Thank you!

Six courses! Each meticulously prepared and beautifully plated! Sparkling punch! Three desserts! And, a solid chocolate turkey! It was Thanksgiving 2.0, unfortunately, as the old saying goes, “too much wine before you dine / the photos come out less than fine.” Not a very old saying, but true, nonetheless. And so, of the luscious lobster bisque, asparagus tartare with frizzled leeks and oh-so-elegant balsamic reduction flourishes on the chilled plates, roasted turkey breast with dressing and cranberry-pear sauce, made-from-scratch green bean casserole (no can of condensed cream of mushroom soup, thank you very much), turkey confit and impossibly cheesy aligot, emerald green herb salad, pumpkin cheesecake with an ice skating rink-like topping of bourbon sour cream, raspberry tart, and chocolate-caramel-walnut tart, I have little physical evidence, but, cross my heart, everything was absolutely divine. My apologies to the chef for the shoddy reporting, but also heaps of thanks for a spectacular Thanksgiving.

Sunday Not-So-Fun Day

Eating is an emotional activity. We all know the clichéd pint of ice cream in a woman’s clutches can mean only one thing: she’s having man trouble. A complex carb binge fills the vacuum of an impossibly frustrating workday. Chicken soup soothes the soul, etc. etc. For me, slipping on my yellow polka-dot apron and making (rather than eating) food is the best antidote to a poisonous mood.

Sunday evenings I typically shut down at around 3:00 or 4:00pm, especially during the fall and winter when it’s so freakishly dark I begin to wonder whether the apocalypse is at hand. I rarely venture out on a Sunday night, preferring to stay home and pout because the next day is Monday, and Mondays stink. But even in the drippiest of moods, I manage to peel myself off the couch to make dinner. On this week’s menu: roasted beets, sautéed beet greens, spiced nuts, and even apple-prune braised pork and cream of carrot for the next day. Now, don’t you think Negative Nancy deserves a gold star?

Serves 2
Serve salad alongside seared or grilled chicken breast. Extra lovely with a wedge of soft, peppery cheese like Constant Bliss.

For the Spiced Nuts
Spiced nuts can be made up to a week in advance and stored in a Ziploc bag.

1 large egg white
1 tablespoon water
2 cups walnuts or pecans
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon coriander
¼ teaspoon ginger
¼ teaspoon salt

– Preheat oven to 300 degrees and adjust a rack to middle position.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spray with nonstick cooking spray.

– Whisk egg white and water together in a medium bowl.  Add the nuts and toss to coat. Whisk the remaining ingredients together in a separate medium bowl.  Add the nuts and toss until well-coated with sugar mixture.

– With a rubber spatula, spread the nuts out on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until the nuts are crisp and fragrant, about 45 minutes.

– Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and cool completely. Break nuts apart with your hands and store in a Ziploc bag.

For the Beet Salad
Warning! If you have latex gloves, use them, as the beets will stain your fingers. You might want to wear an old t-shirt, too. You’ll only need 3 roasted garlic cloves; use the remaining garlic cloves as a spread on crusty buttered bread.

1 bunch beets with greens attached (4 to 6 golf ball-sized beets), beets scrubbed and greens thoroughly washed
1 head garlic
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 orange
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper

– Preheat oven to 400 degrees and adjust a rack to middle position. Trim the greens from the beets, discard the stems, and coarsely chop the greens. Trim off the part of the beet that looks like a rat tail. Wrap the beets individually in foil, place them directly on the oven rack, and roast until fork-tender, 1 to 1 ½ hours. Cut off the top quarter of the head of garlic. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil, cover with trimmed top, wrap in foil, and roast alongside the beets.

– When cool enough to handle, unwrap the beets, peel, and cut them into ½-inch-thick slices. Unwrap the garlic and squeeze out 3 cloves. Reserve beets and garlic in separate bowls.

– Peel the orange with a sharp paring knife, making sure to remove the rind and the white pith.  Working over a bowl, cut between the membranes to remove the orange segments. Reserve the segments and squeeze the juice from the orange.

– Add vinegar and mustard to the bowl with garlic and whisk to combine. Slowly drizzle in remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil and whisk to emulsify. Season with salt and pepper. Toss beets with 1 to 2 tablespoons of the mixture.

– Heat 3 tablespoons of the vinaigrette in a large skillet and sautée the chopped greens until wilted, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to colander set over large bowl. Drizzle with orange juice.

– Arrange the wilted greens, sliced beets, and orange segments on plates. Garnish with spiced nuts and serve.

