A Card, and 3 Simple Ways to Begin Your Valentine’s Day Dinner

Parmigiano Love

So often, for me at least, the best part of a dinner out happens shortly after I am seated, when the server sets down a warm roll with a pat of soft butter sprinkled with sea salt or a basket of freshly baked focaccia and a little dish filled with olive oil swirled with a few drops of balsamic vinegar. It’s these simple details that, when done well, distinguish the meal from one prepared at home, when such delights are often absent and when relishing every morsel is not always the order of the hour.

With that in mind, I have a few very simple ideas for beginning a Valentine’s Day dinner at home. If you thrive at arranging delicious things on plates, ideas 1 and 2 are for you. If you like to fuss a little bit more, idea number 3 might interest you more.

But before we get to the food, let’s discuss cards. You have to begin Valentine’s Day with a card, right? I’ve added four Valentine’s Day cards to the print shop, including the above pictured one, Parmigiano Love. Each Valentine’s Day card costs $3 and can be shipped to you for the price of a stamp (45 cents). Continue reading

Brown Butter Blondies with Sea Salt

blondies with brown butter and sea salt

After a month of abstaining from serious dessert (inordinate amounts of dark chocolate, providing heaps of antioxidants, don’t count), a sugar craving and a magazine blurb had me unearthing baking pans and once again scribbling down butter, chocolate and brown sugar on my grocery list. The blurb described a treat offered at San Francisco’s Black Jet Baking Co — brown butter blondies made with Maldon sea salt — which I needed to have in my mouth immediately. Sorry, but I did. Continue reading

Paul Steindler’s Cabbage Soup and A Peasant Bread Follow-Up

cabbage soup

When I’m home in CT visiting my parents, my favorite pastime is poking around the two basement refrigerators, the home of all sorts of treats my mother has been preparing — soups, spanakopita, Grand Marnier chocolate truffles — and stocking up on — smoked mussels, white anchovies, enough cheeses to feed the neighborhood — for weeks. It’s a little gourmet paradise inside those boxes, and it’s impossible not to sneak a peak (and a truffle) with every trip down to the basement.

The only hard part about being home for the holidays is refraining from eating all day long. From the first bite of homemade cinnamon oatmeal bread in the morning to the last bite of flourless chocolate-almond torte in the evening, my stomach barely gets a rest. There is goodness at every turn, and none so much (if you ask me) as at lunch, which hasn’t changed (during the holidays at least) in about a decade: a bowl of soup, a square of spanakopita and a slice or two of homemade bread. On this most recent visit, we feasted on Vermont cheddar cheese soup — my favorite — and rosemary butternut squash bisque with slices of toasted buttered rye bread on the side. It was heaven.

Five days of this soup-and-bread routine made me miss it dearly upon returning home to my all-but-bare refrigerator. But when a large head of cabbage and a few carrots sitting in my vegetable drawer caught my eye, my spirits lifted. With the exception of fresh dill, I had everything on hand to make another favorite soup of my mother’s, one she has been making since the early 80’s: Paul Steindler’s cabbage soup with caraway seeds, a recipe Craig Claiborne wrote about many years ago in The New York Times Magazine and eventually published in The Essential New York Times Cookbook. Loaded with vegetables — carrots, potatoes, onions and cabbage — a little bacon and a touch of cream, this is definitely a hearty soup, best served on a cold winter day with crusty bread and nothing more. For me, it’s the dill and caraway seeds that make it unlike any other I have tasted, the caraway seeds in particular imparting a lovely yet subtle flavor. Continue reading

Gingerbread Biscotti And A Few Favorite Holiday Recipes

gingerbread biscotti in jar

Biscotti lovers seem to fall into two camps: those who view dipping as essential and those who view dipping as optional. As you can see from the photo above, I fall into the dipping-is-optional camp. I like my biscotti with a chewy center (a texture achieved by butter, which dipping-biscotti recipes generally do not call for) and a crisp crust, and I like them on the larger, meatier size — I want to eat one (not ten) and feel satisfied.

While I am partial to classic almond biscotti, these gingerbread biscotti are a treat this time of year. This recipe is just a variation of my favorite recipe with molasses replacing some of the sugar and the addition of traditional gingerbread spices: ginger, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. With coffee or tea, a latte or hot cocoa, this dunking-is-optional treat will put anyone in the holiday spirit. Continue reading

Baked Eggs

baked eggs with gruyère and herbs

For Sunday morning breakfast I made baked eggs, a dish traditionally reserved in my family for one occasion and one occasion only: Christmas morning. Preparing the eggs down here in Virginia felt odd as I’ve never made them outside of my mother’s Connecticut kitchen, and eating them felt odd, too, because instantly it felt like Christmas morning, and I thus expected to see my sister sitting across from me harmonizing with the Messiah and my brother a few seats down strumming along on his guitar.

Alas, neither of these characters was present and having not inherited a single musical gene, Ben and I tucked into our herb-and-gruyère-topped baked eggs in silence, spooning the perfectly runny yolks over toasted bread, enjoying an unprecedented Christmas morning dress rehearsal. Continue reading

Chez Panisse Almond Torte

Chez Panisse Almond Torte

Some of you know my sister Lindsey. Some of you have only read about her here and thus only know about her penchant for crust-based dishes — pies and quiches in particular — and her love for Peeps and leftovers.

