Somehow—even though it feels like just minutes ago I was lying on a blanket in my backyard reading in the shade of towering sunflowers—it’s already November. A week ago I woke up to snow. I watched it with a cup of tea between my hands as visions of coziness danced in my head. …KEEP READING
I once made a grilled cheese sandwich for Yo Yo Ma. I’d heard from my co-workers that he tended to frequent the quiet little cafe where I worked one college summer, but that didn’t stop my heart from doing double time when he walked in one Sunday during brunch. …KEEP READING
This salad is so good that I challenge you not to eat it all before getting to the table. I ate it standing up with a wooden spoon, but that may be in part due to the fact that for the past week I’ve eaten about as healthily as a college senior during exam week. …KEEP READING
When I turned five years old, my sister threw me a party. It was classic June New England weather; cool and rainy with fog hovering over the rolling hills. There was a scavenger hunt—I remember donning rain boots and a bright yellow slicker over my party dress and following clues to where the field met the woods at the edge of our yard. We moved in groups, huddled over clues in the bird bath, and ran to the forsythia bushes where, under an arched cave of branches, we found temporary tattoos.
I was apprehensive to move back to Boston for the summer. Although I lived in the city for almost three years after college, I never fell in love with it. So when Sam and I lugged our haphazard collection of laundry baskets, backpacks, canvas shopping bags and boxes into the car for our move, I was filled with dread. I’d really started to feel at home in our rambling old house in East Rock, New Haven. We were leaving just as the peonies in our back yard began to blossom, and only a few days after Shea and I filled pots on the patio with dahlias, petunias, and marigolds. …KEEP READING
I could walk to the beach with my eyes closed. Out the door of my grandma’s peach-colored house onto the hot pavement of a quiet dead-end street, past the house with the ferocious dogs and year-round Christmas decorations, left at the creaking iron gate, over the canal on a wooden bridge, through the tunneling sea grapes, and down the boardwalk to the sparkling sea. …KEEP READING
On my last evening in Greenville, SC, my best friend Eliza took me to a free candlelight yoga class. “How nice,” I thought, “we’ll do some sun salutations and some light spinal twists, all by the soft light of little twinkling flames.” Not exactly. In fact, I have never sweat so much in my entire life as I did in that 98-degree room. It didn’t help that Eliza is a yoga teacher and moves with the grace of a Hindu goddess. I teetered in tree pose and nearly collapsed on my 100th chaturanga, but I walked away feeling incredibly energized, full of happiness, and blissfully unaware of the soreness that would ignite the next morning.
Eliza and I spent every day of school together from ages 5 to 18, and yet when we got home each afternoon, the phone would ring and one of us would start doing accents on the message machine until the other one picked up. I remember silences of five minutes or longer when we laughed so hard no sound came out. We’ve watched each other grow up and helped each other through the good, the bad, the extremely awkward, and the painfully sad. We’ve talked each other through leaps of faith, like going to Costa Rica to get yoga certified and quitting a stable job to pursue a crazy love of food.
It’s cheesy, I know. But when you’ve been friends with someone for 20 years, you‘re allowed to look back and marvel a little. Sweating through that fiery yoga class next to her while “Burn” by Usher blasted from the stereo felt undeniably like a metaphor for our friendship: Warm, eternal, and uproariously funny.
I’d heard about White Duck Taco a thousand times on the phone. The Bangkok Shrimp, specifically, featured prominently whenever Liza recounted day-trips to Asheville. On Friday, the two of us drove up into the mountains, so different from the rolling Massachusetts hills I’m used to, their slopes alive with a haze of budding leaves. Asheville felt like it’s own little world, suspended in the windy green hills and dotted with irresistible cafes, boutiques, and art galleries where you could actually afford something. We made a beeline for the White Duck and ordered two Bangkoks each and some fresh watermelon sangria (who could resist?!) Sweet lord, those tacos were good: tiny, sesame-glazed crunchy shrimp surrounded by chili aioli, shredded lettuce, and a tangle of sweet pickles.
