Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

Each year, when New Year's Eve rolls around, I spend some time thinking about what worked and what didn't in the months past. Some things that happen in life...actually, most things that happen in life are outside our control. The only thing we can control is how we respond to what happens. Our emotional response, thoughts and reactions are all something we can choose to change. Our year, like yours I'm sure, had many highs and many lows. We can only hope and pray that the new year brings more good than bad...more joy than sorrow....more peace than war....more love than hate.....more riches than poverty.....let's hope so!

Thank you accompanying me on this wild and wonderful journey here in blogland in 2009! Here's hoping that 2010 will be full of peace, joy and prosperity for us all.

All the best,

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

At Market....Greens

Greens. It's what I crave come January 1st...well, make that December 26th, when I've had my fill of holiday fare. Don't get me wrong, I love the candy, cakes, cookies, roasts, and casseroles (and martinis, and wine...) just as much as any other person, but after awhile, it tends to make me feel heavy, if not in the literal sense, then certainly in my energy level. This year, because of illness, we didn't partake in our usual amount of eating, drinking, and merry making, but still, I'm feeling the need for food that is clean, lean and GREEN. So when I came across this recipe in this wonderful new vegetarian cookbook, Love Soup, I knew I had to try it.

Here in Southern California, greens are abundant most times of the year, but are especially wonderful now, when other produce is absent and the crisp weather keeps their sometimes aggressive flavor in check. Chock full of nutrients, including iron and vitamin C, they are true super food and should be eaten often....yeah right, just tell that to my kids.

Caramelized onions, combined with leeks, ginger, greens and a potato for thickening, make this a truly flavorful and delicious soup. And though it is called a "green" soup, I was truly shocked at just how very green it is. Verdantly green, leaf green, grass green, gloriously green....and way too green for the kids to even want to touch it with a ten-foot pole. But I love it. It tastes fresh, and a bit sharp from the greens and lemon juice, with a pleasant little zing of ginger that sings through too. It's perfect for those "spa days" and I plan on having a batch of this in my fridge all winter long. This soup is vegetarian, vegan if you don't put a dollop of yogurt on it. Even if you don't normally go for recipes like this, I really encourage you to try it. It's an immensely satisfying way to get your greens.

By the way, when I find ginger at our farmers' market I stock up on it in my freezer. Whenever I need fresh ginger, I simply grate the frozen hunk (I don't even bother peeling it), and toss it in a dish. It is never stringy that way, and keeps indefinitely.

Greens and Ginger Soup
Adapted from Love Soup

Prep time: 30 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes
Yield: serves 4-6


1 medium onion, diced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium russet potato, peeled and diced
4 cups of water
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 large leek, white and light green part only, washed well, and sliced
1 pound of mixed greens (I used spinach, turnip, mustard, and collard)
3 tablespoons of freshly grated ginger
1 quart of vegetable stock
20 grinds of fresh pepper
2-3 teaspoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice
a splash of tamari, if desired
Plain yogurt for dolloping


Heat olive oil over medium-low heat in a skillet. Add onions and a large pinch of salt and cook for 30 minutes, or until they are soft and golden in color.

Meanwhile, put water, potato, salt, leek, greens and ginger in a large stockpot and bring to a boil. The greens will be huge at this point, but will boil down quickly. Simmer this mixture for 20-30 minutes, or until the potato and greens are tender.

Add the caramelized onions and vegetable stock and stir well. At this point you can either blend it in batches in your blender, or use an emulsion blender. Puree until completely smooth. Season with pepper, and add lemon juice and taste. If you want to add additional depth of flavor, add a splash of tamari. Serve hot, with a dollop of plain yogurt if desired.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Happy Merry Joy to the World

So despite the fact that my adorable children have declared this the worst Christmas ever (when 4 out of 5 become violently ill on any day, it isn't a good thing....but during the holidays, it's just plain tragic!!), we did manage to find plenty of opportunities to celebrate the good things....

With early gifts from family....

With homemade tamales on the solstice, as well as our Advent Spiral....yes, I will post the recipe.

With some crafty activities....

With our Yule Log tradition....(we cut up last year's tree and burn it on Christmas Eve and morning)

With lots and lots of naps....

With much time spent lounging about.....

With a 12th birthday celebration.....

And with finally finishing our gingerbread cottage....Here's hoping that your holidays were merry and bright. See you soon!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Winter Solstice Day

Here's hoping you can pause for a moment during the busiest of days, to truly enjoy the blessings of this season.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Easy Family Meals

Everyone is rushed right now, and most folks are hard pressed to find any time at all to get dinner on the table. But my newest gallery of Classic Family Meals is going live on Disney's website tonight, and many of them are easy to throw together if you are short on time. I'd love it if you rated them, and shared any comments. Click on the photo below to be taken directly to all my newest recipes!

