It’s a summer of firsts for me. My first summer in the U.S. in a decade. My first summer not in Italy in a decade. My first summer working (at a not-summer-job job). My first summer not traveling. My first summer in many years not married, and my first summer without Stella.
Transitions are hard, people say. It takes time.
I know. I’ve been told. If I was to believe what they say, I’d know I’ll be fine.
I thought I’d find comfort in those delicious unchangeables: afternoon thunderstorms, Boston accents, tree frogs, summer fruit, the muffled buzz of my parents’ radio a floor below. But those things don’t feel the same when I don’t feel myself.
I’m both unable to write about this eloquently and unsure if I want to.
This summertime sadness will pass, just like they say, and I’ll figure out who I am, was and will be. For now, I look for comfort in things that I know, and in the people who know me.
Some of the things they tell me is that I like stone fruit, I like to bake, and I like to have dinners outside with lost count wine bottles, a mash up of accents and no sense of time.
So I’m trying. I pit cherries, I melt butter. I try to stay up even when all I want to do is sleep because there’s a chance, however heartbreakingly small, that when I wake up, it will all have been a dream.
Summer Fruit Crumble
Despite the depressing words above, this is truly a delicious and easy summer dessert, adapted from this blog. Serves 8 – 10. Can be adapted to use up whatever fruit you’d like. I used about 6 plums, 1 peach, 1 cup cherries (pitted) and 1 cup blueberries. Serve warm with barely sweetened whipped cream or mascarpone. Can be refrigerated and reheated.
A mix of ripe stone fruit (e.g. plums, peaches, cherries) and berries (I used blueberries), in large chunks
1/4 cup sugar (or to taste)
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
juice of 1/4 lemon (optional)
1 cup flour
2/3 cup sugar (or to taste)
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1 egg, beaten lightly
6 tablespoons (1/2 cup; 115 grams) butter, melted
Preheat oven to 375F/190C.
In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients under the “FRUIT” heading.
In another large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add in the beaten egg, and mix with a fork or your hands until it begins to get clumpy. You can add some ground cinnamon, allspice, clove and/or nutmeg, too.
Spread the fruit in a large casserole or pie dish and spread the flour mixture evenly on top. Now pour the melted butter over evenly and bake for around 40 – 45 minutes, or until the crumble is golden brown and bubbling.
You can make the crumble a few days ahead – just keep it in the fridge and reheat at 300F/150C to serve warm.
Serve warm with ice cream, mascarpone or creme fraiche.
Since coming back to the US (my parents’ house, more specifically), I’ve let someone else do the cooking. It’s not that I’ve lost my kitchen mojo completely, it’s just that my parents have it in spades.
My dad was, traditionally, the cook in the family. But since the last of their three children left home, my mother has had more time and energy, and less picky eaters. She peruses Tastespotting, reads cookbooks and bakes (this or this or this) two or three times a week.
Her favorite cookbook of late is Jerusalem, a collaboration between two Israelis, one Jewish and one Arab. The food reminds her of home, a pretty kibbutz in Israel’s Sharon Valley. It reminds her of Jerusalem, with its hole-in-the-wall shwarma restaurants, stalls selling towers of spice, its ancient peace.
When it comes to cooking, I’ve never been much of a cookbook person. I’ve always liked to go it alone, to try and experiment and learn as I go. But for some reason – for all the reasons – I don’t mind a little help right now. And Jerusalem is all I need. My mom’s been cooking from it for the weeks we’ve been back. And I’ve started to crave everything I’ve tried.
The food tastes familiar but new. Kind of like coming home after many years away.
Baby Spinach Salad with Dates, Almonds, Pita and Sumac
Recipe from Jerusalem, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. I’ll reproduce it as in the book, but I recommend adding a bit more baby spinach, as the flavors are strong and could be stretched a bit more. It could be, on a simple dinner kind of night, a dinner on its own. My mother serves it with the turkey burgers from the same book – and the combination is perfect. Oh, and don’t skimp on the sumac — it makes the dish. Serves 4.
