About Me

I'm happiest when the food I make becomes a backdrop to a lively conversation. When I'm not cooking, I'm traveling or dreaming about travel. Come sit with me, and enjoy! Read more here.

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candied citrus peels: a holiday treat for anytime of the year

I've never made candy in part because it doesn't seem like cooking (science, magic perhaps?) and in part because I've never had much of a sweet tooth. I prefer bitter-sweet flavors like dark chocolate and citrus. So when I was perusing recipes to make for Christmas and found this candied citrus peel recipe, I was like, 'Heck ya.'

I made a single batch (not nearly enough!) for gifts. I liked them so much that I made a second batch for Paul and me to have with our nightly, after-dinner dose of dark chocolate. The bitter from the citrus combined with the sweetness of the sugar make these candied citrus peels irresistible.

I adapted the techniques of this recipe from Anita Chu's recipe in the October edition of Fine Cooking.

Candied Citrus Peels

3 cups citrus peel (from oranges, grapefruit, and lemons)
2-1/2 cups granulated sugar

Using a sharp knife, cut the top and bottom ½-inch off the fruit so it stands up on its own. Then, starting from the top of the fruit, move the knife down alongside the outer edge of the fruit to the bottom, cutting about a 1-inch wide slice of peel off the fruit. Continue around the fruit until you've sliced off all the orange peel. You should be left with about 6, 1-inch wide pieces of peel.

With a paring knife, fillet the remaining fruit and extra pith off the inside (white) portion of the peel or pull up the layer up with your fingers (the pith should peel off the rind like scotch tape from a cardboard box).

Turn the peel pith side down and slice the peel into 1/4-inch-wide strips. Save the fruit for another use, such as for an orange salad.

Put the sliced peels in a heavy-duty saucepan and add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat and blanch for 5 minutes.

Drain the peels, cover with fresh water, bring to a boil, and blanch again for 5 minutes. Repeat once more for a total of three blanchings.

In the same saucepan, combine 1-1/2 cups of the sugar and 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil over high heat.

Add the peels and reduce the heat to low. Let the peels simmer very gently until they begin to look translucent, 45 to 60 minutes. Stir occasionally to ensure that the peels candy evenly.

Using an Asian spider skimmer or slotted spoon, lift the peels from the liquid and place on metal rack placed over a baking sheet. Though not shown in this picture, it's best to line the baking sheet with parchment paper for easy clean up. Let the sugar drip off for about 10 minutes. Reserve the leftover syrup for another use, like cocktails.

Once the peels have drained, put the remaining 1 cup of sugar in a bowl. Roll the peels in the sugar, shake them in a sieve to remove any excess, and spread them on the rack. Let dry for 5 to 6 hours.

Once fully dry, store the candied peels in an airtight container, such as a mason jar, in a cool, dry place. Serve with dark chocolate and port or espresso early morning or late night.



kale and barley soup with guanciale: office lunches have never been so good

It’s a dilemma for office workers everywhere: How to warm up your lunchtime soup without turning the microwave into a scene from Hatchet Meets Hellraiser II. There are various, unsavory methods, such as wrapping plastic tightly over the top (and watching the soup explode and drip down the sides of the plastic and then pool at the bottom glass tray), or placing a plate on top of the bowl, which has the same volatile, messy effect.

My company has two microwaves for every 80 – 100 people. In an office of nearly 500, lunchtime is busy. There is no time to make a mess. For months, I skulked out the back alley and plunked down $6 a day for sushi at our local buffet counter but as the winter months set in and our budget got tighter, I wanted a hot meal for less than $3. That meant finding a way to make soups, carry them in, and heat them properly without messy explosions.

Thankfully, with Google championing my cause, I found a solution. Meet the Corningware soup mug with a vented plastic lid on top, which I bought on Amazon for $8.99.

The special lid allows you to cover it for transport and open while heating. I can now enjoy hearty soups at work without the mess.

This delicious, earthy soup draws its flavors from rich, homemade beef broth and guanciale, Italian pork cheek, which you can order online. But pancetta will work well too.

Good cooking is only half of the equation when reheating lunches in the office. Thankfully, with my well-designed soup mug, meals at the office have never been so good.

Kale and Barley Soup with Guanciale

4-5 slices (about 6 – 8 ounces) guanciale or pancetta
1 cup barley
1 medium bunch kale, chopped into small bits
1 large russet potato, peeled and diced
1/2 head cauliflower, broken into small pieces
1 onion, diced
4 tablespoons tomato paste
1 can garbonzo beans, drained and rinsed
3 sprigs marjoram, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 pinch red pepper flakes
8 cups homemade or high quality beef broth plus 2 cups extra water*

In a large soup pot over medium heat, saute gaunciale in the olive oil until the fat turns translucent. Add the marjoram, garlic, red pepper flakes and saute about a minute longer. Add the onion and saute for three more minutes. Next add the stock, tomato paste, vegetables, and barley, and simmer over low heat for about an hour. About 10 minutes before the soup has finished cooking, add the chickpeas.

