on the nightstand

Looking for some summer reading recommendations? I’ve got a few for you.

First off, Stir. It’s the debut book – a memoir with recipes – of Jessica Fechtor whom some of you might know from her blog Sweet Amandine. It’s about life and illness, food and cooking, hosting and guesting, love and identity. I say debut because I think we’ll be reading a lot more from Jess: when we discussed the book for an article I was writing for the Forward, she told me that her PhD dissertation is about representations of food in Jewish literature and she is hoping to span academic and popular readership.

Jess Fechtor's butter almond cake

Next up, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. David Leite is organizing a virtual book club and this is our first assignment. I’m about a third of the way through this book that takes place in France and Germany during WWII and I’m really loving it so far. Bonus: if you want to know what the author is reading, check out this New York Times interview with him.

For those of you who keep a pile of cookbooks on the nightstand, one of my writing teachers in Italy, Rachel Roddy, recently published her first cookbook. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it and ordered the British version, Five Quarters; it comes out in the US early next year under a different title. Rachel moved from England to Italy a while back and created a life for herself in Rome. She is a vivid story teller and I hear Rachel’s animated accent when I read her essays and musing on living in the Testaccio neighborhood of Rome and her instructions for the food that she turns out of her kitchen. Just the other day, I found myself chucking chickpeas and white beans into a grocery cart, making plans for paste e ceci soup (it might be a very soupy summer) and bruchetta con cannellini. No surprise that I have Italy on my mind, having just spent nearly two weeks in Sicily, but Five Quarters is filling my dreams with images of linguini con zucchine (which is where my bookmark currently resides and rhymes in a lovely way when you say it aloud) and riding around on a motorino. 

Speaking of Italy, I’m reliving my meals at Case Vecchie, drooling my way through Fabrizio Lanza’s Coming Home to Sicily. I think there’s a crema di limone pudding in the very near future.

During our workshop, we read various passages, articles, and book chapters to help us explore different ways of beginning a piece of writing. A couple on the food of Sicily have made their way to my library queue (You do have a library card, right?): Mary Taylor Simeti’s Pomp and Sustenance and Helena Attlee’s The Land Where Lemons Grow.

And one more book that has come highly recommended by many friends: Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life.

In case you want more immediate gratification, here are a few articles that are just a click away:

Tamar Adler’s A Philosophy of Herbs. Perhaps this is the article I had in mind when, after reading the whole pea-camole brouhaha, I ignored the published recipe and made my own pea mash with avocado, mint, lemon juice and salt.

How cookbook author Paula Wolfert is using food to keep Alzheimer’s dementia at bay.

The story of The Day Jacques Pépin Saved My Life.

Now that I’ve adjusted back to a quotidian life without wine at lunch, The Guardian on drinking in the middle of the day.


And finally, to fuel all that reading, I give you cake.

Marcella’s butter almond cake

Reprinted with permission from Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home by Jessica Fechtor.  

This cake was created by Marcella Sarne, who entered it in a baking contest sponsored by C&H Sugar and won, to the tune of a grand-prize custom kitchen. Sprinkling salt over the batter together with the toasted almonds and sugar is genius. Covered and stored at room temperature, this cake keeps well for several days.

Serves 8 to 10

Butter and flour for the pan
3 heaped tablespoons sliced almonds
¾ cup (1½ sticks; 170 grams) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1½ cups (300 grams) granulated sugar, plus 1 tablespoon for finishing
2 large eggs
1½ teaspoons pure almond extract
1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
1½ cups (188 grams) all-purpose flour
A pinch of sea salt flakes, like Maldon, if using (see headnote)

Preheat the oven to 350˚ F, and butter and flour a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom.

Spread the sliced almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast them in a preheated oven for 5 to 7 minutes, until fragrant. They should color only lightly.

Whisk together the melted butter and 1½ cups sugar in a large bowl. Add one egg, whisk until fully incorporated, then add the other and whisk some more. Add the almond extract, vanilla and salt, and whisk well, until smooth. With a rubber spatula, fold in the flour until just combined.

Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan and scatter the toasted almonds, sea salt flakes, if using, and 1 tablespoon sugar over top. Bake for 35 minutes, until the cake peeking through the almonds takes on a faintly rosy color (this cake blushes more than it browns), and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack until nearly room temperature, then ease the cake out of the pan and cool the rest of the way.

the burn of sun

I woke up this morning well before my alarm. I forgot to close my curtains last night and the sun, as it rises over the city, pokes around the neighboring building and eventually finds my face. I thought about burrowing under the covers to hide, but instead I just let the sun shine bright, my eyes squinting in protest.

I’ve been leaving a notebook by my bed for morning pages, so I shimmy to a sitting position, pulling an extra pillow behind my back, and reach for my pen. The window is open and the fan is on, my hair blowing before I tie it back into a knot. My phone is already pre-set with a twelve-minute timer. Ready? Start.

I write about how overcast it’s been and how nice it is to feel the burn of sun on my skin again. I shift on the mattress and angle myself so that my face hides in the shade of one of the narrow window panes. The shadow of my pen, tall like a skyscraper, drags across the paper, its point meets my script with the beginning of each word. I work out the exact angle to hold the notebook, the pen so that the shadow lifts and creeps back on to the page. I write really small and the shadow stays nearly still, a silent ventriloquist. Then, with a sweeping gesture, the shadow flies across the paper.

