Archive for September, 2012

a slam dunk

I’d like to introduce you to an old friend.

Every time I see him, it’s like a high school reunion. Not the kind of reunion with the awkward conversations (hi, how have you been, where do you live now, what do you do, how many kids do you have?) and prom flashbacks and cliques that somehow never go away. I’m talking about the real re-union with the friends who knew you when you were still living at home, who have met your parents, who have watched you on the court/in the pool/on the field/on stage. The friends whom you phoned after your first kiss, the night before the SATs, when you received your college admission letter. You may not see these friends very often – sometimes only in times of tragedy and celebration – but when you do, you just pick up where you left off.

The old friend is a cookbook. I’m not sure why he’s a he, but he is. Perhaps it’s because my mother gave him to me and she’s always trying to set me up with boys. This book was one of the first I ever cooked from. Unlike the baby steps I took with the Better Crocker’s Cookbook  and  Julee Russo’s Great Good Food and  the Fannie Farmer Cookbook, this one was a keeper.

Betty, printed before I was  born, I left behind in the pantry of my parents’ kitchen when I went to college. I lived on campus and took all my meals in the dining halls. Without a kitchen, there was little need to refer to her sticky and crumbling page 57 (pancakes) and page 136 (chocolate chip cookies).

Julee, with its line drawings and low-fat recipes of my dancer days, disappeared. I think I lent it to a friend and never got it back (it’s OK, Veronica … if that was you, all is forgiven).

Fannie was a gift from my aunt to my grandmother. She traveled with me state to state, home to home, getting buried in the bottom of the cookbook box with each move, eventually landing in the corner on the bottom shelf of my cookbook bookshelf. The color-coded tabs mark the basics – basic method for cooking green beans, basic method for cooking broccoli, pan-roasted potatoes – and now remind me how far my cooking self  has come. Quickly, though, Fannie found herself covered in dust as my cookbook collection grew and the bookshelf seemed to shrink. I haven’t cooked from her in nearly a decade.

But we’re here to talk about the cookbook that made it to real old friend status. His name is The Southwest, and he’s part of the Williams-Sonoma New American Cooking series. Cooking with Southwest was my first break from cooking the foods I grew up with. Unsure of how to mix flavors for a cohesive dinner menu, I relied on theme meals, and he provided a geographic crutch. One of the first times I entertained, I studied his pages day after day and cobbled together a handful of matching dishes. We started with a sopa de lima of chicken and limes, the main dish was salpicón beef  burritos , and dessert was brownie-mix brownies tinged with cinnamon.

I moved on from the Southwest to Japan (sushi rice salad and soy scallion grilled steak, anyone?) and the Middle East (mezze and kabobs), to Spain (once  you start with the Sangria, it doesn’t really matter what you cook) and France (ahh, France), but I always returned to my old friend.

Over the years, I’ve cooked my way through nearly half of his sixty recipes. A few have shown up on this site, and I turn to them so frequently that I think of them as personal signature dishes. But that first dinner Southwest and I prepared together never leaves my side. Whenever I’m looking for a slam dunk, I turn to salpicón.

So, when two food bloggers, Molly and Jess, plus husbands joined me for shabbat lunch, I pulled out Southwest, and flipped right to good old reliable.

Mia, Jess’s and Eli’s 11-month old daughter, slurped the salpicón from a bowl like it was spaghetti. With Southwest by my side, I won over the most honest of critics.

Thanks, old friend. I knew you wouldn’t let me down.


Salpicón is Mexican shredded beef that can be piled on salad or stuffed in a tortilla. This recipe is from The Southwest, one of Williams-Sonoma’s New American Cooking series. It’s easy  but does require a bit of planning as you need to cook the meat for 2 hours, let it cool (at least another hour), and then add the dressing. I like to make it a day in advance so that the flavors intensify. I always at least double the recipe, making 4+ pounds of brisket. In this case, the double recipe served 5 hearty meat eaters (plus baby) with only a tortilla or two worth of leftovers.