Sidewall Pizza is another spot I’d heard about for years as I sketched together a picture of Greenville in my head. Liza compared it to Baba Louie’s, which anyone from the Berkshires knows is high and nigh-unattainable praise. We went for dinner on Saturday night and sat at the bar to wait for our table. The people watching was impeccable—tattoos, man-buns, and Lululemon abounded. We ordered a pear, blue cheese, and candied walnut salad, a Margherita and the “Potato.” The crust could have stood on it’s own with an ever-so-chewy, almost brittle bite, but topped with thinly-sliced potatoes, bacon, caramelized onions, toasted walnuts, fresh sage, mozzarella, blue cheese, and fragrant olive oil, it was perfection.
Being the good little sisters that we are, Liza and I wanted to bake something for her sister’s birthday. After weighing the pros and cons of rolling out piecrust with a wine bottle, we settled on making a cake. A quick delve into Bon Appetit’s gluten-free archive brought us to a gorgeous-looking honey cake topped with cream cheese frosting and a spray of bright spring flowers. Everyone agreed it tasted like carrot cake without the carrots, which is fine by me as carrot cake usually includes raisins: my least favorite food on the planet. I don’t consider myself a great cake baker (pies are my wheelhouse), but I loved this! It had the warm, fragrant flavors of honey, ginger, and cinnamon, accented by a subtle tang of citrus. We used coconut oil instead of vegetable oil and substituted the somewhat demanding frosting recipe for Martha Stewart’s classic cream cheese frosting.
I’ve been on a mac & cheese odyssey this year, dabbling in everything from fussy béchamel sauces to clove-studded onions and dashes of Cayenne. But when Liza’s friend fractured two bones jet skiing, there was only one recipe we deemed comforting enough. My mom’s recipe comes from John Thorne’s Simple Cooking (which I am currently reading for pleasure—a refreshingly candid and unpretentious volume, simultaneously scrupulous and poetic). While my mom disapproved of such things as Tabasco sauce and condensed milk, Liza and I committed fully and the results were glorious.
My trip ended as all trips should: with savory crepes at Tandem Coffee, a bicycle-themed spot with bright yellow china, exposed brick, and an abundance of window seats.
I’m sitting in my sister’s living room in Minneapolis, MN on a sunny spring day. We’re both wearing slippers and drinking ginger tea. The shelves overflow with books and a vase of yellow tulips on the table catches the afternoon light. Everything seems as it always does when I visit, except that now, a beautiful, perfect little being lies beside us in her moses basket, eyes closed and dreaming, tiny hands in a field goal position, beneath a knitted blanket. My niece, Iduna Grace Lee, was born two weeks ago and I already can’t imagine the world without her.
I’m cooking for my sister and brother in law as they navigate the newness of everything; the sleepless nights, the little small yet monumental moments (a nice burp, for example). My mom and I arrived on Valentine’s day to await the birth, and she went into full-on grandma mode with dinners like slow-cooked brisket with mashed potatoes and black bean stew with avocado and dollops of cumin cream. Now that she’s gone, I’m responsible for feeding the new parents.
I wish I could say I’ve been whipping up three course dinners and multi-tiered layer cakes, stocking the freezer with flavorful soups, and making smoothies every morning. But the truth is, all I want to do is hold my little niece and stare at her incredibly expressive face for hours on end. Who knew changing a diaper could be so endlessly entertaining? My sister and I have reverted to the rounds we used to sing on endless car rides, harmonizing to soothe the baby’s cries, breaking out in fits of laughter with the melodies go awry.
The night before my sister gave birth, we all crowded into our AirBnB kitchen, strategizing a plan for dinner. I wanted to try out a recipe I’d been working on, but had a deadline the following morning. So I sat on the couch instructing as my sister, who by that point could balance a plate of food on her stomach, braved the tragically unequipped kitchen. We all agreed that dinner was perfection. Who knows…maybe it was just so good that Iduna decided to join the world!