These are the shadows I avoid in photos, I write, but I think this morning that it might be fun to use them.

hot silane on feta toast, in the shadows

Breakfast was feta on rye toast with silan, also known as date honey. Less cloying than the bee-made stuff but with a similar viscosity, silan is a commonly-used sweetener in Israel and I’ve been playing around with it of late. A few weeks ago, a bunch of us from the restaurant did a pizza crawl that started at Rubirosa in Little Italy and ended in Brooklyn at Paulie Gee’s where I tried hot honey for the first time. A few days after I got back from Italy, I decided to try my hand at making my own version of this sticky spicy mess.

The impetus was laundry avoidance, an upcoming barbecue, and a large bag of tiny dried peppers. I had picked up the peperoncino piccante intero at a grocery story in an effort to use up my last few euro coins before heading to the Palermo airport. Given how small the peppers were, ranging in size from a half- to a full inch, I figured they’d be mighty spicy. But a tablespoon scooped into a pot of simmering silan barely registered as heat on my tongue. So I kept adding and tasting, adding and tasting, until I landed on a sweet mixture with a slow tingling burn that builds in the back of your mouth.

I’ve mostly been eating it as you can see in the photos, drizzled on salty cheese. I’ll be bringing some to Meira‘s this weekend and I imagine it’ll end up getting splashed into a drink or two, perhaps with some lime and gin.

Here are a few more photos, out of the shadows this time.

hot silan

hot silan

Spicy silan

I reviewed a few recipes (here, here, here, and here) and came up with some tips for making my own hot honey. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Temperature. You want to get the silan/honey hot enough that the peppers will infuse their heat without burning the sugars. Several recipes using actual honey recommend keeping the temperature under 150°F to maintain the health benefits of raw honey, so I pulled out my candy thermometer to see what was going on. Since i’m not concerned about honey as a healing food and I was using silan anyway, I ignored the 150-mark and focused more on making sure that it didn’t exceed the boiling point of water (212°F) at which point evaporation would begin (resulting in a change in the consistency – I didn’t want to make candy) and above which the sugars themselves would eventually burn (starting at about 230°F). Essentially, if the mix starts to bubble and froth, turn the heat down. If you’ve got a candy thermometer, try to keep the temperature around a safe180-200°F. 

Spiciness. The commercial hot honeys i’ve tried are really hot. Really hot. I believe they use fresh chili peppers and may add vinegar. Mine is more of a medium hot.  I’ve tried this recipe with both silan and honey, with small whole dried peppers and with pepper flakes. As I’m sure you know, the smaller the pepper, the spicier, so use your judgment. Start with 1 or 2 teaspoons pepper, especially if you’re using flakes and taste as you go. 

Tasting. After each addition, let the peppers simmer in the honey for 10 minutes before tasting. To taste, drip a little honey onto a plate and let it cool down for at least 30 seconds before tasting. You do not want to put nearly boiling sugar anywhere near your body.

Makes 1 1/2 cups

– 1 1/2 C silan (or honey)

– 3-4 T dried red chili peppers or 1-2 T crushed red pepper

Heat. Bring silan and 1 tablespoon peppers to a simmer (180 – 200°F) in a medium-sized pot. After 15 minutes, taste for spiciness (see note). Add more pepper and continue simmering until you reach the heat level you want.

Filter. Allow the silan to cool for at least 5 minutes. Pour the cooled silan through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean jar.

Store. Store at room temperature.

morning pages

I just got back from that big trip I mentioned a few weeks back. I started with two days in Paris. Then, Sicily where I spent a week at Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school for a food writing course taught by Luisa Weiss and Rachel Roddy and rounded out the rest of my trip with a few beach days in Cefalu on the northern coast of the island. There’s so much to process and write about the past two weeks – in short it was vacation far dreamier than I could have imagined – but for now, you can check out my Instagram for some photos. Here’s one of my favorites.


I came home yesterday to bagels and lox. My parents had been in town while I was gone and spent their last night at my place, so when I walked into my apartment with my suitcase on its last legs, er wheels, my mom was there with a true New York welcome. There were also some take-out leftovers, including a container of rice.

Fridays are greenmarket day in my neighborhood and I went a little overboard with all the goodies that hadn’t been in season when I left: zucchini, cherries, garlic scapes! There will probably be a raw summer squash something coming out of my kitchen in the next day or two; the Short Stack that arrived before I headed out should come in handy right about now.

Until then, there’s soup. Yes, it’s summer. But while we were in Sicily at Case Vecchie (the name of the courtyard where the school is located), we ate soup several times, including a smooth fava bean concoction called macco and a more rustic minestra di tennerumi made from the tender vines of long cucuzzo squashes. So, back in my kitchen, I got my cooking sea legs back with a simple soup of rice leftovers and canned tomatoes and not much more.

No food photo today, though. One of things we discussed during the course was morning pages, a discipline of writing every morning – before coffee, before checking any technology – on paper, and for 12 minutes. We did a lot of timed writing exercises and I found I enjoyed writing in concentrated spurts. So now, as I settle back into real life, I’m committed to doing morning pages. I’ve set a notebook and pen by my bed and started this morning. As an extension of that, I’d like to do some more spontaneous writing here. That will probably mean more posts and recipes with fewer photos, but I think that’s a fair trade.

PS – I’ll probably take some photos tomorrow and post them after the recipe. Some habits are hard to break, but this way I’ll at least get things on proverbial paper rather than waiting for the right light and perfect angle.