Serves 3-4 (with ample leftovers)

For the beef

– 2 pounds beef brisket (second cut is best)

– 3 T olive oil

– 1 onion

– 1 head of garlic

For the sauce

– 1/4 C chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (I use La Costena)

– 3-4 T cider vinegar (or white vinegar in a pinch)

– 3 cloves garlic

– 1/2 C olive oil

– pinch of sugar

– kosher salt and pepper

All the fixins

– vegetables to accompany: romaine lettuce, tomatoes,  avocado, 1 red onions (plus 1/4 C white vinegar, 1 T salt, and pinch sugar for pickling)

– flour or corn tortillas

Brown. In a heavy pot over medium-high heat, warm oil. Pat the brisket dry and brown well on all sides, around 5 minutes. Make sure that all brisket surfaces get dark brown.

Simmer. Peel the onion, cut it in quarters through the stem end, and add to the pot. Take an entire head of garlic and slice through it horizontally, and add it, skin and all, to the pot. Cover the meat with water, and bring the whole thing to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 2 hours.

Cool. Take the pot off the heat and let the meat cool in the water (now a sort of stock).

Shred. Remove the cooled meat to a large plate. Using two forks or your fingers, thinly shred the meat.

Make dressing. In a small food processor, puree the chipotle and its sauce, vinegar, and garlic. Drizzle in the olive oil and keep pulsing until emulsified. Add sugar, salt, and pepper to taste.

Mix. Add half the dressing to the shredded meat and mix. Add more to taste, depending on how much heat you want.

Make the fixins. Finely shred romaine lettuce. Chop tomatoes. Cube avocado.  Thinly slice the red onion (I use a mandoline). Mix together 1/4 C white vinegar, 1/2 C water, 1 T salt, and a pinch of sugar. Let sit for about 30 minutes until the liquid turns bright pink.  Put each of the vegetables in a bowl and serve with the tortillas.

Heat. Place tortillas in a pan, cover, and heat in a low oven until soft and pliable.

Put it all together. Fill a tortilla with meat, vegetables, and refried beans (see below) and roll it all up.

Refried beans

I made these beans for my vegetarian friend Ilana, and the meat eaters devoured them. I adapted this recipe from one for refried black beans in, you guessed it, The Southwest. To give the beans a smoky flavor with using meat, I douse them in liquid smoke, which, if you’ve never tried, is really cool for vegetarian recipes. 

Makes about 2 cups

2 15.5 ounce cans of pinto or kidney beans

– 3 T olive oil

– 1 onion

– 2 garlic cloves

– 1 t cumin seeds, toasted and ground or 1 t pre-ground cumin

– 1/2 t cayenne pepper

– 5-10 sprigs of fresh thyme

– 1-2 C water

– 1/2 t liquid smoke (I use Colgin brand)

– salt and pepper

Drain. Rinse and drain beans.

Saute. Finely chop onion and garlic. Saute onion in olive oil over low heat until translucent, adding garlic after about 5 minutes. Saute 5 minutes more for a total of about 10 minutes, making sure not to burn the garlic. Add cumin seeds, cayenne, and thyme (you’ll remove the stems later), and mix quickly.

Simmer. Add 1 cup of water and scrap up all the good stuff that’s stuck to the pan. Then add the beans and liquid smoke. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove the thyme stems (most of the leaves will have fallen off).

Mash. Use a fork or potato masher to mash the beans. Add water as needed to get the consistency  you want. Season with salt, pepper, and additional liquid smoke to taste.

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I don’t like honey cake, which seems heresy to state right before Rosh Hashanah. After apples and round challah, honey cake is probably the most ubiquitous symbol of the New Year. Unfortunately it’s right up there with the green- and red-speckled fruit cake as a food more about tradition than about flavor.

You’ve probably figured out where this is going. I challenged myself to make a honey cake that I could be proud of. I spent every evening last week making honey cakes. You can read all about my trials (and finally success!) in my most recent column in the Jerusalem Post. If you’re in a rush, scroll down just a bit for the recipe and you’ll bake yourself a cake that’s really all about the honey. No nuts or fruits or coffee or alcohol. No fancy honey – plain old clover honey works great. You don’t even need a stand mixer.

If you’re still looking for a few good Rosh Hashana recipes, scroll down even further to a few dishes that I’ve made in years past. (And if your menu is set, please let me know what you’re making. I’m going down to Atlanta again, and somehow I always volunteer, er get roped into, cooking something.)

And finally, a quick housekeeping note: I’ve added a new page entitled Published. Check it out to catch up on some of the articles I’ve written.