And as we move ever closer to Christmas, my hope for you is that you do get to slow down for a moment, and share a good, simple and healthful meal with those you love.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


There is absolutely nothing more perfect than a bowl of hot chowdah (you've got to say it that way) for lunch. It warms you from the inside out on those cold, dreary winter days, where thick socks are more of a necessity than a comfort. My kids love chowder, especially the clam variety....never, ever tomato based, of course. We are New Englanders after all (by blood, if not permanent residence--yet) and New York style chowder is decidedly not appropriate for this occasion. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's not appropriate for any occasion....but I am biased, if you haven't figured that out already.

We enjoy this treat all summer long, when fresh clams are plentiful (and free), but in winter, when we really need to have it, we make do with canned clams. It could be worse, really. I don't find canned clams to be particularly tinny or or overly chewy, but the much romanticized hunting/gathering part of the chowder is lost, to be sure. In the summer all we need for fresh clams is 5 minutes, and the willingness to dig in the muck. But clams from a can are an acceptable alternative and are quicker, cleaner and work in a pinch. Your fishmonger may carry freshly shucked clams too. It doesn't hurt to ask.

I like my chowder to be chock full of chunky potatoes, bacon and with minimal clams. So I only added a paltry 3 cans of clams, which equals approximately 1 1/4 cups of shucked clams. But if you're really in love with them, then by all means add more...but I think there's still plenty of flavor from all that clam juice. Some folks like their chowder thick, some like it thin. I fall somewhere in between and thicken it just a bit with flour, but not too much. I also favor half and half instead of heavy cream because it's not so rich.

Clam Chowder

Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes
Yield: serves 6


4 slices of thick-cut, nitrate free bacon, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
3 stalks of celery, chopped
4 cups of peeled, russet potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch cubes (about 3 large)
2 (8 ounce) bottles of clam juice
6 cups of half and half
1/4 cup flour
3 (6.5 ounce) cans of chopped clams in juice, drain and reserve juice


Heat a large soup pot over medium heat. Add bacon and cook until it is crisp and fat is rendered. Remove bacon from pot and reserve and turn heat to low. Add celery and onion and cook for 7 minutes or until vegetables are tender and translucent.

Add potatoes to the pot, along with all the clam juice from the bottles and cans (except for 1/2 a cup) and raise heat to high. Bring clam juice to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until potatoes are tender. Meanwhile, whisk the remaining clam juice with the flour to make a slurry and set aside.

When the potatoes are tender, whisk in the slurry until thoroughly combined. Simmer for 3 minutes more to thicken soup slightly. Add the half and half and clams and heat for 5 more minutes. Do not boil. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if necessary. Top with reserved bacon and don't forget the oyster crackers.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Peppermint Fudge

Holy sleigh bells! How on earth is it already December....and December 7th, no less? Our busy days (and nights) have been filled with lots and lots of activities, some more fun than others. We've gotten braces, performed in an African dance and music ensemble, had our final soccer games and practices, soccer parties, awards ceremonies, and dinner with friends....we've decked the halls (almost done), shopped until we dropped (online), and prepared for upcoming birthdays (3 in our immediate family....2 more outside it). We've planted our winter garden, only to have to blanket in burlap due to an unseasonable hard frost that's expected tonight and built a new desk and shelves in the boys' room. And we've gone to the movies to see Fantastic Mr. Fox (fantastic!!) and a Christmas Carol at El Capitan in Hollywood (outstanding...and scary!). We've gone on date nights, and to a club to hear our current favorite musician play....and we've been working hard at school and our day jobs too. Whew!

In short, (or long), we are exhausted...but in a good way, and consequently not a whole lot of things have been coming out of the kitchen lately. The exception being this (most delicious) PEPPERMINT ICE CREAM, and this (most delectable) Peppermint Fudge. The fudge recipe is adapted from Everyday Food Magazine and is super easy because it doesn't require the use of a candy thermometer. Peppermint candies are finely chopped, then melted together with piles of pillowy marshmallows and rich cream and butter. That molten pink confection is whisked with chocolate chips until they melt...and that's it! Fudge!

It's really, really easy. In fact, I made it with my after school cooking class...and if a 7 year old can make it so can you! Make a double batch so you can give it away as a gift...just a suggestion. Of course, you could also just enjoy the whole batch by yourself. Nothing cures holiday stress like chocolate....