A single parsnip loitering in the far reaches of my vegetable drawer inspired this dish, and it really has become my go-to weeknight pasta. As a kid, I remember thinking of parsnips as the the scourge of the vegetable world, their dingy off-white skins conjuring up vague images of 19th century orphanages and bowls of pale, amorphous gruel. As an adult, I can’t get enough of their sweet, earthy flavor, and would like to know why no one force-fed them to me at a young age. Paired with the zesty tang of lemon juice, the salty bite of parmesan cheese, and tossed with lots of garlicky spaghetti, it makes for a simple, surprisingly delicious dinner.
- 1 package spaghetti
- 2 T olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 medium parsnips, peeled and grated (the largest setting on a cheese grater works perfectly)
- Zest of 1 lemon
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1 heaping cup finely grated parmesan cheese
- 1/2 bunch of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Pepper to tase
- Add a generous teaspoon of salt to a large pot of water and bring to a boil. Cook pasta according to package instructions. Reserve 1/8 cup pasta water before draining.
- While the pasta cooks, add 1 tablespoon olive oil to a medium skillet. Once the oil has heated, add minced garlic. Cook for a minute or so, stirring constantly so the garlic doesn’t brown. Add grated parsnip and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. The parsnip absorbs oil quickly, so add the remaining olive oil little by little as you stir. Add the salt, pepper, lemon juice, and 3/4 the lemon zest and cook until the parsnip just begins to turn slightly golden.
- Add the cooked pasta to the parsnip mix, then sprinkle in the cheese and half the chopped parsley. Stir to incorporate, adding in the pasta water to thicken.
- To serve, sprinkle each plate with the remaining parsley and lemon zest.
When it comes to Valentine’s day, strawberries and champagne are all well and good. But let’s be honest: I’d rather have cheese. Lots and lots of melted, soul-comforting cheese. What’s more romantic than cracking the perfectly-golden surface of melted gruyere and plunging two spoons into the pasta-laden depths of a shared bowl of mac’n’cheese?
I partnered with Guido’s Fresh Marketplace to design my dream Valentines dinner using seriously fresh local Berkshires ingredients. After leafing through the pages of Rachel Khoo’s The Little Paris Kichen, I fell in love with a roasted root vegetable salad, studded with crisp bacon and accented by sweet apple and dollops of goat cheese mousse.
To me, the best desserts marry subtle sweetness with a hint of salt. Since discovering the concept of dates sautéed in olive oil with sea salt in Molly Wizenberg’s Delancey, I’ve been eating them as a snack or for breakfast with yogurt. But why not take it to the next level by pairing them with SoCo Classic Vanilla ice cream? The verdant oil soaks into the dates and the salt melts into the ice cream and it’s altogether divine.
Try something (or everything) from the menu below for a cozy night in with someone you love. You’ll have to let me know how it goes, because on February 14th I’ll be eating Biscoff cookies and drinking a celebratory glass of overpriced wine on a plane to Minneapolis for the birth of my very own niece (!!!!!!)
Roasted Root Vegetable Salad (Adapted from The Little Paris Kitchen by Rachel Khoo)
For the Salad
- 3 carrots (i used rainbow yellow and purple, as orange isn’t very Valentines-y), sliced into small cubes or half moons
- 3 parsnips, washed and sliced into small cubes or half moons
- 1 Fuji apple, peeled and sliced into small cubes
- 1/2 lb. slab bacon, cut into cubes
- 1 cooked beet, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 daikon or rainbow radish, washed and thinly sliced
- 2 handfuls of green lettuce of your choice
- 2 Tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
- 3 Tablespoons olive oil
For the goat cheese mousse
- 3 1/2 oz. goat cheese, such as Monterey Chevre (I used the garlic and herb!)
- 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1/4 cup milk
- Preheat oven to 400º
- Place the cubed carrots, parsnips, and apple on a baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 Tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stir to evenly distribute oil. Place in oven and roast for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Place a sheet of parchment paper on another baking sheet. Spread cubed bacon evenly over parchment paper, and place in oven with roasting vegetables. Bake until the bacon is lightly browned and crispy and the smell is heavenly.
- While the veggies and bacon are roasting, make the mousse. Place milk and goat cheese in a mixing bowl and beat with a whisk or electric hand mixture until smooth and free of lumps.
- In a separate mixing bowl, whip the cream until stiff peaks form.