Tomato rice soup

Adapted from Mark Bitman’s recipe in the New York Times. The wine is optional, but this soup was good enough reason to uncork a red; a big (but not huge) California cabernet worked well here. Feel free to play around with herbs (cilantro or parsley would be nice) and spices (I’m thinking cumin, or thyme). Or keep the soup as is and top with a sprinkling of parmesan. Or not. This soup is lovely in its utter simplicity. 

UPDATE 6/27: Last night, I ate the soup with shredded parmesan, but this morning I buzzed it with an immersion blender and sprinkled some fresh cilantro. Today’s version feels a bit fancier and could be served as a non-dairy cream of tomato soup. Yes, I ate it for breakfast with my coffee. The soup does thicken overnight as the rice absorbs more liquid, so I’ve modified the below recipe to increase the amount of water. 

Makes about 1o cups

– 2 T olive oil

– 1 onion, chopped

– 2 cloves garlic, minced

– 2 T tomato paste

– 1/3 C dry red wine

– 2 C cooked rice

– 4 C water

–  1 28-oz can (about 3 C) chopped tomatoes

– sea salt, to taste

Cook. Heat olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook until softened and golden, about 8-10 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another 2 minutes – lower the heat if the garlic starts to brown too much. Add the tomato paste and cook for another 5 minutes. By this point, the bottom of your pot should be nice and brown.

Pour. Deglaze the pan with the wine, scraping up all those brown bits.

Stir. Add the cooked rice and a generous pinch of salt. Stir to break up the rice. Taste, adding a bit more salt if necessary.

Simmer. Add the water and chopped tomatoes. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat. Simmer for 10 minutes until the rice is heated through. Add more water to get the soup the consistency you’d like. Optional: buzz with an immersion blender.

UPDATE 6/27: a photo!

tomato rice soup

even as I was

The jar that I’ve just filled with dressing and covered with a twist of my wrist slips from my fingers and onto the floor. The glass splinters in half, the bottom still cradling a tablespoon or so of the golden liquid, the top still wound to the lid. It has splattered on my bare feet and up my legs.

I crouch to collect shards of glass, dropping them into a paper bag filled with the week’s recycling. I wipe up the dressing with a towel, leaving oily streaks on the floor, on the fridge, on the oven, on the cabinet, under the fridge, under the oven, under the cabinet.


It was three weeks ago yesterday that I learned the news. The news itself isn’t important and it wasn’t really new news, but old news just in a different way.

I found myself in the kitchen with a mortar on the counter and a pestle in my hand. I pounded anchovies – they smelled of the sea, and of briny tears – into cloves of raw garlic, pungent and stinging my eyes. A spoonful of Dijon, tempered with lemon, rounded out with a whisk of olive oil. In the oven toasted a pile of crumbs, rubbed from the heel of day-old baguette against the largest holes of my box grater.

Even as I was, I managed to iron a linen and flatten it on a large cutting board by the window. The mortar in the middle, the pestle just so, surrounded by empty lemon halves and a glass canister of fish filets. I crushed fleur de sel to complete the tableau.

Snap. A photo from the side.

I drizzled dressing over a pile of arugula littered with bread crumbs and Parmesan shavings.

Snap, snap. A few photos standing on a ladder.

I jarred the rest and labeled it with green painters’ tape and a sharpie: “anchovy dressing 5/28”.

You know what happened next.


At first, I tread carefully in the kitchen to avoid stepping on any last few glass splinters. I need to wear shoes when cooking. Then flip-flops. And now, I’m back to socks or nothing at all. Every once in a while, I find a speck of glass. I lift my foot to see a dot of blood. With the flick of a nail, I nudge out the chip and go about my day.

anchovy dressing

Anchovy dressing

 Adapted from Melissa Clark’s New York Times recipe for red and green salad with anchovy mustard vinaigrette. I’ve increased the amount of lemon juice to balance out the saltiness; depending on how juicy your lemons are, you may need up to two. Use a decent brand of anchovies packed in oil, but don’t go overboard on the fancy stuff.

I like to use a mortar and pestle – mostly because I have a few and a pestle has a nice heft to it. That said, you can do your smashing with a fork in a bowl. If you want a really smooth dressing, you can even use a small food processor or an immersion blender. 

I serve this with peppery arugula; other bitter greens such as radicchio or endive would be nice as well. Add crunch with toasted bread crumbs (use a box grater to make crumbs out of stale baguette, drizzle with olive oil, and toast in a 350°F oven until very brown). Shave some parmesan over the top. Eat immediately.

Makes about ¾ cup

– 6 anchovy fillets

– 2 garlic cloves, minced

– 1 T Dijon mustard

– ¼ C fresh lemon juice, more to taste

– ½ C extra-virgin olive oil

– Kosher salt and black pepper, as needed

Smash. Line the bottom of a mortar or bowl with anchovies. Add the minced garlic and using a pestle or fork, smash the fish and garlic into a paste. It’s OK if there are bits of anchovy still peeking out. Stir in the mustard.

Whisk. Drizzle in the olive oil slowly while whisking until combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste, adding a bit more lemon juice as necessary to balance everything out if it’s too salty for your liking.

arugula with anchovy dressing

in on it

Ok, so this little salad may not have much going for it in the looks department, but I had to share because it’s such a simple idea that I couldn’t not let you in on it.

cucumber avocado salad with schug

I’m in kitchen scrounging mode as I try to empty my fridge before I head out on a little trip (ok, a big trip; more on that to come), and made a list on a pink sticky of things to use up before I go: 1 zucchini, 2 stalks rhubarb, 1/2 bunch kale, 1/2 cucumber, 2 avocados, 2 cheeses (Consider Bardwell Farm’s Danby goat’s milk cheese and a sheep’s feta), yogurt, and 4 lemons.

