cool.

    In a separate bowl combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

    Using a stand or hand held mixer beat the eggs, granulated sugar and vanilla on medium speed until thickened and light in color, about 3 minutes. Beat in melted chocolate mixture on low speed until incorporated. Add the dry ingredients and beat on low until incorporated. Mix in chocolate chips. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm enough to roll into balls, at least 2 hours.

    Position rack in middle of oven and preheat to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a silpat. Sift confectioners' sugar into small bowl.

    Remove dough from refrigerator and roll a rounded tablespoon of dough between your hands, and then roll the ball in the confectioners' sugar. (Your hands will get a little bit of chocolate on them, but if you notice the dough is sticking to your hands, place the dough back in the refrigerator to harden more.) Place cookies 3 inches apart on baking sheets. (Depending on the size of your baking sheet, you will probably need to use the first one again to bake the third batch).

    Bake cookies, one sheet at a time until the tops are puffed and crinkled and feel set when lightly touched, 13 - 15 minutes. (They will still appear to be slightly under baked however, and will firm up more as they cool). Cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely. 

    Makes approximately 3 dozen cookies. Can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. 


    The Carob Easter Bunny

    I will start this post by admitting that I too have been known to throw food (those of you who read this post know what I'm talking about). However, let me just say that I was three years old when I threw the food, which I think you will find quite understandable given the circumstances.

    This is the story. It is a story that my family likes to tell every Easter and also at many other times during the year. My parents, like many parents with their first child, wanted me to eat the healthiest diet possible. For them this meant having me on an almost totally vegan diet. This of course meant that I wasn't allowed to eat chocolate, especially back then when milk chocolate was the popular choice. So, on this particular Easter, when I was three, my aunt and grandma dutifully followed my parents' wishes and presented me with a carob bunny instead of a chocolate one. I took one bite of the carob bunny, turned to everyone with a disgusted look on my face and hurled the bunny at the wall. Immediately, I ran over to my grandma's covered candy dish that was loaded with M&Ms and started popping them in my mouth. Luckily, everyone thought it was hilarious and laughed, my parents relaxed a bit that day, and I was allowed to eat chocolate from that point forward. Thank goodness because since then I have become a total chocoholic.

    So, today will share a recipe for an easy chocolate pots de creme recipe that I made when some friends came over last week. It is super chocolatey, so I love it of course. Normally pots de creme (a french style custard traditionally served in a little pot) are baked in a water bath in the oven. This version, from America's Test Kitchen, is made on the stove and the custards set in the refrigerator, making the whole process very simple.

    Chocolate Pots de Creme

    5 egg yolks
    5 tablespoons granulated sugar
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1 1/2 cups heavy cream
    3/4 cup half and half
    10 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped (should be 60% cacao, see note)
    1 tablespoon vanilla
    1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder

    Whipped cream, chocolate shavings and raspberries for serving. 

    Place chocolate in large glass bowl and set sieve on top. Set aside. Whisk egg yolks, sugar and salt in bowl to blend. Add heavy cream and half and half. Whisk until ingredients are well combined. Transfer mixture to saucepan place over medium low heat. With a wooden spoon or spatula stir slowly and constantly until mixture reaches 175 to 180 degrees on an instant read thermometer. (You can also test the mixture by streaking the back of the spoon with your finger. If it is ready, it should leave a distinct trail on the spoon). Remove from the heat and immediately pour through the sieve on to the chopped chocolate. Allow to sit for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes whisk to combine. Dissolve the espresso powder in 1 tablespoon water. Whisk into chocolate mixture. Whisk vanilla into chocolate mixture. Transfer the mixture to a large liquid measuring cup or anything else with a spout as it makes it easier to pour. Pour into 6-8 ramekins or other small cups, depending on how much you want per serving (these are very rich, so you may want to err on the side of serving less). Place a kitchen towel on the counter and gently tap each ramekin on it several times to release any air bubbles. Cool pots de creme completely on counter. Then cover tightly with plastic wrap and transfer to the refrigerator for at least 4 hours and up to 72 hours. When ready to serve, top each with raspberries, whipped cream and chocolate shavings.

    Note: I used Ghirardelli's 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Baking Bar, which is my bittersweet chocolate of choice most of the time, and was specifically recommended to be used in the recipe by America's Test Kitchen. You can find it in major super markets in the baking aisle. However, America's Test Kitchen also said that you could use Lindt 70% dark chocolate, but that you would want to reduce the amount used to 8 oz. I didn't try that, but wanted to share that tip in case that's the chocolate you would like to use.  