Want more Christmas treat ideas? Check out Serena's Cookie Exchange!

Peppermint Fudge

This easy fudge is so rich and delectable…that it is easy to make is a bonus. You can use a food processor to smash up the peppermint candies, but kids love to do the job with a wooden rolling pin. Packaged up in a pretty bowl, these candies would make a wonderful holiday gift if you have any left over to give away. You may want to double the recipe just to make sure.

Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 15 minutes, plus chilling time
Yield: 16 squares


2 ¼ cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup round peppermint candies
¾ cup heavy cream
3 ½ cups mini marshmallows
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 ¼ cups sugar
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
Peppermint sprinkles (or more crushed candies)


Lightly coat a 9-inch square baking pan with cooking spray, then line with 2 sheets of waxed paper in both directions, leaving a 2 inch overhang on each side. Spray waxed paper with cooking spray. Set aside.

Place chocolate in a large bowl. Pulse peppermint candies in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade attachment until finely ground, or alternately, place candies in a freezer strength zip-top bag and whack with a wooden rolling pin on a firm surface until smashed. In a medium saucepan, combine candies, cream, marshmallows, butter, sugar and salt over medium-high heat. Whisk until melted and smooth, about 5 minutes.

Pour mixture through a fine-mesh strainer over the chocolate chips and whisk until melted and smooth, about 1 minute. Pour into prepared pan, top with peppermint sprinkles, and refrigerate until set, about 3 hours. Cut fudge into squares with a sharp knife. To store, cover and refrigerate up to one week.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Orange Chocolate Chunk Cookies

I am thankful for so much this Thanksgiving--for the sunny weather, for my great kids and husband, for prosperity during these difficult times...but mostly that I'm not cooking dinner this year! Which of course means no house to clean, no turkey to brine, no potatoes to peel, no bread to bake. I cannot tell you how happy I am about this, especially in light of the fact that I've already cooked a big Thanksgiving September. (If you need any recipe ideas check here.) So I'm feeling kind of over it, at least the cooking part...the eating part, well, that's another matter altogether.

Perhaps, like me, you are ready to move ahead and start thinking of other things...Don't tell anyone, but I've secretly been lining up my Christmas boxes and adding to our decoration collection for some weeks now. I've even been caught listening to (one of) my favorite Christmas albums, and in our house, listening to carols before Thanksgiving is over is strictly prohibited!

But, what can I say, I'm in the mood, and luckily my submission to Disney this week was for a Christmas cookie. It's difficult to come up with interesting flavors that haven't been done before. Everyone has their favorite butter cookie recipe, chocolate chip recipe, and recipe for kiss topped peanut butter cookies. I wanted something flashy, yet traditional...kind of like me. (I joke! I'm just flashy...again, kidding). Since citrus is in season now, a cookie with those bright flavors seemed to fit the bill, but it needed a little something more....I settled on CHOCOLATE.

I've never been one to enjoy an orangette (except for the blogger), but I have to admit that subtle orange flavors marry exquisitely well with chocolate, especially the dark variety. I tested out two recipes...the first ended up thick and chewy, and the second was crisp and buttery. I sent the thick and chewy ones off to Disney and will share the thin and crisp cookie recipe with you here. That way, as soon as they post my recipe on their site, you can taste both for yourself to see which you prefer. (By the way, they were both good...I just thought the thicker cookies were more photogenic.) At any rate, you should include these in your cookie repertoire for a little something different this year. Dunked into a cup of rich, hot chocolate, they're enough to send anyone right over the moon....

Crisp Orange Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Prep time: 20 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes
Yield: 2 dozen


1/4 cup unsalted butter (1/2 a stick), room temperature
1/4 cup shortening, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 extra large egg
3 tablespoons whole milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
2 cups unbleached flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup dark chocolate chunks


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Whisk the butter and the shortening with the sugar until smooth. Add the egg, milk, vanilla, and zest and whisk to combine. Mix the flour with the cream of tartar, baking powder and salt and stir into the butter mixture using a wooden spoon. Add the chocolate chunks and mix well.

Place 1/4 cup of sugar into a small bowl. Form the dough into walnut-sized balls and roll in sugar, then place on a cookie sheet 2 inches apart. Press the cookies flat using the bottom of a drinking glass and bake for 8-10 minutes, or until very light golden brown around the edges. Transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Friday, November 13, 2009

At Market...Rainbow Carrots

Rainbow carrots are lovely, aren't they? Lovely in the way that you really don't need to do much to make them look and taste really spectacular and special...because they already are. Lovely in the way that somehow, just by flashing a fancy color, an ordinary root vegetable is transformed in to something extraordinary. Lovely in the way that in about the five minutes it takes to julienne them, you can have a crisp and tasty slaw that goes well with just about anything....but I'm really getting ahead of myself here.