- Fold half the whipped cream into the goat cheese mixture, mix gently, and fold in the rest. Place the mousse in a zip lock freezer bag and place in the fridge,
- To assemble the salad, arrange roasted vegetables, bacon, beet and radish slices, and greens on a plate. Cut a small corner off the bottom of the ziplock bag and pipe the mousse onto salad plate as desired.
- Whisk remaining olive oil and vinegar together and sprinkle lightly over salad to serve.
Little Sister Mac & Cheese
- 3 Tablespoons butter
- 2 1/2 – 3 T all purpose flour
- 2 1/2 cups milk, lukewarm
- 1/2 an onion, peeled, studded with 2 cloves
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
- 1/8 teaspoon ground pepper
- 10 oz. macaroni elbows
- 6 oz. grated sharp cheddar
- 2 oz. grated Gruyere, some extra for sprinkling on top
- Preheat oven to 375º
- Pour the milk into a pyrex measuring cup and set it in a large bowl of boiling water to warm.
- Butter 2 10 oz. ramekins (if you have them) or a 9×13 casserole pan and set aside
- Make the roux (full disclosure, a roux is finicky, but don’t let them intimidate you! I messed up twice before getting it to behave…) Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat until it begins to bubble. Add in the flour one sprinkling at a time, whisking vigorously, until a thick paste forms. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
- Next, pour 2 cups of the warm milk into the roux a little at a time, whisking constantly. If the mixture begins to separate, keep whisking and it should become smooth.
- Return milk/roux mixture to heat and add clove-studded onion, bay leaf, nutmeg, cayenne, salt and pepper. Continue whisking and add more milk if the mixture gets too thick (it should be the consistency of a smooth soup). Cook for 8 minutes, whisking frequently.
- Cook pasta according to instructions on box, drain, and set aside.
- Add grated cheddar and most of the gruyere to the roux mixture and stir to incorporate. Mix in the cooked pasta and distribute evenly into two ramekins or the casserole dish. Sprinkle with remaining gruyere.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until top is golden brown. Transfer to wire rack to cool.
Sauteed Dates with Olive Oil, Sea Salt, & Vanilla Ice Cream (Adapted from Delancy, by Molly Wizenburg)
- Olive oil
- Whole dried Mejdool dates (3 or 4 per person)
- Crunchy salt
- Place heavy skillet over medium heat and pour in enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan.
- When the oil is warmed and runs loosely around the pan, add the dates, spacing evenly around the skillet.
- Cook, turning the dates frequently wit a pair of tongs so that they heat on all sides. Be careful not to burn them–you just want to heat them enough so each side begins to blister ever so slightly.
- Transfer dates to a serving plate and sprinkle generously with salt.
- Place 2 scoops of ice cream into a dish and top with 3 dates. Indulge.
For a behind the scenes peak at my cooking/photographing process, check out my video with the lovely Masiero’s of Guido’s!
XOXO and happy Valentine’s from Little Sister Kitchen
Less than two months ago, I had a very stable 9-5 job. I woke up every morning, made my bed, got dressed, ate breakfast, and hopped on the orange line. I mapped out exactly how many pages I could read on the train before getting off at Back Bay Station, where I’d ascend the escalator, past one Dunk’n’Donuts and then another, and cross Dartmouth St. to enter the Copley Mall. I even counted the steps it took from the station to the seventh floor Wayfair offices (somewhere around 400).
The day ended at 5, which is exactly when I stopped thinking about e-commerce and shifted my focus to food, cookbooks, and dinner. Those evenings were wonderfully free and spent primarily in the kitchen, to the probable chagrin of my roommates, who would have liked to prepare their reasonable dinners without the presence of a maniac on her third batch of chocolate-dipped biscotti.
I now live in a 3 story house in New Haven, CT with two law students, an ex-NYC management consultant-turned singer, a crazily artistic refugee reestablishment caseworker, a botanical genius, and a 6-month old black and white Schnoodle. There’s a music studio set up in the basement, plants everywhere, a wood stove in the living room, a backyard and patio, and a cantankerous caretaker named Frank. At any hour of the day, you’re likely to hear someone practicing guitar or singing, like some extra cozy music school for twentysomething misfits. Two house members (who shall remain un-named) have spent most of their winter vacation referring to each other as either ‘Jurist’ or ‘Bailiff’ and playing Shadow of Mordor on their PS4. In other words, a far cry from my quiet little haven in Jamaica Plain.