    Pasta for a Warm Day

    Here is a simple pasta that I love to make on a warm day as the sauce requires no cooking. You simply chop the ingredients and allow them to sit together at room temperature to let the flavors meld. Roy calls this the "Bruschetta Pasta" as the flavors are basically the same as what you might think of as a traditional burschetta topping. So, if you like that, you will probably like this. This is my modification of a recipe found in the Barefoot Contessa At Home Cookbook.

    Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes, Basil and Garlic

    3 pints cherry tomatoes, halved
    15 large basil leaves, julienned
    5 cloves garlic, finely minced
    1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
    1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
    3/4 teaspoon salt
    1 pound linguini, spaghetti, or angel hair pasta
    1 cup freshly shredded parmesan cheese, plus additional for serving

    Combine first six ingredients in large serving bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to stand at room temperature for 3-4 hours to allow the flavors to combine.

    When ready to serve, cook pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain and toss with tomato mixture in serving bowl. Stir in cheese and serve, passing additional cheese at the table.

    Serves 4-6

    Note: It's also nice to make this pasta with a mixture of cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, or mini heirloom tomatoes to get more variety in color and flavor.


    Pork Milanese a.k.a. Pounded Pork

    In one of my cookbooks Michael Chiarello says, "I could be a vegetarian if it wasn't for pork." I completely agree. In fact, I was raised by a vegetarian, but I've always had a thing for pork. It doesn't matter what form it's in - bacon, sausage, prosciutto, tenderloin, chop, ham, the list goes on, I just like it. I don't know when this started for me. I think it may have been my grandma's ham at Easter. She makes it with an orange juice and brown sugar glaze. It's not overly fancy, but I think the salty sweet taste of the meat was something I was not used to, in a good way.

    One year when I was in high school, after Easter Sunday was over, my grandma packed some ham for me to take home in a zip lock bag. When we got home I tossed it in the fridge so my step dad and I could enjoy it later (we were the only meat eaters in our family of five).

    The next day, I came home from tennis practice and walked into the kitchen. My sister, who is the most staunch animal lover out there (and I fully respect her for that), screamed out "There is a dead pig under the table!"

    My face contorted and I replied, "What the heck are you talking about?"

    "It's there under the kitchen table." I peaked under the table and saw the bag of leftover ham.

    "This is the ham from Easter. Why is it under the table?"

    "I was looking for a snack in the fridge and picked that up. Once I saw what it was, I didn't want to be near it, so I threw it and it ended up under the table," she said.

    "How long has it been under there?"

    "Since I got home from school." Since she didn't have sports practice like I did, I knew she had been home for hours before me. It was a warm day, so I reluctantly threw the ham away, figuring that it had been out too long. Our family laughs about this story now, but that day I loudly voiced several complaints to my mom about my sister ruining my food just like any high school kid would.

    Well, the whole dead pig under a table thing didn't detour me; I still eat pork, and I'm sure my meat eating husband is happy about that. One easy way that I like to prepare it is Pork Milanese, which is an Italian style breaded pork chop. However, at my house we call it "Pounded Pork." One day, Roy walked into the kitchen and I was beating some pork chops with a rolling pin to flatten them. (Okay, even with all my talk of liking meat, I don't eat it that often, so I don't own a meat pounder. A rolling pin seems to work for me.) He said, "you are really pounding the crap out of that pork," and we started laughing.  Since that day, he always requests "pounded pork" instead of Pork Milanese. If you want to try it, whatever you end up calling it, here is how I make it:

    Pork Milanese

    2 boneless pork chops, each about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick
    1/3 cup all purpose flour
    1 egg
    2/3 panko bread crumbs (see note)
    1/3 cup parmesan cheese
    1 teaspoon dried basil
    1 teaspoon dried oregano
    1 tablespoon butter
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    Freshly ground black pepper
    Lemon wedges for serving

    Lay a piece of plastic wrap on cutting board, and place pork chops on top. Lay another piece of plastic wrap on top of pork to cover completely. Using a meat mallet (or rolling pin!), pound the meat until it is close to 1/4 inch thick. (Sometimes mine ends up thicker depending on the original thickness of the meat. That is okay. Just try to pound it as thin as you can.)