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner

I’m always on the lookout for ingredients that’ll cover up chicken breasts – i.e. my least favorite thing to eat other than tripe – and the ketchup-prune preserve sauce I glazed that meatloaf with a few days ago was a pretty convincing disguise. Shred your leftover chicken and make a sandwich for lunch the next day. Inspired, I know. And yes, of course, there’s bacon in it.

Serves 4 (or 2 plus leftovers)
You can substitute apricot jam for the prune preserves.

1 cup ketchup
½ cup prune preserves or jam
¼ cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 bacon slices, coarsely chopped
2 medium onions, peeled, halved lengthwise, and thinly sliced
Salt and pepper
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts, halved crosswise

– Whisk the ketchup, preserves, 3 tablespoons brown sugar, vinegar, and red pepper flakes in a small bowl; set aside.

– Cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until crispy, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer bacon pieces to a paper towel-lined plate with a slotted spoon; reserve. Pour the bacon fat out into a bowl; reserve.

– Add 1 tablespoon of the reserved bacon fat to the now empty skillet and heat over medium-high heat until shimmering.  Add the onions, remaining 1 tablespoon brown sugar, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper and cook until the onions begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Cover and continue cooking until completely softened, about 5 minutes more.  Transfer the onions to a bowl.

– Add an additional tablespoon of the reserved bacon fat to the now empty skillet. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and cook, skin-side down, until browned, about 5 minutes. Add the onions to the chicken. Pour the sauce over the chicken and onions, cover, and cook on medium-low heat until the chicken is cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes (temperature should read 160˚F). Transfer the chicken to a platter and cover it loosely with foil.  Increase the heat to high and simmer the sauce until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir any accumulated chicken juices to sauce and pour over chicken. Sprinkle with reserved bacon and serve.

I Feel Like Chicken Tonight

Arroz con pollo means chicken-and-rice, but the colorful flavors and ingredients of the popular Nicaraguan dish are lost in this very literal translation.  Also called arroz a la valenciana (probably a nod to Spanish colonizers and paella) arroz con pollo is a mixture of the title ingredients, plus ham, sausage, pimento-stuffed olives, capers, peas, carrots, and bell peppers. Topped with a generous grating of Parmesan cheese and often served with buttered toast, it’s one of my favorite things to eat; maybe it’ll become one of yours, too.

Serves 8 to 12
This is a somewhat involved recipe, but it makes piles of food; great for a big family, a casual dinner party, or days’ worth of leftovers. The recipe can be easily cut in half if the yield seems excessive.

Some shortcuts: Rather than cooking carrots with rice, add 2 cups of frozen peas-and-carrots to the mixture.  Buy a rotisserie chicken and low-sodium chicken broth instead of poaching your own fresh chicken pieces.

For the Chicken:
4 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces or 1 4- to 5-pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces
1 large onion, peeled and cut into wedges
1 green bell pepper, seeded and quartered
4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 teaspoons black peppercorns

– Place chicken pieces in large soup pot or Dutch oven. Season with salt and cover with cold water (chicken should be submerged 2 inches). Add onion, bell pepper, garlic, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil over high heat, then immediately reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until chicken is cooked through (temperature should read 160˚F), 30 to 35 minutes.

– Transfer chicken to large bowl. When it’s cool enough to handle, remove and discard the skin and bones and shred the chicken into bite-sized pieces. The chicken may be poached one day in advance: To store, add 3 cups broth to shredded chicken, cool to room temperature, cover with plastic, and refrigerate.

– Strain broth and reserve. Discard solids.

For the Rice:
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups long-grain white rice
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into small dice
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 cups chicken broth

– Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan.  Add the onion and salt and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in rice, carrots, and tomato paste. Add broth and bring to a boil. Continue to boil until most of the liquid has evaporated and you can see small bubbles on the surface (see How to Make Rice).  Reduce heat to lowest setting, cover, and cook for 15 minutes. Fluff rice with chopsticks or fork and remove from heat.

For the Arroz con Pollo:
2 tablespoons butter
8 ounces Lil’ Smokies or Kielbasa sausage, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 green or red bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
¼ cup ketchup
Shredded chicken (see above)
¼ pound deli ham, chopped
1/3 cup capers, drained
1/3 cup pimento-stuffed olives, sliced
1 ½ cups frozen peas
Cooked rice (see above)

– Melt butter in a large skillet or Dutch oven. Add sausage and sauté until browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer to plate.