Caramelized honey cake

I developed this cake to celebrate honey for a sweet Rosh Hashanah. It’s based on a Martha Stewart recipe that I made parve and adapted to better showcase the honey. I used soy milk, but almond milk should work well: use plain (not vanilla-flavored), full-fat milk alternative. Don’t go for the non-fat versions (OK, that’s a double negative – let me be more clear: USE THE FULL FAT VERSION). Before you bake the cake, drizzle the batter with extra honey which caramelizes in the oven, helping the cake develop a crispy edge. I’ve tested the recipe with and without a stand mixer and both work well – so go ahead and make this one by hand if you’d like.

Serves 8-10

– 2 eggs

– 1/4 C granulated sugar

– 1/2 C packed dark-brown sugar

– 1/2 C plain unsweetened soy milk (don’t use vanilla flavor or non-fat; plain almond milk should work well too)

– 1/2 C vegetable oil, plus more for greasing the pan

– 1 C honey, divided

– 1 lemon for zest and juice (1 t zest, 1 T juice)

– 2 C all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pan

– 3/4 t baking powder

– 1/2 t baking soda

– 1 t kosher salt

– 1 t ground cinnamon

Prep. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Grease and flour a 10-inch springform or two 8X4-inch loaf pans.

 Mix. In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix eggs and sugars on high speed with the paddle attachment until pale and thick, about 3 minutes. No mixer? Use a whisk and a little muscle – this will probably take 3-5 minutes depending on how strong you are! Add the soy milk, oil, 3/4 cup honey (reserve the remaining 1/4 cup for later), lemon zest, and lemon juice and keep mixing until everything is combined.

Fold. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a separate bowl (I use a fine mesh strainer to get out any lumps), and whisk together to mix. With a spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the wet in two batches until well mixed. Don’t overwork the batter.

Fill. Fill the greased and floured pan(s) with the batter. Drizzle the remaining 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) of honey over the batter, getting most of it around the edges.

Bake. Bake the cake – about 50 minutes for a round cake, 40 for two loaf pan until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Try not to open the oven until almost the end of baking because this cake does have a tendency to fall a bit in the middle if you move it too much. You should be able to see through the door when the center is no longer jiggly – give it another few minutes and poke it with a toothpick. I tend to start looking (through the door!) about 10 minutes before time is up. When it comes out, the top should be slightly sticky because of the honey.

Cool. Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the cake and carefully remove it from the pan.


Still planning your Rosh Hashanah menu? Here are a few things that I’ve made in the past that tie right into the New Year symbols and seasonal produce. Simanim, Hebrew for signs or omens, are the symbolic foods of Rosh Hashanah. A few years ago, my friend Sarah wrote up a great explanation of the simanim, many of which are based on word play – a great read!

Already know what you’re going to make? Please share!

Round challah– If you have a tried and true challah recipe, I’ve figured out how to weave it into a round loaf.

Darna challah – If you need a challah recipe. This one is from Ayelet, a chef in Panama City.

Bread machine challah – If you need a challah recipe and have a bread machine (though, I’m sure you figured out that one on your own).

– Arugula and pistachio salad with orange blossom dressing – A very simple salad, though some people don’t eat nuts on Rosh Hashanah (they’re believed  to represent sins).

– Spicy butternut squash soup – Squash is a siman (singular of simanim). I wrote about this soup here and my wish for a spicy new year.

 Squash mash with balsamic onions – Yup, squash again.

Pomegranate roasted carrots – Two simanim in one here – pomegranate and carrots. Pomegranate molasses (pomegranate syrup) is one of my favorite ingredients these days. It’s sticky, tart, and slightly sweet and perfect for the New Year.

– Two more recipes with pomegranate molasses, this time meat: Ana Sortun’s spoon lamb and then my adaptation of the recipe for French roast or brisket.

– Roast a chicken, using either the classic flavors of lemon and thyme or something more creative – maybe apple and cinnamon or roast atop a pile of leeks (siman).

– Fish is another siman. Here are recipes for sea bass and two salmon dishes; the techniques can be applied to other fishes as well.

– Honey cake (see above)

Easy apple cake – A one bowl, one pan apple cake. No stand mixer necessary. Oh, and truly fabulous.

