a simple roast chicken

Bonnie Benwick wrote a great article in this week’s Washington Post about salt. I know, you’re thinking salt, are you kidding me? She hits on an interesting point, though, and one that I do believe is changing. The real truth is that people don’t cook from scratch as much as they did a few generations ago, and the age-old way of writing recipes with salt “to taste”, is confusing since for some homecooks that instinct may not be so fine-tuned.

As I read her article, I thought about something a friend told me a few months ago. Her 10 year old daughter cooks often from Homemade with Love, but said it drives her crazy when I write “salt, to taste” because she’s not sure what that means exactly. That anecdote has been on my mind, and I could imagine her saying “see, that’s what I mean” as I read Benwick’s piece yesterday. It made sense to me the moment she told me her daughter’s opinion on my salt writing tendencies, but I must confess only because she’s so young, and just starting out in her kitchen journey. It is so easy to forget that novice cooks come in all ages, even for someone like myself who prides herself on writing easy, accessible recipes for every cook, regardless of experience. Continue reading »

chewy white chocolate & pistachio cookies

Write. Delete. Repeat.

This has been my habit as I stare blankly into the screen this morning. It’s not so much that I’m at a loss for words. In fact, the words are scattered in my mind, a mental game of 52 pick up in progress. Still, my lack of clarity to how I’m feeling lately shouldn’t get in the way of sharing these cookies with you. They’re inspired by a recipe for chocolate chip cookies from a bakery in Paris called Laura Todd. It took a little detective work to figure out if levure sans phosphate was baking powder or baking soda, so thanks to Mardi for helping me out with that one.

Continue reading »

magic custard cake

I mentioned recently that I wasn’t sure if time is my friend or foe. Some moments feel like they last forever, and others are so fleeting, it’s as though I blinked, and poof—they’re gone. Somehow everything before turning 40 seemed like an accomplishment. Now, I feel a bit of a rush to get things done, as though time will run out before my life’s to do list is completed.

The reality is that this journey is a constant work in progress. There’s so much to experience, and there’s no doubt we’ll all leave this life wanting more. Last night Isabella and I were talking about what happens after death. Our conversation began because I made a reference about my “next life”. She asked what I meant. It’s interesting having these conversations with her because religion is not an essential part of our family fabric. Michael was Jewish, and because of his family’s roots and history, I felt it important that the girls understood this part of their heritage. I often refer to myself as a recovering Roman Catholic. Many years of parochial school, and a very pivotal moment in seventh grade, led me to believe that while that faith was my family’s, it was not one I wanted to follow. Continue reading »

a hearty winter soup

This soup doesn’t look like much in the bowl, but I promise you eyebrows will raise once you taste it. It first caught my attention while reading Orangette a few weeks ago. Laid up with a sinus infection, that manifested into strep throat, left me with time to catch up on blog reading. The timing wasn’t ideal, just one week before Christmas, but one must make the best of a bad situation, right?

So, after I dropped the girls off at school one morning, I popped into the market and picked up a head of Savoy cabbage, and got to work slicing it paper thin when I got back home. The recipe is from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking. I must confess that I didn’t own one of her cookbooks until just a few weeks ago. After cooking up this very humble cabbage dish, the fire was fueled, and two days later the book arrived at my house. I instantly became smitten with it, but also realized the reason I had yet to add one of her books to my collection. Partly, I prefer to collect vintage, hard-to-find, cookbooks. There’s only so much book real estate one can allocate in a NYC apartment.

Hazan was a cook to whom we owe much in terms of preserving old Italian recipes, and methods. Her tone, though, is rather contrary to my approach. My feeling when sharing recipes is to encourage people to get into the kitchen, and I believe that was her goal, too. Still, you have to read the introduction to Essentials of Italian Cooking with confidence in your skills. For instance, when she discusses basil in the Fundamentals section (pages 7 to 52), she says “Do not ever use dried or powdered basil. Many people freeze or preserve basil. I’d rather use it fresh and, if it isn’t available, wait until it is in season”.

It is a well-intentioned point of view, and I agree fresh basil offers the most true flavor. The reality is that most people do not use a whole bunch of basil before it goes bad. Preserving is a very thrifty way to manage your budget, and still enjoy a basil-flecked marinara sauce year-round. I appreciate her conviction, but cooking isn’t one size fits all, and I prefer to write in a way that welcomes the reader to try recipes with less rigidity.

Alas, I’ve gone off topic, in a way, so let us make our way back to the soup. As the smothered cabbage, the base for the recipe, wilted away on the stove top, I began to get excited. The smell was intoxicating. I stayed true to her recipe, for the most part, with one very liberal change. The soup, as Molly describes it, is supposed to be a loose kind of risotto, meaning on the thicker-bodied side. The intent to heal my cold left me wanting a soup with more broth to slurp, so I doubled the amount of stock. It was still incredibly thick, so don’t let this sway you. I’m including the original measurements, so you can decide which version you want to go with. I also used Pecorino-Locatelli cheese to add a sharper edge to my soup. Hazan’s original recipe calls for Parmigiano-Reggiano, which has a nuttier, aged flavor (a favorite of mine, too).