– Add onion and bell pepper to now empty skillet and cook until softened, about 8 minutes. Add tomato paste, chicken, ham, capers, olives, peas, and rice, stirring to combine thoroughly. Cook, stirring occasionally, to allow flavors to meld, 10 to 15 minutes.  Season to taste with salt.

– Serve with grated Parmesan cheese and white buttered toast.

What’s Up, Doc?

With the chill of autumn comes the inevitable drip, drip, drip of the rain. And the nose. Vegetable soups are perfect to fend off the outdoor and head cold; hardy, healthy, and, if you add a few warm spices like ginger and pepper, hot enough to clear up those sinuses.

Makes 5 to 6 cups
The honey in this recipe enhances the carrots’ sweetness, while the vinegar adds acidity for balance. This soup pairs nicely with peppery arugula. Ginger has a slow burn, so pass on it if you’re planning on serving this to kids. For a vegetarian option substitute chicken broth with vegetable broth.

For the Ginger Almonds:
2 teaspoons butter
½ cup slivered or sliced almonds
1/8 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground ginger

– Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add almonds and salt and cook, shaking pan continuously, until golden, about 5 minutes. Stir in ginger and cook until nuts are coated and fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer to plate and reserve.

For the Honey-Pepper Yogurt:
1 (6-ounce) container Greek yogurt
3 tablespoons honey
½ teaspoon pepper

– Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl. Refrigerate until serving time.

For the Soup:
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium onion, peeled and thinly sliced
3 pounds carrots, peeled and sliced into ¼-inch-thick rounds
Salt and pepper
4 to 5 cups homemade or low-sodium chicken broth
¼ cup cream (optional)
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

– Melt the butter in a soup pot or Dutch oven. Add the onion, carrots, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper. Cook over medium heat, covered and stirring occasionally, until the carrots begin to soften, about 15 minutes.

– Add 4 cups of the broth and simmer over medium-low heat until the carrots are completely tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Stir in the honey, vinegar, and cream (if using).

– With a ladle, transfer the soup to a blender or food processor and puree in batches until smooth. Transfer pureed soup to a soup tureen or second pot. If you prefer a thinner soup, stir in some of the remaining broth until you achieve desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper.

– Ladle the soup into bowls and top with yogurt and almonds.

Healthy Start

Yesterday I realized I had a little bit of “love” squeezing out from under my apron strings. Inspired by the athletes in town for Head of the Charles, I made a healthy start this morning.

Serves 1

½ cup oatmeal
½ cup apple juice or cider
1 apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
2 tablespoons dried cranberries (optional)
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Dash of salt
2 to 4 tablespoons milk
Maple syrup to taste

– Combine oatmeal, apple juice, apple, cranberries, cinnamon, and salt in a cereal or soup bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Microwave 3 to 4 minutes until apples are tender.

– Stir in milk (more or less according to desired consistency) and maple syrup.

Mom! The Meatloaf!!!

Now don’t go around spreading this, but every time Wedding Crashers is on TBS, I have to watch it. And at least once a day, the opportunity to quote Chazz comes up… “What is she doing back there? I never know what she’s doing…HEY MOM! The meatloaf! We want it now! THE MEATLOAF!!!” It never gets old.

I would imagine Chazz’s mom’s meatloaf is of the nightmare variety: compact, dried out, packed into a loaf pan. Maybe topped with a squirt of ketchup.  This genre of meatloaf – the bad kind – has been around for ages, and we’ve all had to swallow it down (with difficulty, no doubt) at some point. Why meatloaf keeps making it to the table in such pitiful format is puzzling, but I come bearing glad tidings! Meatloaf can be delicious! Meatloaf can be something you want to eat! Meatloaf doesn’t have to be made in a loaf pan!

Meatloaf really is better when it’s not squeezed into a pan. Thus contained, the beef juices ooze out and create a Jacuzzi-like environment for the meat, which results in a rubbery rectangle of boiled beef. Yuck. But, unfettered and free, the meatloaf develops a nice crust, which contrasts with juicy, tender beef.  I’ve experimented with a few flavor variations, but recently tried a Gourmet version, which incorporates bacon and prunes. You’ll love it.


Serves 6

For the Glaze
1 cup ketchup
½ cup prune preserves
¼ cup packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

For the Meatloaf
1 cup fresh bread crumbs (from 2 slices firm white sandwich bread)
1/3 cup whole milk
6 slices bacon, chopped
½ cup pitted prunes, chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 celery rib, finely chopped
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
Salt and pepper
1 ½ pounds ground beef chuck
½ pound ground pork
2 large eggs, beaten
1/3 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

– Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and middle positions and heat oven to broil. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray.