*You can make your own beef broth by roasting about three pounds of pure beef marrow bones (straight portions of leg bones that contain marrow) with one carrot, one onion, and one stalk of celery, roughly chopped, for about 35 - 40 minutes. When the vegetables start to caramelize, remove them from the oven and add the vegetable/bone mixture to 10 cups of water. Bring the water to a boil and simmer for two hours. Remove the bones and vegetables from the liquid and add the broth to the soup.


gnocchi with chanterelles and sage butter

Making gnocchi, the ever-elusive pillows of potato pasta, can drive a cook mad. The variables stupefy: the type of flour (ranging from all-purpose to fine semolina pasta flour to the prized Italian "00"), the type of potato, egg or no egg, KitchenAid stand mixer or by hand. How much flour to potato? Cooks approximate but can't know for sure until the dough is formed. It's all about the feel. When gnocchi are cooked well, their texture becomes silky and soft. When they are cooked badly, which I have done, they become dense or chewy, or worse, they fall apart.

Gnocchi are best paired with simple sauces that highlight the softness of the pasta. I love gnocchi with a simple tomato and meat ragu, which I learned in Italy, but I also like tossing them in butter with fresh, seasonal ingredients. I spotted these gorgeous chanterelles in the produce aisle and couldn't resist buying them and incorporating them into my gnocchi.

For more than a year, I've been making gnocchi without egg (just potato and flour), the way I learned in Italy, but this time I wanted to try it with the egg. The truth is, I couldn't discern a difference. The gnocchi made with the egg were delicious and tender. The dish was so good, in fact, that the Jennifer Aniston movie we watched during dinner, The Bounty Hunter, brought it down. Of course, that movie would have brought down a tuna sandwich. (I still love you, Jen!)

Don't make our mistake. Sit at the table, sip wine, and give full attention to the simple, earthy flavors of sage and chanterelles tossed with the melt-in-your mouth gnocchi.

Gnocchi with Chanterelles and Sage Butter

Serves 4

For gnocchi

2 large russet potatoes (Yukon gold also work well but I prefer russets)
1 egg
About 2 cups all purpose flour*

For the sauce
6 - 8 tablespoons butter
30 sage leaves
1/2 pound of chanterelles, cleaned and sliced in half
Parmesan shavings for the top
Black truffle oil (optional)

*The trick to making tender gnocchi is adding enough flour to the potato mixture to hold together the dough but not too much or it will be tough. Add enough flour so that the dough doesn’t stick to your board. Also, before preparing your batch, test a single gnocco in boiling water. If it falls apart, your dough needs more flour.

Boil the whole potatoes in their jackets until they are soft, about 45 minutes. Remove them from the water, quarter them and pass them through a potato ricer onto a large plate. Let the potato cool completely.

In the bowl of a KitchenAid fitted with a dough hook, add the potatoes and egg. Stir at the lowest setting until the egg is combined and then slowly add in the flour.  (If you don't have a KitchenAid, you can mix the potato and egg together in a bowl with a wooden spoon and then work in the flour with your hands). Knead the ingredients together until the dough scoots along freely without sticking when pushed across a cutting board.

Cut the dough into quarters.

Roll out each piece into 1-inch thick logs. If your space is limited, grab a smaller chunk of dough and roll it out to a shorter length. Press the dough with back of a fork down the length of the log, creating even tine marks.

Cut each gnocco off the roll in a forward motion, pushing them away from the roll as you go. Keep the pieces well floured so they don’t stick together.

When you are ready to cook the gnocchi, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add about 4 tablespoons of salt. Lower the gnocchi into the water with a slotted spoon, small colander, or my favorite, an Asian spider skimmer, (to avoid splashes of boiling water) and cook until they float to the surface, about 1 minute.

Over a medium flame, heat the butter in a pan until it sizzles and then add the sage leaves. Sautee for 3 minutes on medium and then add the chanterelles. Continue cooking until the chanterelles are soft.

When the gnocchi float to the top, lift them from the water using a slotted spoon or small colander, shaking the excess water off, and place them in the pan with butter, sage, and mushrooms. Toss them to coat. Season with salt and pepper, a drizzle with black truffle oil, and serve with parmesan shavings on top.


cinnamon plum cake: fresh fruits take the cake

My stepdad used to tease my brother and I when we were kids because we didn’t want to eat fresh fruit and berries for breakfast. We preferred big, milk-drenched bowls of sugar-crusted Fruit Loops, which made the tops of our mouths raw. “City kids,” he would huff with a wink.

I finally turned in my Fruit Loops for real fruit, which I love to incorporate into breakfast and dessert dishes.

This gorgeous cinnamon plum cake balances the refined sugar in the cake with the natural sweetness of plums, which I tossed in kirsch, sugar, and Vietnamese cinnamon. It's a tasty dessert, but I prefer it for breakfast with a strong cup of French press coffee.