1 tablespoon vinegar
1/2 red onion, sliced thinly
100 grams (3.5 ounces, around 8) Medjool dates, pitted and quartered
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 small (Israeli) pitas (or 1 large), torn into bite-sized pieces
1/2 cup almonds, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons sumac
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
5 ounces (or more) baby spinach
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Put the vinegar, onion and dates in a small bowl. Add a pinch of salt and mix well with your hand then leave to marinate for 20 minutes then drain away any residual vinegar and discard.
Meanwhile, heat the butter and half of the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the pita pieces and almonds and cook for 5 to 6 minutes, stirring frequently, until the pita is golden brown and crunchy. Remove the skillet from the heat and sprinkle the pita and almonds with the sumac, red pepper flakes and 1/4 tsp. salt. Set aside to cool.
When ready to serve, toss the spinach leaves with the pita mix in a large bowl. Add the dates and red onion, the remaining olive oil, the lemon juice and another pinch of salt.
Taste for seasoning. You may need a bit more olive oil, lemon juice or salt. Serve immediately.
It’s been a long time since I’ve posted, it’s been a long year. A year in which time slowed down to a stand-still, but I still managed to be shocked by how quickly my baby became a toddler and how bright the sun is when the clouds clear.
I made this cake, an old favorite, for Stella’s second birthday back in (cough) September (when I started writing this post). It felt right to make something tried and true, something I could bring to (nut-free) daycare, something I knew she would devour (she asks for chocolate before breakfast). It’s been a year too lacking in celebration, comfort and carefree chocolate consumption. But things are turning around. It’s nearly Valentine’s Day, where chocolate is king and love the kingdom. Let’s let it reign.
So here’s to being two, to the New Year, and to chocolate. Because no matter how sticky things get, we could all use a little chocolate cake to make things stickier.
DOUBLE CHOCOLATE LAYER CAKE
This is the CLASSIC. If someone you care about loves chocolate, and there’s any reason to celebrate (birthday? graduation? redundancy?), there’s a reason to make this cake. Recipe will make 10 slices. Keeps on the counter/in the fridge for a few days at least. You can freeze the cake for a few months and then whip up fresh frosting when you’re ready to layer and serve.
1 3/4 cup flour
1 3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup milk + a few dashes of vinegar or lemon juice, left to sit and curdle 5 mins)
1/2 cup oil (such as canola or vegetable)
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup hot coffee
FROSTING (makes enough to frost the outside only…double to use in the middle, too)
4 ounces (115 grams) dark chocolate
3/4 cup (175 grams) butter, softened
1 egg yolk
2 1/2 tablespoons heavy cream or sour cream (optional)
2 cups icing sugar
2 tbsp strong coffee (optional….you can use more cream/milk/sour cream instead)
heavy cream, whipped (for filling)
In a large bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Sifting is important, because cocoa tends to lump.
In another bowl, mix the buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla. Gently mix these ingredients into the flour mixture. Once combined, add the hot coffee and stir until just combined.
Divide batter between the two prepared pans and bake for 35 – 40 mins, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.
Cool completely before removing from the pan.
Meanwhile, make the frosting: melt chocolate in a double boiler (or very slowly in a pot, being careful not to let it stick and burn); allow the chocolate to cool a bit. In a large bowl, beat the softened butter with a handheld mixer for a few minutes until fluffy. Add egg yolk, and beat for another few minutes. Mix in the cream (if using) and icing sugar. Beat in the chocolate and coffee (or alternative liquid). Be careful not to overbeat.
The frosting makes enough to frost just the outside of the layer cake…I think it’s best filled with barely sweetened whipped cream.
This cake converted a non-believer. Someone who, before tasting this cake, did not see the beauty in a kitchen counter top cake with a crumbly knife perched casually, innocently nearby.
I hadn’t planned to make this cake, but I couldn’t pass by the plums at the market. Nearly overripe stone fruit usually means I’m making this, a tried and true classic. But that day I wanted something simple and pure, something straightforward. No oil, I wanted butter. No spices. Something to sit on the counter next to a knife, something to warm a cool summer day, something to convert a non-believer.
Now, I’m planning to make this cake the first chance I get. The next cool summer day, or the next time I see plums at the market. Or the next time someone can’t see the beauty of a cake on the counter with a knife perched innocently nearby.