– Whisk the ketchup, prune preserves, brown sugar, vinegar, and pepper flakes in a small saucepan.

– To make the panade, mash breadcrumbs and milk together in a small bowl; set aside. Process 4 slices bacon and prunes in food processor until finely ground; set aside. Melt butter in medium skillet. Add remaining 2 slices chopped bacon, onion, garlic, and celery and cook until vegetables are softened, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in Worcestershire, vinegar, allspice, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 ½ teaspoons pepper.

– In a large bowl combine the panade, bacon-prune paste, vegetables, beef, pork, eggs, and parsley and mix thoroughly with hands. Transfer mixture to prepared baking sheet and shape into a 9- by 5-inch oval. Brush meatloaf with about ¼ cup of glaze and broil until well browned, 5 to 7 minutes.

– Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and transfer meatloaf to middle rack. Bake until temperature registers 160 degrees, 35 to 45 minutes.  Remove meatloaf from oven, slide onto serving platter or carving board, and let rest 20 minutes.

– While meatloaf rests, bring sauce to a simmer over medium heat and cook until slightly thickened, 6 to 8 minutes. Serve sauce with meatloaf.

Pineapple Express

Pie crust can be daunting. I know numerous cooks, professional and amateur, that don’t relish the thought of making it. I’ve always found making pies a soothing activity, but did have a lousy, nightmarish episode with crusts recently that almost made me break out in hives. Anyway. I won’t make you break out into hives or develop an eye twitch. This pie crust lesson is tedious and longer than the recipes I’ve been posting lately, but holiday season is fast approaching and maybe you’d like to try your hand at it, get some practice, so you can bring something “wow” to your family dinner this year.


I rarely cook or provide recipes using the metric system, however, when it comes to pie crust I dutifully unwrap my scale and press the “grams” button. I’ve translated the measurements to cups and tablespoons, but I do prefer the certainty of the scale.

The following recipe is applicable only to the pastel de piña (pineappple pie) that follows. I read and reread my mother’s recipe for the Nicaraguan bakery staple, and unconventional as it is, it’s traditional. Normally, a tart or single crust pie such as lemon meringue is made by “blind” baking the crust: the tart mold or pie plate is lined with pie dough which is pricked to prevent puffing, lined with parchment or foil, weighed down, and baked prior to being cooled and filled. A double-crust pie like apple pie is filled raw: the pie plate is lined with pie dough, filled, and topped with a second, vented crust or with a latticed top, then baked.

Pastel de piña uses an unorthodox combination of the two methods: the crust is blind baked, filled, then topped with a lattice and returned to the oven.
Makes a double-crust for an 8- to 9-inch pie
Don’t skip any of the resting or chilling periods in the recipe, unless you want a shriveled, shrunken, or tough crust!

400 grams (2 ¾ cups) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
200 grams (15 tablespoons) chilled butter cut into ¼ inch pieces
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Ice water, as needed

1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons heavy cream
Pinch of salt

– Combine the flour and salt on a clean, dry work surface. With a bench scraper, cut in the butter until it resembles wet sand. Alternatively, combine the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor and add the butter. Pulse until the mixture resembles wet sand, then transfer mixture to a clean, dry work surface.

– Form a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the eggs plus 1 tablespoon ice water.

– Working quickly, use the bench scraper to cut in the eggs and water. If the mixture appears very dry and crumbly, add water, 1 teaspoon at a time, until the mixture is cohesive but not overly wet.

– Bring the dough together with your hands. Pinch off pieces of dough (about 2-inch pieces) and with the heel of your hand extend on the surface. This method, called fraisage, ensures that the butter is evenly distributed in the dough. Shape the dough into a ball and cut it in half. Shape each half into a disc and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

– On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to about 10 inches in diameter. Gently fold the dough into quarters and transfer to an 8-inch tart shell. Unfold the dough and press it into the shell. Trim off excess overhang and lightly prick all over with fork. Transfer the lined shell to refrigerator and chill 30 minutes, then, freeze for 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375˚F.

– Roll out the second dough disc on a piece of lightly floured parchment paper to 10 inches in diameter and cut into 8 1-inch-thick strips. Slide parchment and strips onto a baking sheet or jelly board and refrigerate.

– Line the chilled shell with foil or parchment paper (not wax paper!) and fill with pie weights or dry beans. Bake until the dough looks opaque, 20 to 25 minutes.