    Prepare a breading station: Place flour in shallow bowl or pan. Place egg in another shallow bowl or pan and beat with fork. Place bread crumbs, cheese, and herbs in third shallow bowl or pan and mix together.

    Place a cast iron skillet or other frying pan over medium-high heat and add butter and olive oil to pan. Once butter is melted and pan is hot, sprinkle pork on both sides with salt and pepper. Dredge in flour, patting off any excess, dip in egg, allowing excess to drip off, and finally place in bread crumb mixture, gently patting crumbs to adhere to both sides of the meat. Place in pan. Repeat with remaining pork chop. Cook until just cooked through, and no longer pink, but still juicy, about 2-3 minutes per side. Serve immediately with lemon wedges to squeeze on top at the table.

    Serves 2

    Note: Panko are Japanese style bread crumbs and give a good crunch to the coating. They are easy to find at Trader Joe's or other markets. If you can't find them, you can use old bread to make your own crumbs in the food processor. I've also made this with regular Italian bread crumbs from the super market, and while they won't produce as crisp a crust, it will still taste good. 

    I also made some lemon potatoes to go along with the pork after seeing a great looking recipe in Bon Appetit magazine this month. They were tasty so I thought I would share them too. Here is my version:

    Lemon Potatoes

    1 lb fingerling potatoes (in assorted colors if possible)
    1 lemon
    4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
    1 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
    Sea salt
    Freshly ground black pepper

    Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Scrub potatoes, and cut in half lengthwise. Place on rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss to combine. Lay potatoes in a single layer cut side down. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until they have become golden brown on the bottom. 

    Meanwhile, zest and juice lemon. Add zest and juice to remaining three tablespoons olive oil. Whisk to combine. Take 1 tablespoon of mixture and add it to garlic in small bowl. Once potatoes have cooked for 20 minutes, drizzle them with garlic mixture and toss to combine. Return them to the oven to bake completely through, about another 8-10 minutes.

    Place lemon dressing in serving bowl. Remove potatoes from oven and toss with dressing in bowl. Sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately.

    Serves 2-3


    For the Pregnant Ladies

    This post is dedicated to my pregnant friends. I am very lucky to have a few close girlfriends that are also pregnant right now.  I have known two of these women since college. The three of us ended up getting married in the same year to men who were also friends in college.  Now we three couples are all having babies this year.  I know it sounds a bit cultish, all this marrying and have having babies within months of each other, but it's been a huge blessing over the years. It is so nice to share life with friends who are experiencing life's big stages at the same time that Roy and I are. 

    Although I've shared a lot with these women throughout the years, the main thing we talk about right now is pregnancy, of course. Since it is the first pregnancy for each of us, we have the same questions, fears, hopes, and desires. Of concern to a lot of pregnant women is diet. I know that for me personally, I want to eat as healthy as possible and mentally check off all the healthy things I ate in a given day. However, I also know that sometimes I want a brownie, hot fudge sundae.

    I knew I had to come up with a way to satisfy my sweet tooth, without eating a lot of sugar.  One day I was blending up a fruit smoothie and I started to think, how could I get some chocolate in here?  Growing up my family and I would often drink smoothies made with chocolate almond milk and frozen bananas. So, taking that inspiration, my Chocolate, Peanut Butter, and Banana smoothie was born.

    I've realized that sometimes it's hard to get all the things I need according to the pregnancy diet - this much fruit, that many vegetables, so many servings of protein, etc. This smoothie helps me meet those guidelines, as it  has a serving of fruit, a serving of calcium and some protein from the peanut butter. Also, the cocoa powder adds that chocolate element without adding any sugar. I think the banana makes the smoothie sweet enough, but if you want it sweeter feel free to add honey. It's easy to make as long as you always keep a bag of cut up ripe bananas in the freezer.

    This seems like a silly recipe to post because it's not really a recipe; it's me throwing things into a blender. But, I've been enjoying this smoothie several times a week, so I thought I'd go ahead and post it in case the mixture sounded appealing to anyone else.

    Chocolate, Peanut Butter and Banana Smoothie

    1 cup low-fat milk (or soy, almond, or rice milk if you prefer)
    1 small frozen banana
    1 tablespoon peanut butter
    1 heaping tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
    1 -2 teaspoons honey (optional)

    Blend all ingredients in blender until thick and frothy. Pour into tall glass and enjoy.

    Serves one.