I had bookmarked Deb’s obsessively good avocado cucumber salad a while back and was excited that I had the two key ingredients in the title. I started chopping things into cubes before I bothered to read the rest of the list. Here’s how that went (I’m sure you’ve been here too):

Mayo. Nope.

Lime. Nope.

Hot sauce. Yup, several.

Cilantro or parsley. Nope, nope.

I craved the combination of creamy – spicy – fresh and I needed to do some major substitutions fast. Yogurt for mayo. Lemon for lime. I had Sriracha, which is what Deb recommends,  but I was getting caught up in wanting herbs. I almost, almost, ran out to buy some parsley. And then, I remembered I had schug.

Earlier this year, my friend Adeena had given me a jar of this Yemenite hot sauce, green with cilantro and little peppers, piquant with garlic, cumin, and a dash of cardamom.  The recipe is Gil Hovav’s – he’s an Israeli chef and writer and all-around fun character – and he made a huge batch in Adeena’s kitchen a few months ago when they had a series of Yemenite pop-up dinners. (The recipe says you can store schug refrigerated up to 3 weeks, but I’ve had mine for months with no sign of spoilage.  Use that information as you will.)

I’d eaten schug before, typically in Israel where it and Moroccan harissa are served alongside falafel. Both are referred to by the generic Hebrew word harif – spicy – and I like to dribble a little of each into a hummus- and salad-filled pita. Halfway through my sandwich, I would go back for more. It never occurred to me to use it in other ways until Adeena served it alongside an ooze-y round of brie and a scattering of super thin crackers. I repeated this cheese plate combo at my own birthday celebration.

Thinking about how well the schug went with dairy, it seemed a good option to mix with yogurt in my salad, with the added benefit of well preserved, once fresh herbs. So, I scooped out some Greek yogurt, stirred in a timid dash of schug and a pinch of salt, thinned it out with lemon juice and olive oil, and then, after tasting, added another good dollop of schug – just enough to set my tongue tingling but not so much that it would overtake the cooling cucumber and velvety avocado.

cucumber avocado salad with schug

PS – Schug is great smeared on bread and topped with a fried egg. Mmmm….

PPS – I’ve used up the rhubarb too with these little rhubarb almond cakes. I followed the recipe more or less as is, using almond flour instead of grinding my own and reducing the baking time to 45 minutes or so for a dozen 4-inch little tart pans.

rhubarb almond cakes

to will

Mindy Segal's strawberry rhubarb rugelach with oatmeal streusel

Just a few days after I made only a small dent in my coconut stash, I started another baking project. This one was a bit of a potschke, a bit of a fuss, that required several steps over the course of two days. I was reviewing Mindy Segal’s Cookie Love for the Forward and found myself deep in the rugelach chapter. That’s right, people, an entire chapter on rugelach and their similarly-made, differently-shaped Polish cousins, kolatchkes. (Don’t the Kolatchkes sound like a nice family you’d like to have over for dinner? I would definitely invite them.)

In the introduction to her book, Mindy writes “Spring is here only after I’ve made strawberry rhubarb rugelach.” With the weather we were having, I was ready to do anything to will spring on. Anything. Even spend two days making cookies.

So, I picked up a few pounds of strawberries. No, not the ones below – these I snagged this morning at the farmers market (!!!) – but a plastic box of uniformly red, decent enough berries.


I grabbed a couple stalks of rhubarb, also from the grocery store, and heated them up with the berries. Everything mushed together, eventually slumping into a soft pot of preserves, sweet with berries, tart with rhubarb, and just enough sugar to help the grocery store produce along.

strawberry rhubarb preserves

Want a closer look?

strawberry rhubarb preserves

Whoa, that’s close.

I pulsed together an oatmeal streusel crumble.

Mindy Segal's oatmeal streusel

And made a cream cheese dough that I covered with fruit and sprinkled with streusel.

 Mindy Segal's strawberry rhubarb rugelach with oatmeal streusel

I sliced the dough into triangles. OK, officially, those are trapezoids.

Mindy Segal's strawberry rhubarb rugelach with oatmeal streusel

Then rolled them up.

Mindy Segal's strawberry rhubarb rugelach with oatmeal streusel

And covered them with more streusel.

Mindy Segal's strawberry rhubarb rugelach with oatmeal streusel

And popped them in the oven.

Through the glass, I could see the dough puffing and browning and falling. The pink fruit bubbling and leaking from its spiraled home.

Mindy Segal's strawberry rhubarb rugelach with oatmeal streusel

Out of the oven, the rugelach cooled, and dribs and drabs of caramelized preserves hardened into edges of brittle.

Mindy Segal's strawberry rhubarb rugelach with oatmeal streusel

The dough was soft and flakey, ribboned with pucker-y berries, and punctuated by nubbins of crispy streusel.

I thought about eating them all. Myself. But I didn’t. I shared.

Mindy Segal's strawberry rhubarb rugelach with oatmeal streusel

Strawberry rhubarb rugelach with oatmeal streusel

From Mindy Segal’s Cookie Love. I’ve modified the order of the steps and some of the language to best reflect how I made the rugelach. The recipe is long, so make sure to read through the whole thing through before starting.