Serves 6 – 8. Adapted from a recipe at Food 52. Serve with plain yogurt at breakfast or tea, or vanilla ice cream/unsweetened whipped cream for dessert. For more simple cakes with fruit, see here, here, here, here, here and here.
- 1 cup flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup (115 grams) butter , softened
- 2 eggs
- 10 to 12 Italian prune plums , pitted and halved lengthwise
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar (optional)
Heat the oven to 350F/180C. Generously butter a 8- or 9-inch spring form pan.
Rarely do I come across something like this cauliflower tart. It sounds pretty innocent — boring even — but tastes like it knows something you don’t. It is Last-Meal-worthy, the sneaky show-stopper at brunch, the one dish that could convince you that vegetarianism might be tolerable. The kind of dish that makes a Tuesday night feel like a Friday and helps a bottle of wine go down like a glass.
It’s no secret that cauliflower and cheese make a winning combination (see here). So you can only guess the result of roasting the cauliflower, mixing it with caramelized onions, covering it in various cheeses, cream and truffle oil, and baking it in a flaky tart shell spread with mustard until it’s golden and bubbling.
This tart is ridiculously good and so simple. It’s also easily fiddled with. I used sour cream because I didn’t find mascarpone at the Russian market. The gruyere can be substituted with Swiss, Emmental, cheddar, or a combination. The truffle oil is unnecessary, but if you happen to be the sort of person who has it lying around (and yeah, I’m pretty sure you can sort people that way), why not? The whole crust thing can be left (/scraped) out all together (I’ve seen it happen! Hi, Helen!), and your guests will be just as stunned by the deliciousness of the pile of perfection on their plates. Now that you know the secrets of the perfect cauliflower tart — a dash of Dijon and a lot of cheese — don’t say I didn’t warn you when she sweeps you off your feet. Innocence be damned.
Roasted Cauliflower and Caramelized Onion Tart
1 small head of cauliflower (about 1 lb or equivalent of a larger head of cauliflower), cut into 1-inch flowerets
1 refrigerated pie crust or a homemade tart shell
1 large onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 cup mascarpone cheese or sour cream
1/2 cup whipping or heavy cream
Pinch of ground nutmeg
1 cup grated Gruyère or Emmental cheese (plus a little more for sprinkling)
2 tablespoons truffle oil (optional)
Make cauliflower: Preheat oven to 425°F/190°C. Toss cauliflower with a few glugs of olive oil, salt and pepper in large bowl. Spread on rimmed baking sheet, and roast 15 minutes before turning florets over and roasting until brown and tender, another 15 minutes in my oven. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.
Meanwhile, prepare the onions. Heat a glug of olive oil in a large skillet over low heat. Add onion, sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook until onion is a deep golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes.
Prepare the filling by whisking together the eggs, mascarpone (or sour cream), cream, nutmeg and stirring in the grated cheese.
Prepare the tart: roll the dough out to fit a large tart pan with removable bottom. Press the dough into the pan. You may need to par-cook the crust, but I don’t think it’s necessary. Spread the bottom of the crust with mustard. Spread the caramelized onion over crust, then arrange cauliflower over the onion. Set the tart on a rimmed baking sheet (in case of leaks). Pour the cheese mixture over filling in tart pan, sprinkle with more cheese if desired. Bake until tart is golden and center is set, about 40 minutes. Cool 15 minutes before serving.
The tart (or its various components) can be made a day ahead and gently reheated before serving.
It’s been a big, long year with far too many uncertainties and far too few blog posts. Since the last time I wrote (in June, I’m embarrassed to remind you), lots has changed but some important things have stayed the same. Things like how much I love a good cake hanging around the house. Seeing as Stella and I are back in the States for a drawn-out Christmas vacation, seeing as I just finished law school and seeing as we have only six weeks of wintery, oven-appropriate weather ahead of us, the time is ripe for baking.
