Torta Caprese — Flourless Chocolate Almond Torte

chocolate almond torte

On Christmas Eve my mother served this torta caprese — a flourless, chocolate-almond torte originating from the Isle of Capri — for dessert. If this is any indication of how it was received, not a single person sitting at the table, nine in total, turned down seconds. Later that evening, Santa even helped himself to thirds.

I love this class of cakes, those that can stand on their own, that don’t beg for layers of buttercream, pools of crème pâtissière, glazes of chocolate ganache or even dollops of whipped cream. This one, like the orange-and-olive oil cake and the Chez Panisse almond torte, fits into this class.

Containing no flour and leavened only by whipped egg whites, this torte is at once light, rich and moist. Ground almonds give it a wonderful texture throughout, and a splash of Grand Marnier offers a hint of orange. Made with bittersweet chocolate, it is perfectly sweet, and when it bakes, that brownie-like, most-delicious, paper-thin crust forms on the top-most layer. It is every bit elegant the finale of a special occasion should be, Valentine’s Day or otherwise. I hope you find an occasion to celebrate it soon. Continue reading

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

Arancini Mac & Cheese

arancini macaroni and cheese

On many Sundays during the summer we find ourselves at 2Amys, tired and famished after a long morning at the zoo, trying to keep our two thrashing children from making too much of a disturbance. An order of arancini — deep-fried risotto balls stuffed with cheese — usually does the trick, settling the children (and us) at first bite.

I LOVE arancini, but they’re a total pain to make, not only calling for leftover risotto, but also requiring a lengthy assembly process — shaping, stuffing, breading and deep frying. Crispy on the outside, oozing with cheese on the inside, these “little oranges” are worth their every effort — once I made them at home — but they are not something to whip up every day, better ordered out a place like 2Amys, best (not that I speak from experience) picked up at a vendor parked along a Palermo sidewalk. 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

Real Sour Cream & Onion Dip and a Wisconsin Cheese Giveaway: Set of Cheese Knives, Cheese Board, and 3-Bowl Bamboo Server

caramelized onion and sour cream dip with Ruffles potato chips

The unfortunate consequence of being deprived of chips and dip as a child is that I am the girl at parties hovering over the crock pot filled with queso dip, piling more than a manageable amount of hot crab spread into my Tostitos scoops, and destroying the poor bowl filled with spinach-artichoke dip.

In addition to childhood deprivation, part of my love for these sorts of dips, I suspect, stems from the fact that I never make them. As many of you know, so many of these most-adored party dip recipes call for opening a pack of soup mix filled mostly with dehydrated ingredients, two days worth of the recommended salt intake, MSG and a host of nitrates and preservatives. While this knowledge never seemed to prevent me from eating these dips — all willpower dissolves when confronted face to face — for many years it prevented me from making them.

With the recent success of a homemade sour cream-and-onion dip, however, I am hoping homemade queso dip along with a few other classics might be in my future, with any luck before the Super Bowl. Who knew that real sour cream-and-onion dip is astonishingly easy to prepare and far more delicious than its dried-soup variation? While caramelizing onions takes time — time, not work — throwing together this dip couldn’t be much more difficult than opening a box of instant soup. One bite of this sweet-and-tangy dip atop a salty Ruffles potato chip allayed my fears that my Super Bowl guests, upon observing the spread — my mother’s olivata, my aunt’s whipped feta with roasted red peppers, and not a crock pot in sight — might run out the door. If you feel like going this homemade-sour-cream-and-onion-dip route, rest assured that your guests will feel right at home watching the game. Just don’t forget the Ruffles… for some things there are no substitutes. Continue reading

Homemade Breadcrumbs & Infinite Ways to Use Them

pasta with toasted bread crumbs, anchovies, garlic, crushed red pepper flakes and basil

Homemade breadcrumbs slipped into our dinner regimen slowly, appearing on our salads to start, the kale caesars in particular, quietly replacing croutons altogether. But shortly after their introduction, perhaps encouraged by their warm reception, they made haste, and soon began garnishing our pastas, mingling with our roasted vegetables, delicately topping our fish fillets. These days they’ve gotten completely brazen, sometimes accompanying every item on the plate. I don’t know when this trend will fizzle, but I’m liking it very much at the moment.