There are a lot of components to make here and many ingredients require chilling, so I made these over the course of two days. On the morning of day 1, I macerated the fruit and let it sit in the fridge for a few hours. Later that evening, I cooked down the fruit preserves and then prepared the cream cheese dough, chilling it overnight. On day 2, I made the oatmeal crumble and then assembled and baked off the rugelach. 

Makes 48 rugelach

For the cookies:

– 1 recipe Classic Cream Cheese Dough (see below), divided in half and chilled
– 1 recipe Strawberry Rhubarb Preserves (see below)
– 2 cups Oatmeal Streusel (see below)
– cooking spray
– 1 egg white, lightly beaten
– ¼ cup granulated sugar

Roll out. Put a sheet of parchment paper the same dimensions as a half sheet (13 by 18-inch) pan on the work surface and dust lightly with flour. Remove one dough half from the refrigerator (it should have been chilling for at least 2 hours and should be pretty solid) and place on top. Using a rolling pin and a pastry roller, roll the dough half into a rectangle, leaving a 1-inch border from the edge of the parchment paper. The dough should be just shy of ¼-inch thick. If the edges become uneven, push a bench scraper against the sides to straighten them out. To keep the dough from sticking to the parchment paper, periodically dust the top lightly with flour, cover with another piece of parchment paper, and, sandwiching the dough between both sheets of parchment paper, flip the dough and paper over. Peel off the top layer of parchment paper and continue to roll. Repeat with the second dough half.

Chill. Stack both sheets of dough on top of each other and refrigerate until chilled, approximately 30 minutes.

Heat. Heat the oven to 350°F. Line a few half sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly coat with nonstick cooking spray.

Fill. Invert the sheets of dough onto the work surface and peel off the top sheet
of parchment paper. For each sheet of dough, spread ¾ cup of strawberry rhubarb preserves in a thin, even layer across the surface. Sprinkle approximately ½ cup of streusel per sheet over the preserves. Trim the edges.

Slice. Using a dough cutter or a pizza cutter, divide the sheet in half lengthwise into two long strips. Working with one strip at a time and moving crosswise, cut out triangles with flat tips, with each base approximately 1½ inches wide and each tip approximately ¼-inch wide. Shoot for 12 triangles per strip.

Roll up. Using an offset spatula or dough cutter, separate a triangle away from the rest of the dough. Starting from the base, roll the dough 
up like a crescent roll. Place tip-side down on the prepared sheet pan and repeat with the remaining triangles, spacing them on the pans 1 inch apart. Brush the tops with the egg white and sprinkle with the sugar. Sprinkle the tops generously with the remaining
 1 cup streusel.

Bake. Bake one pan at a time for 15 minutes. Rotate the pan and bake for another 
8 to 10 minutes, or until the streusel is golden brown.

Cool. Let the cookies cool on the sheet pan for 1 to 2 minutes (do not wait too long or the preserves will stick to the parchment paper). Using an offset spatula, transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Store. Rugelach can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days. Rolled, unbaked rugelach can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.


Classic cream cheese dough

From Mindy Segal’s Cookie Love. This is the basic cream cheese dough that Mindy uses for rugelach, kolachkes, and even her own version of fig newtons. The dough really needs to stay cold, so I popped it back in the fridge a few times while I was rolling it out if it started to feel too delicate. I saved half of the cream cheese dough and brought it to a friend’s house – her daughters and I rolled out the dough and stuffed it with a combination of peanut butter, chocolate chips, and butterscotch chips. 

Makes 2 (13 by 18-inch) sheets of dough

– 1 C (8 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
– 1 C (8 oz) cream cheese, at room temperature
– 1/3 C plus 1 T granulated sugar
– 1 t pure vanilla extract
– 2 C unbleached all-purpose flour
– 1 t kosher salt
– 1 teaspoon sea salt flakes

Mix. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the butter on medium speed for 5 to 10 seconds. Add the cream cheese and mix on medium speed to combine, 10 to 15 seconds. Add the sugar and beat on medium speed until aerated, approximately 3 minutes. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula to bring the batter together.

Mix some more. On medium speed, add the vanilla, mixing briefly until incorporated. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula to bring the batter together. In a bowl, whisk together the flour and salts. Add the flour mixture all at once and mix on low speed until the dough just comes together but still looks shaggy, approximately 30 seconds. Do not overmix. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer. With a plastic bench scraper, bring the dough completely together by hand.

Chill. Stretch two sheets of plastic wrap on a work surface. Divide the dough in half (each half will weigh around 14½ ounces) and place a half on each piece of plastic. Pat the dough into rectangles, wrap tightly, and refrigerate until chilled throughout, at least 2 hours or up to 1 week.


Strawberry rhubarb preserves

From Mindy Segal’s Cookie Love. To get one pound of hulled strawberries, you’ll need to start with about 1.5 pounds of unhulled berries. These preserves are definitely puckery – which works nicely for the regulach since the streusel adds another sweet element and baking seems to intensify the fruit’s sweetness – but you might want to add more sugar to taste. Any leftover preserves are great mixed with yogurt or poured over ice cream. 

Makes about 2 cups

– 2 C finely diced rhubarb (approximately 2 large stalks)
– 1 lb washed, hulled, and dried strawberries, finely diced
– ¾ C granulated sugar
– 1 T freshly squeezed orange juice

Macerate. Combine the rhubarb, strawberries, granulated sugar, and orange juice in a bowl and let macerate for at least
 4 hours at room temperature or cover and refrigerate overnight.