First you need to pull off those green stems and give them a good scrub. You don't peel these because the brilliant color of the purple carrots is only on the outer layer. So just make sure they are good and clean and any little root fibers are scrubbed off.

Then comes the small matter of julienning them. I have a mandoline, which is perfect for a job like this...if you like doing dishes. But come the end of the day, I have usually been doing dishes for hours and hours so that is not something I really look forward to. Nor do I have the impeccable knife skills required to cut such long slivers of carrots. So luckily, I found this peeler thingie that actually slices the carrots into julienne strips and fits into my dishwasher's silverware compartment. Cool, huh? Alternately, you can cut the carrots into thicker ribbons using your regular vegetable peeler, which isn't as slaw-ish, but also does the job.

Finally, these gorgeous ribbons of carrot are tossed with lime juice, soy sauce and toasted sesame oil for a delicious, and nutritious (and beautiful) salad. If you can't find them in your farmers' market, don't despair! Plain orange carrots will work just fine....

Sesame Carrot Slaw

serves 4


1 bunch of rainbow (or regular) carrots, cut into long julienned slices
juice from 1 lime
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
handful of chopped cilantro


Place the carrots in a medium bowl. In another smaller bowl, whisk together the lime juice, sesame oil, soy sauce and honey. Drizzle over the carrots and toss well (I used my hands). Sprinkle with the toasted sesame seeds and chopped cilantro. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Ever heard of a CSA or community supported agriculture? Well some folks are taking that concept one step further with a CSK or community supported kitchen, where they turn those boxes of farm fresh produce into a ready to eat (or freeze) meals for you! This is perfect for those who are interested in eating farm-fresh produce and meats, but have more money than time, ability or desire to do it themselves.

The Farm-to-Table Chef for Busy New Yorkers: Sweet Deliverance from SkeeterNYC on Vimeo.

Some sites to check out...

Sweet Deliverance

Local Sprouts Cooperative

Salt, Fire, and Time

Three Stone Hearth

Monday, November 9, 2009

Cranberry Craze

This box arrived on my porch the other day. I had an idea it was coming, but still I was surprised and exceedingly happy to see it. You see, this package of freshly harvested Cape Cod cranberries was sent by my in-laws who know how much I miss the Cape when I'm gone, and how much I love good food--more specifically food that comes straight from the farm. Though hardly local (to me), one cannot do without cranberries in the fall, especially when so many recipes revolve around their very presence. Thanksgiving wouldn't be Thanksgiving without the cranberry sauce, would it?

My mother, even while being a fabulous cook, didn't really cook with fresh cranberries until I was an older child. Part of the reason was surely "tradition" and the fact that the jelled cranberry sauce, carefully released from the can with ridges intact, was a must-have on our Thanksgiving table. Ironically, this shivering blob was set upon a lovey crystal dish (on a bed of greens?), with a silver spoon made specifically to slice it. (I think the other reason we didn't use many fresh cranberries was that they just weren't available in the market either.) We laugh about that now, as the mere thought of canned cranberry sauce sounds so outrageously trashy, and we've happily have come up with quite a few wonderful cranberry sauces and chutneys in the years since.

But there are so many things that we make with fresh cranberries besides the sauce--breads, jams and jellies, cakes and crumbles and this amazing frangipane tart. I'm no gourmand, but I'm not exactly a slacker when it comes to food either. But a frangipane tart was something I had never, ever heard of until my sister-in-law brought it to Thanksgiving dinner last year. Stunning in both its presentation and its utterly delectable flavor, this dessert bested even the veritable pumpkin pie (in my humble opinion).

If you're like me, and have never heard of this delicious tart, have I got a treat for you! The filling of this dessert is essentially a ground nut paste that is shot through, in this case at least, with cranberries that peek out like buried jewels. And what's more, it's spiked with orange zest and a decent splash of brandy. The crust tastes exactly like my great grandmother's shortbread, and when combined with the toasty, tart, nutty flavor of the filling, you have one showstopping dessert that is definitely worth the calories (which is how I determine whether or not to eat desserts, by the way). Both the crust and tart recipes are adapted from Smitten Kitchen.

Tart Shell

Not only is this tart shell relatively easy to prepare, it doesn't shrink up like others might. And it tastes like a shortbread cookie....As Ina would say, how bad can that be? Recipe adapted from Dorie Greenspan by way of Smitten Kitchen.