Cinnamon Plum Cake

 2 eggs
½ cup vegetable oil
1 cup flour
¾ cups sugar plus 1 – 2 tablespoons extra to toss with plums
6 tablespoons kirsch
6 black plums (approximate, depending on size of plums)
¼ teaspoon Vietnamese cinnamon
1 slightly rounded teaspoon baking powder
Powdered sugar to top

Preheat convection oven to 325 degrees or a normal oven to 350 degrees.

Blend together eggs, vegetable oil, sugar, half of the cinnamon, and half of the kirsch until smooth. Slowly blend in the flour and baking powder.

Slice the plums in half vertically from the top and remove the pits. Then turn the plum and begin slicing horizontally starting from the top, into ¼ inch discs (view a short demonstration here). Toss the plums in the remaining cinnamon and kirsh with 1 – 2 tablespoons sugar.

Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Top with powdered sugar, sprinkled through a fine mesh sieve, and serve.



roasted butternut squash soup: a recipe to live by

I’ve made butternut squash soup with ingredients as diverse as apple, curry, and molasses. Invariably, I’ll adjust the seasonings and flavors more than a dozen times before it tastes right.

This time, I wanted to nail down a fail-proof recipe that I could repeat every time and hand down to future generations with pride. (Nieces, nephews, listen up!)  

After trying and failing again, I simplified my approach, focusing on the flavors of the core ingredients. I found that the trick to a great butternut squash soup was this:

1) Don't overcomplicate it. Keep the seasoning simple: Salt, pepper, and cayenne balance the sweetness of the roasted veggies and add heat.
2) Use homemade chicken stock. If you must, use high quality store bought chicken stock such as the one from Kitchen Basics.
3) Roast the squash and onions first. Roasting, as opposed to boiling the raw squash in the stock, brings complexity, depth of flavor, and sweetness to the soup that make it irresistible.

A quick blast in the blender, a little cream, and a drizzle of black truffle oil, and boom: you might just have the best B-nut squash soup you've ever tasted. The truffle oil adds an intoxicating aroma and earthy flavor.

This is my version of butternut squash soup, and one I will live by.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

1 medium butternut squash
1 large yellow onion
4 cups homemade or high quality store-bought chicken stock
2 cups water
1/2 cup cream
Pinch of cayenne
Olive oil
Black truffle oil

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Slice the skin off the squash and chop the flesh into 3-inch inch chunks. Quarter the onion, starting vertically at the root so the quarters hang together. In a roasting pan, add the squash and onion and toss them with 3-4 tablespoons olive oil, salt, and black pepper. Roast for 30 minutes or until the vegetables start to caramelize.

In a large soup pot, add the roasted veggies.

Deglaze the roasting pan with 2 cups of water and pour the liquid into the soup pot with the roasted vegetables. Add 4 cups of chicken stock, a generous sprinkling of salt, and a pinch of black pepper and cayenne, and cook at medium-low flame for 1 hour.

Turn off the heat and let cool. In batches, scoop the mixture into a blender and blend until smooth. Add the liquid back into the a pot. If it is too thick, add more chicken stock.

Finally, add the cream. Serve with a drizzle of black truffle oil and chopped chives or thyme.


orange ricotta pancakes: skip the baking powder, add flavor

Baking powder ruins a perfectly good pancake. There, I said it. Go ahead. Label me anti-American. Pancakes that rely on baking powder for fluff taste like pounded-down muffins sopped in syrup. (Good morning, dry mouth! Good morning, sugar headache!)

No, in my sleepy world of pajamas and coffee, pancakes should be like a cloud, eggy and moist with a hint of sweetness and a golden exterior. Add an exotic flavor, like citrus or liqueur, and wash it all down with strong coffee, and I'll be awake in no time.

The fluffiness from this pancake comes from beating the egg whites and then folding them into the batter. Balanced against the rich texture of ricotta cheese, this pancake is both airy and creamy.

Orange Ricotta Pancakes

 4 large eggs, separated
¾ cup whole milk ricotta
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 tablespoon orange blossom water
½ cup flour
¼ cup milk
2 tablespoons butter

Combine egg yolks, ricotta, sugar, orange zest, orange blossom water, flour, and milk and blend well. Depending on the moisture level of the ricotta, you may need to add a few more tablespoons of flour. The texture at this stage should be viscous, like honey dripping off a spoon.

Beat the egg whites into soft peaks and immediately fold into the pancake batter.

Heat a griddle on medium until hot. Melt the butter and spread it evenly across the griddle with a basting brush.

In batches, pour the pancake batter so that each pancake is about four inches wide. Cook for about 2-3 minutes on the first side. Flip, and cook an additional 1-2 minutes on the second side.

Keep pancakes warm in the oven while making the remaining batches. Serve with syrup, jam, or fresh berries. Top with powdered sugar.

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