    Radishes are meant to be paired with butter and salt. This is a very French way to eat them, I think. I like to put them on crispy baguette slices with plenty of herb butter and salt. There were nice radishes at the Farmers' Market this week, and I immediately thought of using them this way. As I was making these, Roy came into the kitchen and said "Oh good, I was thinking about those the other day, and hoping you would make them again soon." I'm glad he likes them. I could be happy making an entire meal of them, maybe with a salad on the side.

    Crostini with Herb Butter, Radishes, and Sea Salt

    1 baguette
    2 teaspoons olive oil
    4 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
    1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil
    1 tablespoon finely chopped flat leaf parsley
    10 radishes, very thinly sliced
    Coarse sea salt

    Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut the baguette on the diagonal into 10 slices. Reserve remaining baguette for another use. Brush the the baguette slices with olive oil and place on baking sheet. Bake until lightly golden and crisped, about 10-12 minutes, flipping halfway through baking. Set aside to cool completely.

    Using a fork, mix the butter and herbs together. Set aside.

    When ready to serve, spread a thick layer of herb butter on each crostini. Layer radish slices on top and sprinkle with sea salt. Serve immediately.

    Note: Crostini can be made one day ahead. Store at room temperature in air tight container. Herb butter can also be made one day ahead. Cover and leave at room temperature. Or, if storing in the refrigerator allow to come to room temperature before spreading on the bread. Also, you can make the herb butter with any combination of fresh herbs that you like or have on hand. Chives are especially good added to the butter. 


    Happy St. Patrick's Day

    I'm not Irish, and I don't have a repertoire of Irish recipes. (Although my dad says that because he's English we must have some Irish in us, go figure). But, since it is St. Patrick's Day I felt like I should make something that feels Irish. I've never been to Ireland, but I have spent some time in England and Scotland. Yes, I know they are different, and I'm not trying to lump all English, Scottish and Irish people into the same group. However, when I think about my visits to those places, I often think of pub food. I think pub food definitely has its place on St. Patrick's Day. Tonight I made shepherd's pie. This is a turkey shepherd's pie, which is a departure from the traditional lamb shepherd's pie (with my variations on Art Smith's recipe in Back to the Table). But, being pregnant and all I'm trying to keep things on the lighter side. If you want a lighter yet still very tasty version of this comfort food, I hope you will try this.

    Turkey Shepherd's Pie

    2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
    2 pounds ground turkey
    1 large yellow onion, diced
    2 medium carrots, cut into half-inch cubes
    2 celery ribs, cut into half-inch cubes
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    1 14 oz can diced tomatoes, with their juices
    2 cups frozen peas, thawed
    1 tablespoon chile powder
    1 teaspoon ground cumin
    2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
    1/2 cup buttermilk
    1 tablespoon butter
    4 tablespoons finely chopped chives
    1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
    Salt and freshly ground black pepper

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place potatoes in large saucepan and cover by 1 inch with cold, lightly salted water. Bring to boil over medium-high heat and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and return to the pot.

    Meanwhile, add olive oil to large skillet or dutch oven and cook the onion, carrots, celery, and garlic over medium heat, with a light sprinkling of salt and pepper, until beginning to soften, about 10 minutes. Add the turkey, sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper, break up with back of wooden spoon, and cook until no longer pink, about 7 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, peas, chile powder, cumin, and Worcestershire sauce and bring to simmer. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper.

    Transfer turkey mixture into 13 x 9 baking dish and spread into an even layer. Mash the potatoes in the pot with buttermilk and butter, adding a few extra tablespoons of buttermilk if necessary to make the potatoes creamy. Add 2 tablespoons of chives and season to taste with salt and pepper. (The turkey mixture and mashed potatoes can be made up to this point several hours ahead and refrigerated separately. Place the mashed potatoes in a glass bowl and allow both the turkey and potatoes to come to room temperature before covering and refrigerating. May need to add 5-10 minutes to the baking time.)  Spread mashed potatoes over turkey and sprinkle with cheese. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until juices are bubbling and cheese is melted. Sprinkle with remaining chives and serve hot.

    Serves 8

    In keeping with the Irish theme I wanted to make something for dessert. Scanning the pantry I decided to make oatmeal shortbread (my adaptation from Martha Stewart's website). This shortbread is very easy to prepare and has a light, crumbly, buttery texture. It's great on it's own, perhaps with a cup of tea. I haven't tried this yet, but I'm pretty sure you could take it to the next level by crumbling it over a scoop of vanilla ice cream with fresh blackberries. I may just have to go to the store to get some...