Heat. In a high-sided, heavy pot, heat the fruit mixture over medium-high heat until the juices start to boil and foam. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally to prevent the bottom from scorching, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the rhubarb has broken down completely, approximately 30 minutes. You will have close to
 2 cups. Transfer to a storage container and refrigerate until completely chilled, at least 2 hours.


Oatmeal streusel

From Mindy Segal’s Cookie Love

Makes 2 cups

– 6 T (3 oz) cold, unsalted butter, cubed
– 6 T firmly packed light brown sugar
– 1¼ C unbleached all-purpose flour
– 6 T old-fashioned oats
– 1/2 t kosher salt

Pulse. In a food processor, pulse together the butter, sugar, flour, oats, and salt until it forms a fine meal, and the butter is evenly incorporated. Do not over-process.

Chill. Transfer to a storage container and chill completely, approximately 1 hour. Or freeze and use within 1 month.

on its own

Up until recently, I’d never been much of a coconut fan, but a brief glance in my cabinets might convince you otherwise. In a bit of overzealous, absent-minded Passover grocery shopping, I ended up with several pounds of shredded and flaked coconut. I do things like this more often that I’d care to admit. I bet you do too. (Please, tell me you do.) Baking up a half-dozen batches of macaroons over the holiday barely made a dent in my coconut stash. After Passover, I toasted up some for granola and sprinkled a bit more on lentils, and this cake is where I suspect the rest of that coconut will end up.

Coconut tea cake

It’s a simple loaf cake strewn with shredded coconut and laced with coconut milk. I found it in Dorie Greenspan‘s Baking: From My Home to Yours and the time that passed between my reading the head note and pulling out my mixer couldn’t have been more than three minutes. Four, tops. Dorie describes it as a “dry cake” – the kind that her Austrian friend grew up with, the kind without frosting or fuss, without too much going on, the kind you can eat any time of day (or night). Now this is my kind of cake.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while now, you might have noticed that I don’t really decorate cakes. This stems less from laziness per se (though that definitely factors into the equation) and more from a strongly-held belief that a cake should be good enough to stand on its own with no frosting, glaze, or sprinkle in sight. In fact, if I have to choose between a cupcake and a muffin, I’ll almost always go with a muffin. I think this stems from the fact that the special occasion cake we ate growing up was my mom’s chocolate chip pound cake – with a dense crumb and pockets of chocolate, this bundt cake just as good straight from the freezer as out of the oven. And my mom usually made a double batch, so more often than not, there was a chunk of frozen cake wrapped and re-wrapped in plastic, sometimes hidden in the ice cube maker.

But back to the coconut. I made just a few tweaks to Dorie’s original recipe, adding lime zest as Dorie suggests and substituting vegetable oil for melted butter to make a non-dairy version. Since a can of coconut milk is typically just under two cups, each time I’ve make this cake, I’ve doubled the recipe, making up the remainder of the second cup with water.

As Dorie says, the cake is a little dry and has a thin sugary top crust that shatters under the gentle pressure of a knife. Like biscotti, a slice pairs perfectly with a cup of coffee or tea. Like all good pound cakes, it lasts several days on the counter, tastes even better a few days in, and freezes easily. It’s coconut-y without being too coconut-y, if you know what I mean. And what I mean is that a few self-proclaimed coconut-haters liked the cake. By which I mean that I didn’t tell them there was coconut it in and they happily ate several slices each. If you want, you can bake the cake in two rounds, frost it, and cover it with toasted coconut for the birthday of a special coconut loving friend. But Meira, the birthday girl, and I agreed that the cake is best on its own.

Coconut Tea Cake 

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan‘s Baking: From My Home to Yours. Make sure to use regular unsweetened coconut milk rather than the light stuff which leaves the cake a little rubbery. 

Makes 2 8- or 9-inch loaf pans (the original recipe calls for a 9- to 10-inch bundt pan)

– 2 C flour

– 1 t baking powder

– pinch salt

– 2 limes for zest and juice

– 2 C sugar

– 4 large eggs, preferably at room temperature

– 1 t vanilla extract

– 3/4 C shredded unsweetened dried coconut

– 1 C canned unsweetened coconut milk (stir before measuring)

– 1/4 C vegetable oil, plus more for greasing the pans

Prep. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease 2 8- or 9-inch loaf pans.

Sift. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together.

Zest. In the bowl of a stand mixer, zest the limes over the sugar. With your fingers, rub the zest into the sugar until it’s aromatic.

Whisk. In a small bowl, whisk together the coconut milk, oil, and lime juice (2-3 tablespoons).

Beat. With the whisk attachment of your stand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar/lime zest at medium-high speed until pale, thick, and almost doubled in volume, about 3 minutes. Beat in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, scraping down the sides of the bowl and needed and stopping just when the flour disappears.

Mix. Keeping the mixer on low, add the dried coconut, mixing only until it’s blended, then steadily pour in the hot milk. When the mixture is smooth, stop mixing and give the batter a couple of turns with a rubber spatula, just to make certain that any ingredients that might have fallen to the bottom of the bowl are incorporated.