– Fill the pie shell with the pineapple mixture (see recipe below). Following photo 13, lay out four dough strips across the pie at about 1-inch intervals. Then, starting in the middle, lay one additional strip perpendicular to the original strips. Carefully weave the strips into each other, following figures 13 to 16.

– Beat the egg yolk, cream, and salt in small bowl. With a pastry brush, paint the egg mixture over the lattice top. Bake until golden, 30 to 40 minutes. Transfer pie to wire rack and cool to room temperature, 1 to 2 hours.

Serves 6 to 8

1 large, ripe pineapple
½ cup water
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 ½ cups sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1 inch pieces

Pineapple-Pie-FillingTo prepare the pineapple:

– With a chef’s knife, cut off the crown of leaves and about 1 inch from the base. Stand the pineapple upright and cut the prickly exterior off. If there are any “eyes” left, trim them.

– Lay the pineapple on its side and cut the flesh off; discard the core. Cut the pineapple into ½-inch pieces.

– Transfer half of the pineapple chunks to a food processor and pulse until pineapple is a thick puree.

– Transfer to a large pot.

– Whisk cornstarch and water together in a small bowl and stir into pineapple. Stir in the sugar and salt.

– Bring the pineapple mixture to a boil and simmer, stirring occasionally, until deep golden and jam-like, 45 to 60 minutes.  Off heat, stir in butter.

– Fill the blind baked crust and continue to recipe above.

Social, Party of One

This bright tomato bruschetta with white bean spread is a snap to make: a perfect starter for a summer dinner party.

Or for an evening in when it’s just you and a marathon of bad TV (Miami Social, anyone?).

Serves 4

4 large, ripe tomatoes
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus additional for brushing bread
1 garlic clove, minced
8 slices Italian loaf bread (sliced  ¾ to 1 inch thick)
1 cup basil leaves

– With a small paring knife, remove the cores from the tomatoes. Cut them in half and, with a small spoon or melon baller, scoop out seeds. Chop tomatoes into ¼ inch-thick chunks and place in colander over bowl or in sink. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and toss. Allow to drain for 10 to 20 minutes.

– Meanwhile, combine 3 tablespoons olive oil with minced garlic in large bowl.  Heat grill to high and evenly brush both sides of each slice of bread with additional olive oil. Grill bread until toasted and marked, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to platter. (Alternatively, heat a panini press and grill bread until crisp and golden).

– Pat tomatoes dry with paper towels and transfer to bowl with garlic oil. Chop the basil leaves (do this last minute to keep them as fresh and flavorful as possible) and toss with tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

– Spread toasted bread with white bean spread (recipe follows) and top with tomatoes. Serve.

Serves 4

1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans
2 tablespoons cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus additional for drizzling
1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Salt and pepper

– Drain and rinse beans in a colander. Shake to remove excess liquid and transfer to a food processor.

– Add oil, garlic, and lemon juice and purée until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

– Transfer to serving dish, sprinkle with pepper and drizzle with additional oil.

You can make the bean spread up to 2 days ahead: Store in an airtight container and cover the top with about 1/8” of olive oil to prevent it from forming a crust. Save the leftovers for more bruschetta or use as a dip for crudités.

Ready for the Weekend?

As if that title really needed a question mark.

Lately, I’ve grown rather fond of starting my weekends on Thursdays.  A cocktail with friends or dinner al fresco is the perfect way to start undoing that painful knot that steadily builds up under my right shoulder blade during the week.

This summer, I’ve rediscovered sangría. The concept of sangría has always appealed to me: it’s fruity, refreshing, and, well, it’s got booze. But for the most part, what’s poured at restaurants is watered down and tasteless.

I’ve made a few modifications. ¡Salud!

Serves 4

Rather than diluting sangría with regular ice, I like to add tropical fruit ice cubes.  I love Goya varieties, like guava and passion fruit, but orange juice, white grape juice, or tropical punch are acceptable substitutes.

– Make ahead: 2 (12-ounce) cans Goya nectars (such as pineapple-passion fruit or tropical fruit punch)

– Shake juice cans well.  Pour into 2 12-cube ice trays and freeze.

1 (750mL) bottle red wine, chilled
1 ½ cups orange juice, chilled
¾ cup Triple sec
1 apple, cored, seeded and cut into ¼ inch pieces
1 plum, pitted and cut into ¼ inch pieces
1 peach, pitted and cut into ¼ inch pieces
1 ½ cups club soda, chilled

– In a large pitcher, combine wine, orange juice, triple sec, and fruit.  Stir in club soda and ice cubes right before serving.