    Oatmeal Shortbread

    1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons old fashioned oats
    3/4 cup all purpose flour
    1/3 cup confectioners sugar
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
    8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter cut into 1/2 inch cubes
    1/2 teaspoon vanilla

    Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place oats on baking sheet and bake until very lightly golden and fragrant, about 4 to 6 minutes. Set aside to cool completely. Place 1/2 cup cooled oats, flour, sugar, salt, and cinnamon and process until finely ground, about 1 minute. Add butter and vanilla and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 8-10 pulses. Place the mixture into an un-greased 9 inch cake pan. Press firmly into an even layer in the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle with remaining oats and press them gently into the dough to adhere. Bake until lightly browned and firm, about 30 minutes, rotating the plan halfway through baking. Remove from oven and immediately score into 12 wedges with a paring knife. Allow to cool completely in pan. Once cool, cut all the way through along scored lines and remove from pan. Will keep in airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

    Makes 12 shortbread cookies


    At the Farmers' Market

    When I got pregnant, everyone kept telling me that total strangers would touch my belly. Luckily this has only happened once so far. The woman who did it was coming out of a restaurant bathroom as I was going in, and she seemed a little tipsy so maybe her inhibitions were down. So, fortunately I've escaped the hands of strangers on my belly up to this point. The thing I wasn't prepared for was people staring at my belly and asking questions. I notice this the most when I'm at the Farmers' Market. There are a lot of older, retired folks shopping there, and they often want to ask me about my pregnancy. Some of the questions are silly, such as "Have you got a little one in there?" "Yes," I answer thinking "obviously I'm having a baby, either that or stealing a watermelon."  They want to know what I'm going to name the baby, when I am due, and whether or not this is my first child. Although they will sometimes talk to me for a while as I am quickly trying to do my shopping, I don't mind these little inquiries. There is excitement in their voices as they ask me these questions, and the questions are almost always followed by stories about when their children and grandchildren were born. The overarching theme in all of their stories is that time goes by too fast. They say things like, "It seems like only yesterday I had my daughter and now she has a daughter of her own." And they are right, time does go by too fast. The other day I cried at a wedding when the groom danced with his mom, thinking that will be me and my son one day. I know, I know that is still really far away. But, I appreciate the insight, concern, and joy on the faces of the older folks at the Farmers' Market. They serve as a good reminder to enjoy this stage of my life - the tiny kicks of my baby, preparing his room, daydreaming about what he will be like.

    Speaking of the Farmers' Market, there were fabulous lemons there this week. They were a really good deal, so I bought a bunch. I also needed a dessert to take to my small group, so I decided to make lemon bars. These are my favorite lemon bars, my variation on a version I found in Bon Appetit Magazine a few years ago. They have toasted coconut in the crust. Yum! And I've found that even people who don't like coconut like these lemon bars.

    Lemon Bars 

    1 cup all purpose flour
    1/4 cup sugar
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    3/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut
    6 tablespoons cold butter cut into 1/2 inch cubes 

    1 cup and 2 tablespoons sugar
    3 large eggs
    5 teaspoons grated lemon zest
    6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 2-3 lemons)
    1 1/2 teaspoons all purpose flour
    3/4 teaspoon baking powder
    Pinch of salt 

    For serving
    1/4 cup powdered sugar

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8 x 8 inch metal baking pan with parchment paper leaving an overhang (which will help you remove the lemon bars later). Butter pan and parchment. Toast coconut in a dry skillet over medium heat until lightly golden. Remove from pan and allow to cool. Place flour, sugar and salt in food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Add cooled coconut and butter and pulse until mixture begins to clump together (it will not form a ball). Place mixture into prepared pan and use fingers to press evenly over bottom of pan. Bake until crust is very lightly golden at edges, about 25 minutes.

    While crust is baking, combine all filling ingredients in food processor and process until smooth. Once crust is baked remove from oven and pour filling over hot crust. Return to oven and bake an additional 30-35 minutes until edges are lightly golden and filling is just set and springy to the touch in the center. Transfer pan to rack to cool completely.

    Using the parchment sling as an aid, transfer the bars to a cutting board. Gently remove the parchment and cut bars into 16 squares. Sift powdered sugar over bars. Can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for several days.

    Makes 16.

    Note: The powdered sugar will be absorbed by the bars after a couple of hours. If not serving the same day, wait and dust with powdered sugar before serving.