Let me tell you a little bit more. Lindsey, while a wonderful cook, doesn’t quite share the enthusiasm for cooking that many of the women in my family do. She doesn’t go to bed with a full belly dreaming about what she might cook up tomorrow morning nor does she subscribe to a single cooking magazine; to her, nothing could be more boring than a tv program on cooking and a discussion about recipes might send her straight into another room; and she has been known on more than one occasion to exclaim, “Why does everything have to be such a production?!” Continue reading

Orange-and-Ricotta Pound Cake & A Few Gift Ideas

orange-ricotta loaf

As five of us celebrated a quiet Thanksgiving down here in Virginia, the rest of my family journeyed north to Vermont to the shores of Lake Champlain for a wild gathering with my aunt and uncle. Upon returning, my mother gave me the full report: Of course, the turkey, which she had prepared, was over-cooked, gross and inedible but roasted Jerusalem artichokes saved the occasion as well as an orange-and-ricotta pound cake that her sister prepared twice during their five-day visit. Continue reading

Maple Cream Tart

maple cream tart, just baked

Sometimes things just work out for the best. Just as I was about to declare Thanksgiving ruined — my third corn syrup-less pecan pie tasted just as curdled and watery and messy as my first — I took a stab at yet another recipe, making a most-delectable discovery in the process: maple cream tart, a recipe Food52 adapted from NYC’s Left Bank.

I am in awe of this tart’s texture. The absence of eggs makes it exceptionally light yet somehow it tastes as smooth and creamy as an untorched crème brûlée. For maple syrup lovers, nothing could be more delicious, and best of all, it’s a cinch to assemble. The custard, as promised, comes together in two minutes and while the tart shell requires a blind baking, the assembled tart bakes in just twenty-five minutes.

I know it’s very late in the game to start switching up dessert menus, but if you’re still looking for something to serve or perhaps to bring to a Thanksgiving feast, this one is just as festive as any of the classics. For me, it’s even better and will always be considered the tart that saved Thanksgiving 2012. Gobble Gobble. Continue reading

Tartine’s Currant Scones & Lemon Cream

Tartine's currant scones, just-baked

I’m preparing for Thanksgiving and for my sole visitor, my father, who loves a proper English scone. Unfortunately, these currant scones, I am fairly certain are not proper by any British standards, and I’m fairly certain that serving them with lemon cream is not proper either. What I am certain about, however, is that after one bite, my father will tell me that what I have created is not in fact a proper British scon. And then he’ll proceed to devour two or three, slathering each with lemon cream, uttering mumbles of approval all along the way. I can’t wait.

I’m sorry to bore you with a recipe I’ve posted about before, but when I find a recipe I like, I tend to stick with it. Tartine’s buttermilk scone recipe is the one I use year-round, studded with berries in the summer and currants in the winter. The recipe yields a huge batch, too, which is nice when planning for visitors, so I froze eight unbaked scones for Thanksgiving morning.

With scone dough stashed away, I thought it would be fun to have some of Tartine’s lemon cream on hand, too, a recipe I overlooked in the cookbook but have had bookmarked since seeing it on Food52 a few months ago. The cream is as luscious as promised, and I cannot wait to serve it, though I suspect my father is going to ask if I’ve got any clotted cream around. Also, just a note: these scones certainly don’t need anything as spectacular as homemade lemon cream — they honestly don’t even need a dab of butter — but if you’re feeling the gilding-the-lily spirit that is the holiday season, then go for it.

Incidentally, I have been watching Call the Midwife — amazing! — and have been craving proper English scons since hearing the midwives giggle about them in the last episode. Continue reading

My Mother’s Peasant Bread: The Best Easiest Bread You Will Ever Make

peasant bread

When I tell you that, if forced, I had to pick one and only one recipe to share with you that this — my mother’s peasant bread — would be it, I am serious. I would almost in fact be OK ending the blog after this very post, retiring altogether from the wonderful world of food blogging, resting assured that you all had this knowledge at hand. This bread might just change your life.

The reason I say this is simple. I whole-heartedly believe that if you know how to make bread you can throw one hell of a dinner party. And the reason for this is because people go insane over homemade bread. Not once have I served this bread to company without being asked, “Did you really make this?” And questioned: “You mean with a bread machine?” But always praised: “Is there anything more special than homemade bread?”

And upon tasting homemade bread, people act as if you’re some sort of culinary magician. I would even go so far as to say that with homemade bread on the table along with a few nice cheeses and a really good salad, the main course almost becomes superfluous. If you nail it, fantastic. If you don’t, you have more than enough treats to keep people happy all night long.

So what, you probably are wondering, makes this bread so special when there are so many wonderful bread recipes out there? Again, the answer is simple. For one, it’s a no-knead bread. I know, I know. There are two wildly popular no-knead bread recipes out there. But this is a no-knead bread that can be started at 4:00pm and turned out onto the dinner table at 7:00pm. It bakes in well-buttered pyrex bowls — there is no pre-heating of the baking vessels in this recipe — and it emerges golden and crisp without any steam pans or water spritzes. It is not artisan bread, and it’s not trying to be. It is peasant bread, spongy and moist with a most-delectable buttery crust.

Genuinely, I would be proud to serve this bread at a dinner party attended by Jim Leahy, Mark Bittman, Peter Reinhart, Chad Robertson, Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. It is a bread I hope you will all give a go, too, and then proudly serve at your next dinner party to guests who might ask where you’ve stashed away your bread machine. And when this happens, I hope you will all just smile and say, “Don’t be silly. This is just a simple peasant bread. Easy as pie. I’ll show you how to make it some day.” Continue reading