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon very cold (9 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 jumbo egg yolk


Place dry ingredients in a bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse to mix. Add butter and pulse until coarse crumbles form. Drizzle in egg yolk, while pulsing for 10 seconds at a time, until dough just comes together. It will look like clumps and curds, but should stick together if you squeeze it between your fingers. Turn out onto a floured board and knead gently into a ball. Wrap with plastic and refrigerate for two hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove plastic from ball and place on a floured surface. Roll out to a 12-inch round. Wrap the dough over the rolling pin, carefully lift it and center over a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Set dough in the pan, gently pressing together any cracks that may appear. Trim dough so that there is about a ½ inch overhang. Fold overhang towards the center to create an extra-thick edge. Prick dough all over the bottom and sides with the tines of a fork and freeze for at least 30 minutes.

Spray the shiny side of a piece of tinfoil with cooking spray and press onto the tart shell. To partially bake, place tart in the center of the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes. Remove foil. If crust has bubbled, press lightly with the back of a spoon. Bake for 5 minutes more or until crust is light golden brown. Stop here to continue with the frangipane tart recipe. To fully bake crust (as for a fresh fruit filled tart), bake for 5-10 minutes more until crust is a deeper golden brown color. Cool completely and fill as directed.

Cranberry Pecan Frangipane Tart

This dessert is both beautiful and delicious. Try using more cranberries for a tarter flavor. Either way, you'll find it's well worth the small effort to prepare, and the calories. Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen.


1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1 1/2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2/3 cups sugar
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1 tablespoon brandy (optional)
1 1/2 teaspoon orange zest
1/2 to 1 cup whole, fresh cranberries


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel-blade attachment, pulse the nuts with the flour until finely ground. Add the sugar, butter, egg, brandy and orange zest and pulse until smooth.

Spread into a pre-baked tart shell and dot with as many cranberries as you'd like. Bake for 45 minutes, or until filling is puffed and golden and cooked through. If necessary, test by inserting a toothpick near the center of the should come out clean. Serve with ice cream, whipped cream or just on its own.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

At Market....Cauliflower

I'm baaaaaack! As you know, my last two months were spent writing, cooking, revising, cooking again, and photographing 80 recipes for Disney's They were due Friday, and since then, I've been in a semi-comatose state, mumbling about lighting and internet connections, shrinking pie crusts and hot kitchens, camera batteries and dirty dishes. But today, I feel pretty good and I've finally got my appetite back after too much tasting and too much smelling of too much food. The market's offerings are returning to the realm of open possibilities, rather than obligations, and best of all, I can set aside the heavy cream and butter for awhile, and once again focus on seasonal produce and whole this lovely head of cauliflower.

Puffed up like a perfect cloud, it had not a blemish on it, and was impossible to resist, especially since I was reminded when I was reading this book how incredibly delectable roasted cauliflower is. In fact, most vegetables are better broccoli, and brussels sprouts, and fennel, and onions, and asparagus...well, you get the idea. I think roasting brings out the very essence of the flavors, concentrating and polishing them, elevating them to the next level. All it takes is a hot oven, a splash of olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper.

I sliced the cauliflower into 1/2 inch slices. The ones in the middle near core held together the best with the edge pieces falling away into florets, but that honestly didn't matter one bit. Then I placed them (along with the crumbly bits) in a single layer on a roasting pan and gave them a good drizzle of olive oil and shower of salt and pepper. Roasting at high heat, left the cauliflower quite browned and caramelized (and also delicious, I might add).

The recipe doesn't end here, because onto these gloriously golden florets, I drizzled a spunky salsa verde, loaded with cilantro, jalapeno and lime. It's not enough to call it 'addictive.' It's sour, spicy, salty, nutty, tangy, sharp and rich all at once, and really, really impossible to put down your fork once you get a taste. I could eat a whole platter as a meal in itself (and I did), but you will find it compliments most foods well as a side dish.

Roasted Cauliflower with Salsa Verde

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Make salsa verde. Finely chop a handful of cilantro, and add one minced jalapeno (seeds and veins removed if desired), 2 sliced scallions, the zest and juice of one lime, and 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Give it a good pinch of salt too. Set aside. Slice a head of cauliflower into 1/4-1/2 inch slices. Space onto a baking sheet and drizzle evenly with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, flip over and repeat on the other side. Bake, flipping slices once halfway through, for about 30-40 minutes, or until golden brown and tender. Remove from the oven and drizzle with salsa verde. Serve warm, or at room temperature.