The inspiration to start whizzing my stale bread in the food processor, storing the crumbs in the freezer, and toasting them in a skillet with olive oil at the dinner hour, came from two sources: a great chef interview on the kitchn in early November and the editor’s letter in this month’s bon appètit, which offered tips on how to be a better cook from seven renowned chefs around the world including Mario Batali who admits that “there’s almost nothing [he] wouldn’t put homemade breadcrumbs on.” I’m starting to share this sentiment. These crunchy, salted, olive-oil toasted bits are truly addictive. Continue reading

An Oldie but a Goodie: Honey-Baked Chicken Legs

bakedchickenlegs

During my recent trip home to CT, my mother taught me how to make her homemade hamburger helper, a favorite of mine and my siblings growing up, a meal we thought the toddlers in the house would enjoy as well. While the children ate it without complaint, each favoring a different component — macaroni, hamburger, melted cheese — it was the adults who really went to town on it, in particular my brother and brother-in-law who polished off the leftovers after a late-night game of darts (and a few too many whiskeys).

I don’t know if it’s the need to feed the toddlers I suddenly find at my feet or the trip home or the winter weather, but recently I can’t get enough of these old family recipes. My mother learned this one from her aunt Rene, who has been serving it at dinner parties since the 1960’s. It is truly a crowd pleaser.

Now, a note, likely an obvious one: For those of you who like savoring the flavor of chicken in its most unadulterated form, perhaps roasted with a few herbs and maybe a lemon wedge or two, this one is not for you. It’s all about the sauce, a mixture of honey and mustard, curry powder and mango chutney, that thickens and concentrates during the hour or so spent in the oven. It’s the kind of thing that is nearly impossible not to pick up off the plate with your hands, gnaw at the bone, lick your fingers when you’re finished. Sorry for the image.

All of that said, the chicken cooks perfectly — the tender, moist meat, which retains its heat so nicely, falls off the bone with every prod of the fork, making a more civilized approach to its ingestion certainly an option.

My Great Aunt Rene would be so proud — my children gobbled it up, and for the first time in a long time, not a word about ketchup was uttered. 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

Detox: Sesame-Crusted Tofu with Nuoc Cham

tofu bite

When my paleo friends arrived at my doorstep carrying a Dean and Deluca bag, I suspected my fears about my non-paleo olives were for naught. And when they were as eager to open the bag as Ben and I, my suspicions were confirmed. With it still being pre-2013, we all had one last hurrah with the spoils, snacking on Vahlrona chocolate brownies and an assortment of cookies the size of frisbees for a good day and a half.

It was awesome, but when New Year’s Day arrived, I, as many of you can relate I am sure, was ready to detox. I made a grocery list. Wrote out some resolutions. Ate tofu. Watched Happy. Cried a lot. Wrote out a few more resolutions. Went to sleep, for the first time in a long time not feeling stuffed, early. And woke up, for the first time in a long time, feeling like a million bucks.

About this time of year every year, I go on a little tofu binge. I know, I know. I can hear you barking. There are lots of ways — moderation, namely — to eat healthy without taking extreme measures. But, and I’m not just saying this, I have two tofu recipes in my repertoire, one of which I’ve already shared with you and could genuinely eat nearly every day, both of which I would serve to company without apology. Continue reading

Super Easy Marinated Olives

marinated olives with orange, garlic and fennel seeds

Today I find myself awaiting the arrival of a few dear friends, and for the first time in a long time, I feel very unprepared. You see, they’ve all gone paleo, and as a result, my usual tricks just won’t fly. I’ve stashed away the biscotti; eaten all of the cheeses; frozen all of the bread.

While my friends have assured me they are all on holiday-paleo hiatus, I can’t help but want to have some treats for them. We’re having chicken drumsticks for dinner — I’m pretty sure that’s what cavemen ate? — and I have some nuts to get us through the early dinner hours, so we certainly won’t starve. I also, without doing any research, made a batch of marinated olives, which I have since learned die-hard paleos don’t even eat. Oops. I hope my friends were being sincere about their paleo-hiatus statuses. Continue reading