The last time I made this soup, just a few days ago, in fact, I had run out of chicken stock in the freezer. Sadly, I came home to find my last jar had cracked (yes, it almost made me cry). I was also out of my homemade vegetable bouillon—it’s bare bones around here, I tell you, so I swapped in plain old cold water. I’ll be honest, it is a more substantial tasting soup, if you have chicken stock on hand. In a pinch, though, the water worked just fine, and a little extra Pecorino sprinkled on top gave it the necessary oomph. A couple of slices of this apple-sage vegan sausage on top made it extra hearty. Don’t worry about serving it alone, though, it is sure to leave a last impression.

Last night I fell asleep with Hazan’s book by my side, a number of pages now dog-eared. Her spell has been cast on me, and the respect to which she pays to food, coaxing flavors from simple ingredients, makes me wish I wasn’t so late in picking up her cookbook. The saying goes “better late than never”, though, and I hope to have a few more decades of cooking left. I plan to hand her book down to my girls one day, splattered with memories of the many meals to come.

Rice and Smothered Cabbage Soup

Music Pairing: I’m Living in a Great Big Way by Louis Prima

slightly adapted from Essentials of Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan

Serves 6

Hazan notes in her recipe that you can use regular green, red or Savoy cabbage. I’ve only made it with Savoy, but am eager to try it with red cabbage next. I imagine it will be a nice contrast of color with the rice.

One batch of smothered cabbage (recipe here)

6 cups (1.5 L) chicken or vegetable stock (the original recipe only uses 3 cups/750 ml)

2/3 cup (140 grams) arborio, carnaroli or vialone nano rice

2 tablespoons (28 grams) butter

1/2 cup (56 grams) freshly grated Pecorino-Locatelli cheese, plus more for garnishing

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Add the cabbage and stock to a deep 6-quart pot. Bring to a boil. Add the rice, and cook until it is tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the heat, and stir in the butter and cheese. Season with pepper, and taste, adjusting for salt, and more pepper, as needed. The soup will last, stored in a covered container in the fridge, for up to one week.

candied pecans {easy homemade gift-giving}

We had our first big snowfall in the country this weekend. Well, not in the country, as in the United States of America. I mean the country, as in the area where our house is upstate. I figure you all probably knew what I was talking about, but the writer in me felt compelled to make it very clear. I have readers around the globe (it boggles my mind, really), and I didn’t want anyone to confuse my country with the country.

See how easy it is to get caught up on the little details? Something as simple as me coming here to share an easy recipe for a quick last-minute homemade gift has me pondering the clarity of my own words. Perhaps the simple things are the tasks that truly push us to look closer at the finer details of life. I’ve been contemplating this a lot lately. Continue reading »

gingerbread cake {a one bowl recipe}

I know, I go silent for almost a month, and then share three recipes in four days. This is the upside to my cold. All of the little projects I’ve been meaning to do, the bills I’ve planning to pay, life is what I think we call it—I suddenly find there’s time to get things done when I’m relegated to the sofa, trying to get better. Actually, the sofa has just become my temporary workspace. Too tired to walk up and down the stairs, and not willing to put my cooking habits on hold, my laptop has found a permanent place in the living room, just about 20 paces from the kitchen counter. Continue reading »

parmesan brodo

“The whole truth is that you can love your life, and still yearn for what is missing.”

This quote is from an article Katie Devine wrote recently about being 35 and single. What struck me about her piece was the honesty in her words, something we are often too afraid to be with ourselves. I didn’t expect to walk away from it feeling validated. Our lives are on different paths, but the truth she shared summed up so much of what I’ve been feeling lately.

I am incredibly thankful for my health (let’s hope I didn’t just jinx it!). My daughters, though they drive me crazy often, and I will never love being a single parent, are two gifts I feel so thankful to have in my life. I’m in love again, and loved again, by a person who understands me almost better than I do myself. Continue reading »

crispy, chewy gingersnap cookies {a one bowl recipe}

The trip to the country this past weekend was a bit treacherous. The rain and fog made for a very slow drive, but I’m glad we went up on Friday night because this is what we woke up to on Saturday morning. Meet Olaf. He’s our upstate mascot until the sun turns him into a puddle. As you might have guessed we saw Frozen recently, hence our snowman’s name. Continue reading »

raspberry croissant bread pudding

The love and gratitude I feel from this past weekend is still washing over me, settling into my consciousness in waves. They nicknamed themselves the Core. What they represent is my past, present, and future. They’re a group of women who have held my hand through triumphs and tragedy. They cheer me on, and are able to see a side of me that’s invisible to myself. The strength and beauty of their love is what buoys me to safe shores when I’m not sure of myself. Their laughter is electric, and ignites a smile deep within. And for that, I’m both humbled and eternally thankful. Continue reading »

homemade pumpkin syrup

I take my coffee very seriously. I prefer a real mug over paper “to-go” cups. Smaller mugs, with a petite handle that snugly fits my pointer and middle finger please when I’m drinking my normal cup of Joe (black, two sugars). Those mugs where you can barely slip one finger in—what are those all about? Does anyone find them comfortable?

If I’m having a cafe au lait, then I’ll reach for a big, deep mug—my favorite one is missing the handle, which means I can wrap my hands around it. I always close my eyes, and take a deep inhale above my coffee before the first sip of the day. I let the hot steam rush over my face, and the smoky, toffee scent envelope my senses. I wait until I drop the kids at school to have my first cup, so nothing can disturb that moment. See, coffee is a habit not because of the caffeine (I usually drink decaf, in fact). I simply love the taste of it, and the ritual of making it, whether I’m in a French press mood or go with my stovetop percolator. I don’t own a coffeemaker, and man did that drive M nuts when I got rid of it. Continue reading »