– Apfelstrudel with cinnamon caramel – Apple strudel, using store bought puff pastry. A German classic. Leave out the pecans if you don’t eat nuts on Rosh Hashanah.

– Tarte Tatin aux Poires et Vin – Upside-down pear tart with red wine caramel. If you’re feeling fancy.

– Plums are finishing up their season – try any of the three plum cakes I’ve made over the past few weeks.

I wish you all שנה טובה ומתוקה, shana tova u’metukah, a wonderfully sweet year filled with fun, adventure, and good food! See  you in 5773.

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fingers crossed

My friend Ilana is quite possibly the world’s greatest expert on my food. She’s offered to marry my lemon bars. She’s eaten half a tart in a single sitting. And I make sure my jar of “trail mix” (in quotes because how often am I really hiking on a trail?) is full whenever she drops by.

A few weeks ago, she asked me to make a dish for a potluck. Here’s how the conversation went:

Ilana: I am in love with your quinoa salad with the avocado.  I could eat that every day.  (You can make whatever you want, is what I’m trying to say.)

Me:  As for quinoa, I actually don’t have a recipe with avo.

Ilana: Wait, what is in that recipe with the black rice and the avocado?  That isn’t quinoa? (If I had access here at work, I could obviously check that on your blog right now.  Yay blogs!)

Me: I never posted it! And I’m not sure I have pix.

Ilana: Booooo that was so delicious.

I’m not surprised that she was right. Ilana knows me better than I know myself, and recipes are a big part of who I am.

She moved to New York just a few days ago. I was in town for the US Open and we were able to grab a welcome-to-the-city coffee (well, she drank tea) just a few blocks from  her apartment. It already felt different.

Ilana will only be in New York for a year before returning to Boston (fingers crossed!), but Cambridge feels empty. I know we’ll still email every day and chat a few times a week, but who will watch Top Chef with me? Go to Russo’s with me? Eat pound after pound of roasted brussels sprouts, carrots, and chickpeas with me?

Now seems the right time to share the recipe she requested so long ago. If I make this quinoa dish, Ilana, can I tempt you back? I’ll even throw in a few lemon bars.

Cumin-scented quinoa with black rice and avocado

This recipe is adapted from Bon Appetit and the picture hung on my refrigerator for six months before I remembered to pick up black rice at the grocery store. You can find black rice (and quinoa) at higher-end or natural food markets. I suspect that this would also  be great (though less striking) with short grain brown rice. The original recipe calls for a single avocado, but Ilana is the Cookie Monster of avocados (“Me want avo! Me eat avo! “) so I opted for three.

Serves 6-8

– 1/2 C short-grain black rice

– 1 C quinoa

– 1 bay leaf

– 1/4 t kosher salt plus more to taste

– 1/4 C chopped fresh cilantro

– 1/4 C chopped flat-leaf parsley

– 4 T olive oil, divided

– 1 small onion, finely chopped

– 3 large garlic cloves, minced

– 2 t cumin powder

– 2 lemons for zest and juice

– Freshly ground black pepper

– 2-3 avocados

Boil. Bring rice and 1 cup water to a boil in a small saucepan. Cover, reduce heat to low, and cook until water is absorbed and rice is tender, 25–30 minutes. (Or just follow directions on the package.)

Boil again. Meanwhile, rinse the quinoa in a few changes of water. Then combine quinoa, bay leaf, salt, and 2 cups water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until quinoa is tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and then return quinoa to hot saucepan. Cover and let sit for 15 minutes. (Or just follow directions on the package.) Discard bay leaf, fluff quinoa with a fork, and transfer to a large bowl.

Chop. While the rice and quinoa are cooking, prepare the rest of the vegetables. Finely chop cilantro and parsley. Finely chop the onion and mince the garlic.

Saute. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat until it shimmers. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 8 minutes – if it starts to brown, lower the heat. Add garlic and cumin and cook, stirring often, for 2 minutes.

Mix. Add the vegetables to the quinoa. Add rice and mix well. Zest and juice the lemons over the bowl. Stir in remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and the cilantro and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve. Pit and peel the avocado and slice into cubes right before you’re ready to eat. Spread them out on the salad and serve. Hide a few avocado pieces at the bottom of the bowl so that there are some left for the rest of us.

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