There is something so quintessentially American about coffee cake. Maybe it’s the fact that you can get it in most diners, or maybe it’s because you have to be American to know there’s no coffee in it. It seemed the perfect first thing to bake, to break me in again. I haven’t had the time, place or wherewithal to bake in a long time. Making this cake reminded me of why I love baking so much: the cinnamon smell seeping through the house, the well-worn measuring spoons, the uselessness and necessity of it. The time it takes, the bowls it breaks, the used knife left by the cake stand for those hasty, uncounted slices.
I don’t remember where this recipe comes from, but I know I’ve been making it for a long time. It’s pretty much the perfect coffee cake: moist and sweet, with a buttery cinnamon-rich streusel in the middle. It’s good cut thick with coffee (hence the name, all you non-natives), tea or milk, or on its own, in tiny, hit-and-run slices. It’s perfect for Sunday afternoon and Monday morning. For coming home and missing home. For those times when we are just lucky enough that, even with everything in motion, the important things stay the same.
SOUR CREAM COFFEE CAKE
1/4 light brown sugar
1/4 white sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick // 55 grams) butter, cold in small chunks
optional: 1 apple, chopped finely and/or 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick // 110 grams) butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 cup sour cream (or plain, full-fat yogurt)
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup milk
Preheat oven to 350F/180C. Butter thoroughly a bundt pan or square cake pan.
To make the streusel, combine all the ingredients except the butter to mix. Add in the chunks of butter and use your fingers to mix it in, until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. Add the chopped apple and/or walnuts if using. Set aside.
To make the cake, in a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a larger bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light, then add the eggs and mix to combine. Add the sour cream, vanilla and milk and mix well. Add the flour mixture to this, and mix to combine.
Spoon 1/2 of the dough into the prepared cake tin. Sprinkle 1/2 of the streusel on top, then the remaining dough and, finally, the remaining streusel. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 – 45 minutes, or until an inserted tester comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan before inverting onto a cake plate.
It’s exam season again here in Law School Land, which means I need lots of food but don’t have lots of time to make it. We’ve got scrambled eggs down to a science and the Thai restaurant’s number memorized. But sometimes we need something more substantial, something to linger over.
In the spirit of legal disclaimers, this isn’t actually chicken parm. There’s no frying and no parmesan. But there’s no elegant way to say baked chicken covered in tomato puree and cheese, so I borrowed something familiar. You could come up with your own name, a la Steak Diane. I could call it Tuesday Chicken because it ends up on the table at least that often. Why? Because I love chicken (thighs), mozzarella and baked things and Stella, my 20-month-old, loves it, too. If that wasn’t reason enough, it takes approximately 3 minutes to prepare. Stick it in the oven, and a few Eric Carle books and a glass of wine later, you’ll have a bubbling, perfumed cheesy mess of deliciousness ready for dinner.
I’m not sure what the ratio of nature to nurture is here, but Stella has taken to dipping her bread in the sauce, sucking it out, then begging for “mo dipping mummy, peas?” Pretty soon she’ll insist that she partake in the pinot noir because honestly, mummy, one simply must accompany such fine flavors with proper libation.
So if you ever find yourself pressed for the time or energy to prepare a many-coursed meal for yourself or your family, I hope this baked chicken dish consoles you: it is possible to cook well on a Tuesday. Every Tuesday. Just cover meat with cheese and bake. Dip bread in sauce. Repeat. It’s simple math. Or is that physics? I’ll go ask Stella.
BAKED TUESDAY CHICKEN
Let’s say this is enough for 4 adults…adjust proportions accordingly! Would make a killer sub the next day. Truth.
12 chicken thighs (or 6 breasts, or a mixture)
approx 1/2 – 1 cup tomato passata
mozzarella (I use bocconcini but shredded would work, too)
10 basil leaves, torn
Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. In a large oven-proof dish, spread a few spoonfuls of tomato sauce on the bottom and lay the chicken pieces around evenly. Spoon a bit more sauce on top of the chicken (as in the photos), then cover with as much mozzarella (or similar melting cheese[s]) as you like. Sprinkle with fresh basil or oregano and some chili flakes if you want. I usually sprinkle a little olive oil on top, too, but it may just be habit.
Baked in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes. It will be ready when the cheese is melted, the sauce is bubbling, and the juices of the chicken run clear when pierced.
Serve with bread for dipping, salad for conscience and red wine for baby.