Bake. Pour the batter into the pans and give them a few back-and-forth shakes to even the batter. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown and a thin knife or cake tester inserted deep in the center comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a rack and cook for 10 minutes before unyielding onto the rack to cool to room temperature.

so too


Well. Now that I’ve gone all “screw seasonal cooking” on you, I finally found spring nirvana in the farmers market this week. On Wednesday, I picked up a fistful of wild leek-y ramps whose scent lingered in my office well after I left for home and whose floppy leaves and hairy bulbs taunted me from the fridge this morning. So too did the bundle of asparagus – so fresh that there were no tough ends to snap off and whose raw taste can be only be described as green.

Inspired by Rivka‘s asparagus toast and a warm asparagus salad with ramps, I whipped up my own quick salad, just barely wilting the ramps and asparagus and tossing with mint and a mild feta. Best warm, great on toast, and sure to pop up in my own kitchen at last once more this Spring.

I’ll keep this post and recipe short – approximately the length of ramp season.

Asparagus and ramps with mint and feta

Because of the salted butter and feta, I didn’t add any salt. The dish tastes best warm or at room temperature.

Makes 2 – 4 servings

– 1 lb young asparagus

– 1/3 lb ramps (approximately 20)

– about 20 leaves mint

– 3 T salted butter

– 1/4 C feta, preferably sheep’s milk (I like Pastures of Eden brand – you can find it at Trader Joe’s)

Cut. Trim the asparagus and and slice into approximately 2-inch . Clean the ramps well and remove the hairy root ends. Roughly chop the bulbs and white/purple stems. Chop the leaves into 2-inch strips and set aside. Chifonnade (or tear) the mint leaves.

Heat. Melt over medium heat the butter in a skillet large enough to hold all the vegetables. Add the ramp bulbs and stems, sautéing for 3 minutes until softened, but not browned. Add the asparagus and stir everything around to coat the asparagus with the butter. Cover for 3-5 minutes to allow the asparagus to steam a bit – it’s ready when the stalks are bright green but still firm. Add the ramp leaves and stir gently to wilt.

Serve. Toss with mint and crumbled feta.

As far as seasons go, spring is typically just a means to an end. It’s the March that comes in like a lion and out like a lamb. It’s the April showers that bring May flowers. It’s just a few quick subway stops until we reach our favorite destination: summer. But in the food world, we celebrate each stop along the way. We are just as excited by early spring ramps (they’re finally here, at least in restaurant kitchens and on foragers’ Instagram feeds) as we are by mid-summer tomatoes and late summer plums and early autumn apples. We look forward to each and every new item that hits the market, eat too much until it disappears, and then move on to the next new thing. Seasonal, local farm-to-table eating and restaurants are becoming the norm. And this is a really good thing.

But sometimes seasonality is over-rated. Or, more accurately, at least for this blog post, cooking out of seasonal is under-rated. With the winter we had and the spring we’re having in this neck of the woods, and despite ramps and asparagus and pea shoots popping up on restaurant menus, I haven’t seen anything in the market other than stray root vegetables, collard greens, and scallions. But ever since the Passover seder, I’ve been making what I can only describe as a spring salad. Regardless of the weather.

Spring salad

The salad was inspired by a dish at Santina, a restaurant that laughs in the face of strict adherence to seasonality. (Have you been? If not, you should. If you don’t believe me, ask Pete Wells.) What’s remarkable about Santina is that it creates a transformative experience: in a glass box along the Highline with indoor palm trees, servers in white pants and Easter egg-colored polos, and tropical drinks, it evokes a sunny afternoon in a Mediterranean seaside town.

My first visit to Santina was on a grey February evening when my father was in town. It was so cold that he made a pitstop en route to buy an extra hat and a pair of gloves. I could talk about the whole meal, but what I want to discuss now is the salmon and heirloom radish salad that, to me, screamed sunshine on a plate. It matched the vibe of the restaurant, which I’d characterize as: “it doesn’t matter what’s going on out there, it’s all good in here.”

Fast forward a few weeks to Passover in Miami where it was gorgeously sunny and 80 degrees outside. It was also 80 degrees inside our apartment due to a broken air conditioner and construction preventing us from opening all but two windows.

Now here’s where things get a bit wonky. I couldn’t stop thinking about that salad, but my mind swapped oranges in for the salmon. I mean, same color, right? Sort of. Also, we had a huge bowl of Florida citrus sitting on the counter. Anyway, I popped over to the grocery store for radishes, but the only ones I could find were shrink-wrapped in plastic and buried in the far corner of the produce section. Undeterred, I grabbed a bag of fluorescent pink orbs, a similarly wrapped tray of Persian cucumbers, and a big head of Boston lettuce in a clamshell container. Seasonal or not, local or not, I was fixated on my memory of that sunshine salad.

As for the salad itself, it’s a combination of winter citrus and early spring vegetables. I first layered a wide bowl with large floppy lettuce leaves. Then I used a mandoline to slice thin discs of sharp radish and crisp cucumber. I noticed that the cut surfaces of the cucumber beaded up with water. I removed the peel from an orange and then cut it into full or half moons. A little lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper and we were ready to eat.

When I brought the salad out to our seder table, I thought I felt an ocean breeze in our overheating apartment. (Perhaps it was Elijah the prophet sneaking by for a sip of wine.) And back in New York, I’ve made the salad a half dozen more times.