It’s hard to believe I am now a freelance writer. Whenever I heard the word “freelance” growing up, I pictured a sort of law-defying knight of the round table who’d left the jousting circuit to gallop around on a horse with his lance and not a care in the world.
In reality, however, “freelance” means figuring out how to create your own work, setting expectations for yourself, and practicing discipline. I’ve become one of those people who “works from home”—you know, the kind you see at a café with their laptop in the middle of the day and wonder why they don’t have something better to do.
In the mad shuffle to move from Boston to home in Western MA and then to New Haven in a small sedan, I had to temporarily part with my cookbook collection. It might surprise you that my first instinct for baking inspiration is not the world wide web, but there is nothing I love more than turning the pages of a cookbook, flipping to the index and scrolling through ingredients. In fact, my goal in life is to have a living room with floor-to-ceiling shelves of cookbooks organized alphabetically by author.
So for my fist bake of 2016, without my two 100-lb. storage bins of cookbooks, I turned to Smitten Kitchen: that steadfast bible of witty, approachable inspiration. Deb’s most recent recipe, an upside down cake studded with glowing oranges seemed perfect against the bright blue-white of the year’s first snow.
I wish I could say I substituted pecans for almonds on a whimsical stroke of pure culinary genius. In fact, I had no almonds in my pantry and had to improvise. I roasted the nuts for a warmer, toastier flavor. Note: this is one seriously moist cake. Oh, and it happens to be gluten free!
Orange Pecan Cake with Honey Whipped Ricotta
Adapted slightly from Smitten Kitchen
For the cake
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon water
- 3 large eggs, separated
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 2 cara cara oranges
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 2/3 cup full fat ricotta
- 1/3 cup cornmeal
- 1 1/2 cups whole pecans
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/4 cup apricot jam (optional, for glaze)
For the Ricotta
- 1/2 cup full fat ricotta
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 1 Tablespoon honey
- Pinch of seasalt
- Heat oven to 300º. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
- Mix brown sugar and water together to form a thick paste. Pour into prepared cake pan so that sugar mixture is equally distributed over the bottom. Set aside.
- Spread pecans on a baking sheet and roast until lightly toasted and fragrant (about 7 minutes). Remove from oven and let cool completely. Once cool, place pecans in a food processor and pulse until nuts have the consistency of wet sand. This is a much damper meal than almond meal, so don’t be alarmed when the nuts feel slightly moist.
- In a medium sized mixing bowl, whip egg whites with an electric hand mixer until stiff peaks form. Set aside.
- Cut one orange in half and slice into paper thin half moons or circles. Arrange over brown sugar base in cake pan.
- Add sugar to a large mixing bowl and zest both oranges over the sugar.
- Juice remaining orange and a half until you have just under 1/3 of a cup. Set aside.
- Add butter to the sugar and zest and beat with your electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add one egg yoke at a time and beat to combine. Add orange juice and ricotta and mix with a wooden spoon until smooth. Add the salt, pecan meal, and cornmeal and mix until just combined. Gently fold in egg whites.
- Carefully scoop the batter over prepared cake pan so as not to disturb the orange slices. Bake 40 minutes, until a fork inserted into the center comes out clean. The cake is so moist that Deb recommends a few extra minutes.
- Cool cake in pan on rack for 5 minutes. Run a butter knife around the side and invert onto a cake plate.
- Heat the jam until liquified and spoon over cake top for a glossier finish. Let cool before cutting into slices.
- Place ricotta, heavy cream, honey, and salt in a mixing bowl. Beat with a hand mixer until stiff peaks form. Spoon in dollops on cake slices to serve.
<a href=”http://www.bloglovin.com/blog/14441779/?claim=e8q56pxfhj7″>Follow my blog with Bloglovin</a>