Having eaten batch after batch, I’ve come up with the perfect way to apprecaite it. The salad itself is a delicate, dainty start to a meal – in sharp contrast with the shredded kale and hardy greens, laden with soaked-up dressing that we’ve just left behind. Don’t cut up the leaves when they hit your plate. Keep them whole and use your knife to pleat each one onto your fork, folding in a radish here, a cucumber there, topping it off with an orange segment.You’ll find that a few big juicy bites encourage you to appreciate the flavors and colors of the season you want it to be, wherever you are.

Spring salad

Spring salad

Serves 3-4

Rinse one large head of Boston or butter lettuce a few times until the water runs clear to remove any dirt. Gently pry each leaf off the core and lay on paper towels to dry. Line a wide, shallow bowl with the leaves. Use a mandoline to thinly slice two or three radishes and one small Persian cucumber – I prefer my radishes a tad thinner than my cucumber – and sprinkle over the lettuce. Use a small sharp knife to remove the peel from one orange, leaving behind no white pith. Slice the orange into circles or half-circles and scatter over the salad. In a cup, whisk together the juice of half a lemon (about 2 tablespoons), a quarter cup of olive oil, a generous pinch of kosher salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Pour half the dressing over the salad and then add more to taste.

It’s a mid-March Friday night in an Irish pub, and three girls are perched on stools padded by their heavy winter coats. They rustle for wallets in their over-filled bags, settle their tab, and drain the last drops from their glasses – two beers and a cider. As they turn on their stools and scramble to gather their coats purses hats gloves, an elderly gentleman enters the bar.

Cap pulled over his eyes, an oversized jacket hanging off his shoulders, a plaid scarf wrapped around his neck, he introduces himself as Nick. “Ladies, where are you going?”

“We’re heading home.”

“Why? You’re going to leave me here all alone?”

“We have to get home…it’s been a long night. We need our beauty rest.”

“What were you doing before you got here?”

“We were at a shabbat dinner.”

“Oh, you’re Jewish? You’re Jewish!”

“Yes, we are.”

“Have you seen Fiddler on the Roof? I love Fiddler on the Roof. Have you seen it?”

“Yes, we have.”

“I love Fiddler on the Roof! Do you know what else?”


“I love matzah. I eat it all year.”

He reaches into his coat pocket and pulls out a few shards of matzah. Then into his shirt pocket for a few more. And his pants pocket for another handful. He hands a piece to each of the girls.

“I always keep matzah in my pockets. I have to have it with me all the time, I just love matzah so much. I love Fiddler on the Roof too.”

The girls smile and take a few steps backwards towards the door, tightening scarves and adjusting hats, all while holding on to their matzah gifts.

“Now girls, don’t leave me here all alone.”

“We have to go. It’s late.”

“Please don’t go.”

They smile again and turn away. He grabs the hand of the closest girl and swoops in with a peck on the cheek.

The girls giggle and walk into the wind, leaving behind the warmth of the bar and Nick with his matzah.

True story.

Happy holiday of matzah. Whether you celebrate this week or all year round or not at all.

Here’s some dessert. No, it’s not remotely related to the story. orange  blossom macaroons OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Orange Blossom Macaroons

Adapted from Alice Medrich’s recipe, new classic coconut macaroons 2.0, in her book “Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies.” The key is to buy the largest unsweetened coconut flakes (sometimes called coconut chips) instead of shredded coconut. I replaced vanilla with orange blossom water and added orange zest. Medrich suggests a half-dozen variations, including pressing a square of dark chocolate into the still-warm macaroon, adding lime zest and cinnamon, or mixing in pecans, chocolate and dried sour cherries.

I first published this recipe in The Forward‘s Passover 2015 section.

Makes about 30 cookies

– 4 large egg whites

– 3 1/2 C unsweetened dried flaked coconut (also known as coconut chips, not shredded)

– 3/4 C sugar

– 1 t orange zest

– 2 t orange blossom water

– a generous pinch salt

Mix. In a heavy stockpot over very low heat or a large stainless steel bowl set directly in a wide skillet of barely simmering water, combine all of the ingredients. Stir the mixture with a silicone spatula, scraping the bottom to prevent burning and lowering the heat if it starts to brown. Initially the mix will be really sticky, glossy and stringy. Continue to stir for about 5-7 minutes until mixture is very hot to the touch and the egg whites have thickened slightly and become opaque. At that point, there will be no more strings. Be careful because hot sugar can burn.

Wait. Set the batter aside for 30 minutes to let the coconut absorb more of the goop.

Prep. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350°F. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.

Scoop. Drop heaping tablespoons of batter about 2 inches apart on the lined baking sheets. The piles of coconut will look a bit shaggy and may fall apart a little bit. Keep a small dish of water nearby and use wet fingertips to neaten things up.

Bake. Bake for about 5 minutes, just until the coconut tips begin to color, rotating the pans from top to bottom and from front to back halfway through the baking time to ensure even baking.

Keep baking. Lower the temperature to 325°F and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes, until the cookies are a beautiful cream and gold with deeper brown edges, again rotating the pans from top to bottom and from front to back halfway through the baking time. If the coconut tips are browning too fast, lower the heat to 300°F. Set the pans or just the liners on racks to cool — the macaroons will still be a bit soft, but will crisp up as they cool. Be careful handling the macaroons at this point because hot sugar can burn. Let cool completely before gently peeling the parchment away from each cookie.

Store. The cookies are best on the day they are baked — the exterior is crisp and chewy and the interior soft and moist. Although the crispy edges will soften, the cookies remain delicious stored in an airtight container for 4 to 5 days.


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